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Excerpt from Complete Idiot’s Guide® to Grilling
by Don Mauer

Boss Barbecue Sauces

With so many barbecue sauces lining supermarket shelves today, why would anyone want to make his own barbecue sauce at home? Three little words: it'll taste better.

When you make your own barbecue sauce, you get to choose which brand or type of ingredients you put into your sauce, which can definitely make it taste better. We used dried herbs in the dry rubs, because they are just that—dry. Due to their natural moisture, fresh herbs are difficult if not impossible to use in a dry rub. But since barbecue sauces are already wet, you can easily utilize fresh herbs, which can make a big flavor difference. (Most bottled sauces use dry herbs.)

What's Sugar Got to Do with It?

Sugar is a key component in most barbecue sauces whether you see "sugar" in the ingredient list or not. Many barbecue sauces contain ketchup, and although most ketchups produced today have little of any "sugar," they contain high-fructose corn syrup, which isn't made from sugar cane, but corn. But it doesn't matter what you name it, they're both sugar.

Most barbecue sauces also have "added" sugar, such as granulated sugar or brown sugar. Granulated sugar is neutral in flavor—it's just sweet. Brown sugar, however, is rich with flavors that come from the molasses that either hasn't been refined out or has been added back. Molasses on its own may taste great, but swirl it with refined sugar and—wow—flavor!

Honey, even though it comes from bees, is still a form of sugar. Some barbecue sauces add honey for two reasons: it's sweet (like sugar) but has flavor, sometimes complex (unlike sugar).

It doesn't matter where it comes from; sugar in all its forms makes barbecue sauces a sweet delight.

Tomato... No Tomato

Tomatoes are the second ubiquitous barbecue sauce ingredient. Tomatoes bring their own natural sugar as well as flavor to a sauce.

Rarely are fresh tomatoes added to a barbecue sauce, though. Tomatoes enter a barbecue sauce in one of three forms: ketchup (most common), tomato sauce (much less common), and tomato paste (even less common).


It's a Blessing: Vinegar

Vinegar is often used in sauces to balance sugar's sweetness. It creates an edge that sharpens sugar's softness. The most commonly used vinegar is distilled "white" vinegar. The good news about distilled vinegar: it's always the same. Every bottle you pick up has the same flavor and the same level of acidity because it's all controlled in the production process.

Cider vinegar is used less frequently than distilled vinegar, but it has more flavor notes. "Cider vinegar" is shorthand for "apple cider vinegar." Natural cider vinegar has many different flavor notes—apple being the most prominent.
(Beware: some vinegars available today have the word cider on the label but have never seen or touched an apple. Look closely, and you'll see the word flavored in small type. Even the color may be added.)

Finally, rice vinegar is becoming more common thanks to availability and is appearing in some barbecue sauces. Rice vinegar is made from—what else?—fermented rice. You can find it in seasoned and unseasoned varieties. Sugar and salt are the most common rice vinegar "seasonings." Unseasoned rice vinegar has a light, clean taste and aroma, and seasoned or unseasoned, rice vinegar is lower in acid than American distilled "white" vinegar, which makes it smoother tasting than regular distilled vinegar.

Take a minute to stop and read vinegar labels and see what they contain.

Timing Is Everything

Making your own barbecue sauces is great fun—and they make terrific gifts! Barbecue sauce can be used as a condiment, like ketchup, on hamburgers, baked chicken, broiled pork chops and even hot dogs. But the main end use of a barbecue sauce is to slather it all over grilled or barbecued beef, pork, chicken, fish, and even vegetables.

Here's where timing gets tricky. Many folks who are somewhat new to grilling or barbecuing want to add the sauce at the beginning, right after they slap the meat on the grill. The problem with this, though, is because barbecue sauce contains so much sugar, natural and added, that by the time the chicken or other meat is done, the sauce has turned black because the sugar in it has burned.

There's an easy solution, though: be patient, and wait to add the barbecue sauce until almost the end of the cooking time. If put on just before the end, the sauce will turn to a wonderful glaze and actually deliver more flavor than it originally had before it went on. How's that possible? The heat changes the sauce, improving and deepening its flavor. So never brush on barbecue sauce any sooner than 10 minutes before the meat's done cooking.

What about leftover sauce? Because of its high acid content (just like ketchup), as long as it hasn't come in contact with raw meat, leftover barbecue sauce can be transferred to a clean glass bottle, covered, and refrigerated to be used at another time.

Most homemade barbecue sauces will keep for several weeks if you properly cover and store them in the refrigerator.

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