Everywhere you look there is smoke, fire and sauce. The backyard barbecue season is under way.
Smoke and sauce are good. Fire is not.
Backyard cooks with a big fire problem right now should call 911! If your problem is more culinary than incendiary, you might call the grilling hot line, (800) 474-5568 weekdays during normal business hours. This hot line, staffed by home economists and sponsored by Weber grills, gives you tips ranging from how long to cook hamburgers (about four minutes per side) to how to kill the flames on a charcoal grill (put the lid on).
For folks who want to try their hand at making sauces, there is a new cookbook, "The Ultimate Barbecue Sauce Cookbook," (Longstreet Press, $14.95) that is just what the rib doctor ordered.
Written by Jim Auchmutey and Susan Puckett, who work for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the book gives recipes for basic sauces, such as the vinegar-based potions of North Carolina. It also takes a crack at uncovering the secrets of some of the nation's fabled sauces, like the rib sauce served at Dreamland Drive-Inn in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and the meat drippin's sauce served at Sonny Bryan's brisket heaven in Dallas.
"At Dreamland, they were playful," Auchmutey told me when I asked him during a phone interview what kind of reaction he got when he asked for the sauce recipe. He said the founder of the joint, Jim "Big Daddy" Bishop, gave him hints about the recipe, but was short on specifics.
Big Daddy claimed that "God came to me in a dream and gave me this sauce." That meant the details were pretty much a matter between Big Daddy and the Almighty.
With a little help from on high, Auchmutey and his co-author Puckett tried to duplicate the taste of the sauce. "Susan would run a sauce through the kitchen and I would try it and say, 'No, it needs more tang,' " Auchmutey recalled. "She was getting a little irritated at me, but she kept at it and got it right." (The recipe is reprinted below.)
A major advantage homemade sauces have over the mass-produced barbecue sauces sold in grocery stores, he said, is that the homemade sauces can use fresh ingredients, like beef drippings. He offered the recipe from Sonny Bryan's in Dallas as an example.
It calls for 3/4 cup of beef drippings. "You can't put beef drippings in a bottled sauce," he said. If you did, the sauce might soon spoil while sitting on the grocery store shelf, he said. But when made at home, such a sauce can be applied without worry, to barbecued brisket, toast, virtually anything nontoxic, he said.
The book has recipes for some sauces with limited, regional appeal. One is the black dip sauce served on barbecue mutton at the Moonlite restaurant in Owensboro, Ky. Another is a white sauce, found in northern Alabama, that, according to Auchmutey, "tastes good on chicken," even though it looks like "Miracle Whip with measles."
Recipes for New Orleans barbecued shrimp and California barbecued oysters were included in the book even though the dishes might strain to meet a traditionalist's definition of slow-cooked 'cue. The oysters are grilled and the shrimp are baked. "But it tastes good, so we expanded the tent of barbecue to let them in," Auchmutey said.
God's Own Dream Sauce
Makes 2 quarts
1 28-ounce can tomato paste
1/3 cup yellow mustard
3 cups water
1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
1/4 cup dark corn syrup
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons ground red pepper
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
In a large saucepan, whisk together the tomato puree and mustard until smooth. Stir in remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce heat then simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve warm either as a finishing sauce or table sauce on pork. Refrigerate unused sauce.