A couple weeks ago I blogged about a watermelon gazpacho and I mentioned that my family recently got together for a summer party.
This year – true to my family’s slightly competitive nature – a rib challenge was thrown into the mix. Four “nuclear” families, four kinds of ribs and time for me to perfect my signature BBQ sauce. Each style of ribs was very different from one to another, which made for a nice variety to taste and none that outdid the next. We had: boar ribs cooked sous-vide, maple lacquered ribs, classis southern BBQ ribs and my Mexican mole inspired ribs.
Today’s topic though is not on how to cook ribs, it is much greater than that. In this post I will unlock the mystery on how you can put together a signature BBQ sauce with your name on it, one you can be proud to call your own!
The main reason I wanted to develop my own BBQ sauce (aside from the obvious…) is because I wanted to avoid the added sodium, preservatives or any other unpronounceable ingredient you can imagine. I’ve read many recipes that call for lots of refined sugars, ketchup and soy sauce. I wanted to make my sauce from scratch from fresh/dried/unprocessed ingredients. That is exactly what I will share with you today, the unprocessed basics of BBQ sauce making!
Let me break this down: you need (1) a tomato base, (2) a vinegar, (3) a sugar, (4) some aromatics including onion and garlic, or perhaps other veggies – it is your sauce afterall, and finally (5) a spice blend. The flavour of your BBQ sauce depends on what you choose for each of those items, especially the spice blend. Play around with each of these until you find something that truly represents your palate.
BBQ Sauce 101
2 cups tomato base, you can use fresh tomatoes pureed whole in a blender
½ cup vinegar, play around with cider, red wine, or even balsamic vinegar
¼ to ½ cup sugar, quantity varies on how sweet you like your sauce, but think of combining different types of sugars like brown sugar, molasses, honey, etc.
1 onion, chopped
Crushed garlic cloves, I opted for 6 cloves but choose as few or as many as you like
¼ to ½ cup of aromatics, this is your signature spice blend
¼ cup oil of your choice, or a combination of fats perhaps
1 to 2 cups water
Begin by putting together your secret spice blend: think of combining some hot chillies, fine herbs, nuts or seeds, and don’t forget some salt, even if it just a couple pinches just to balance out the flavours. It doesn’t matter if your spices are whole or ground. After mixing and combining, put all your spices in a food processor to ground it all together. Take the time to play around and taste as you go. Even after you’ve blended your spices you can always add more but remember you cannot remove it once it’s been added – tread carefully.
Bring a large pot to medium heat, pour in the oil, add the onions and garlic, and sauté until soft. Add your spice blend and cook for a couple of minutes. Don’t worry if it sticks a little at the bottom of the pot, because the next step is deglazing. To deglaze, simply pour in the vinegar and stir. You will find that your ingredients and the brown bits begin to unstick from the bottom of the pot; at this point add your tomato base, sugar and one cup of water. Stir well, turn the heat down to low and simmer for about an hour until the sauce is reduced down to two thirds of the quantity you originally had.
Allow your sauce to cool, pour into a blender and process until smooth. If the sauce is too thick to blend smoothly then gradually add some water until it reaches the desired consistence. Return to the pot, taste and adjust any seasonings as needed. If you are adding seasonings to your sauce then bring it to a simmer for another 15 minutes to an hour to ensure the flavours are well combine. Just remember that the longer you cook your sauce, the thicker it gets. It will also thicken when it cools. On the other hand, if your sauce is too bland or too liquid, then cooking and reducing it for another hour will thicken and help concentrate the flavours.
Now you are ready to store it in the fridge, freezer or in jars (for preserving, make sure you follow proper instructions and this is a great place to get started). Makes a great gift and is also fantastic when cooking for a crowd. Not only can you use it on all sorts of grilled meats and vegetables, as a topping for burgers, but it is something personal you can bring to any party. Save a little extra in a mason jar to give as a gift to the host or hostess.
Now, get some people together for a BBQ and get ready to brag about your own signature BBQ sauce!
A priceless indulgence of the summer BBQ! Well, perhaps it’s neck and neck with ribs but a great indulgence nonetheless. Simple or elaborate, it is just delectable, moist, tender and its skin perfectly crispy! Sprinkle your chicken with salt, pepper and herbs, or baste with store bought BBQ sauce or marinate the chicken with your own creation. Whichever you decide, it will be fabulous!
The first time I made beer can chicken at home it was a delicate balancing act. The can was too full, the chicken too heavy and the grills too far apart – or not enough for such a narrow base. It is needless to say that the chicken fell over many times. So for beer can chicken you have two options: attempt the balancing act or for $5 buy the contraption seen in the picture. This stand is specifically made for beer-can chicken and is available at most grocery stores. Let me tell you, this contraption is definitely a worthwhile investment!
On this particular beer can chicken day I had an over-ripe mango on the counter and recently purchased whole dried ancho chilies I had not yet worked with. These two key ingredients mated to create this ancho-mango marinade.
Ancho-Mango Beer Can Chicken
- One dried ancho chili
- One tbsp dried oregano (remove the leaves from a few sprigs if using fresh)
- One tsp cumin
- One tsp cayenne
- One half tbsp salt
- One mango, peeled and cut into pieces
- Two garlic cloves
- One whole chicken, cleaned and patted dry
- One large can of brown beer
- One cup brown sugar
- ¼ cup molasses
In a food processor combine the dried ancho chili, oregano, cumin, cayenne and salt until well blended. Add the mango and garlic, mix until smooth. Rub the marinade over the cleaned and dried chicken, making sure to get some of the marinade under the skin so that it can penetrate the meat. Latex gloves also come in handy here. Allow the chicken to rest and absorb the flavors at room temperature for about an hour.
In the meantime, use a can-opener to pop open the can of beer and pour out half its contents into either a glass for yourself or a saucepan if you decide to make a glaze. If you’re going for the glaze, then you should definitely go to your fridge and get a second beer for yourself to enjoy. In the saucepan, add the brown sugar and molasses. Bring up to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes. Allow to cool.
Beer-can chicken must be cooked with indirect heat, which essentially means that you want to leave the burner located under the chicken in the off position. Also make sure you have enough room to close the lid over the chicken. Turn only one side of the grill burners to medium heat and let the BBQ reach about 350°F. While the grill heats up, take the time to place the can of beer in the contraption’s holster. At this point you are ready to mount the chicken onto its beer-can throne. Once securely set, place the chicken onto the grill, above the grill that is in the off position, so it is in indirect heat. Close the lid and let it cook. Every fifteen minutes or so baste the chicken with the beer glaze and turn it to make sure it cooks evenly. Total cooking time should be between one hour and a half and two hours depending on the size of your chicken (internal temperature should be at 180°F).
The skin of this particular chicken was crispy and so sticky that the tongs stuck to the chicken. The meat was juicy and tangy from the mango and ancho pepper.
If you’re lucky enough to have leftovers, the meat makes for awesome sandwiches!