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Sauced: Kansas City-Style Barbecue Sauce

Grilling season is ramping up, and all of my Sauced thoughts have turned completely to barbecue. I've always preached the merits of homemade sauce over just about any bottle, but there's an art to building the best barbecue sauce, and I hope to get you on the right path to understanding how simple changes in proportions of fairly common ingredients can completely redefine a sauce.

I'll wager that when most people think of barbecue sauce, they're picturing a thick, sweet, and tangy tomato mixture—that's Kansas City style and probably the most fitting place to start this exploration.

I've been shifting away from using ketchup in my sauces lately but that sweet, deep tomato flavor is the perfect base for a Kansas City sauce. A sizable amount of ketchup is added to sauteed onions and garlic, then combined with molasses and brown sugar (for extra thickness and sweetness), a little vinegar (adds the tartness), and to keep the sugar in check you'll need mustard, chili powder, black and cayenne peppers for some heat.

There's a good reason Kansas City sauce has become the most ubiquitous of all the barbecue sauces: versatility. It works great on everything from ribs to chicken to beans, or it can be a dip or a baste. Because of its thickness, the sauce doesn't bake in much, rather it sits atop the meat, and its high sugar content means it can burn quickly over hot coals. It's best to use the sauce lightly with a little extra vigilance while grill-side.

As we ride out of Kansas City with one sauce under our belts, we'll be heading east next week, seeing how much a game changer vinegar can be.

About the author: Joshua Bousel brings you new, tasty condiment each Wednesday and a recipe for weekend grilling every Friday. He also writes about grilling and barbecue on his blog The Meatwave whenever he can be pulled away from his grill.

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