Unique Sauces Push Barbecue into New Directions
Barbecue fanatics are familiar with the sauces of the great regional traditions. From the tomato-based, sticky sweet sauces of Kansas City to the vinegar-based offerings of North Carolina, each has historic flavor profiles that will never waver in popularity. With diners open to new culinary trends now more than ever, chefs can make an impact with their own worldly inspirations, offering diners something new and exciting.
“Every culture is serious about grilling, from Japanese yakatori to Argentinian asado,” says Chicago’s Julius Russell, owner of A Tale of Two Chefs. “You still do low and slow. When it comes to grilled meats and sauces, every culture uses what’s around them.”
Russell references the Caribbean, Mexico, Cuba and the Middle East into his barbecue sauces. One of his most requested is a kabob sauce of cucumber, lemon, lime and yogurt, which rounds out the acid. A great complement to char and grill of lamb or chicken, “It’s bright, citrusy and zingy. It wakes up the palate, yet still falls within barbecue,” he says.
Chef Melissa Cookston, cookbook author, award-winning pit master and owner of Memphis BBQ Co., finds her motivation through travel, reading and visiting different restaurants. Her plum poblano sauce, with ginger, soy, honey and pepper, works with duck, which she barbecues Sichuan-style.
Her Peruvian chicken sauce shines with lime, cilantro and aji amarillo paste, made from a pepper used by the Incas that packs a latent heat. “I usually try to incorporate prominent flavors into my preferred cooking methods,” says Cookston. “I love cooking with fire, so I incorporate flavors from other cultures with either a grilling or smoking recipe.”
As for spirit-spiked sauces, Russell has a trick beyond the more familiar whiskey and bourbon varieties. A reduction of calvados is added to more-traditional barbecue sauces, lending a subtle apple brandy flavor that complements pork, beef or chicken.
At the table, it’s about providing guests the opportunity to explore something outside their usual comfort zone.
“Diversity of sauces is something people need to explore,” says Russell, “Otherwise barbecue can just be one note.”