Whether there is a true style to a sauce in a city that prefers their barbecue "dry" is a debate for the ages. Through the rumblings I'm sure will follow, what is fairly solid is as we move east from Kansas City, barbecue sauce starts to transform from thick and sweet, to the thinner and tangier kind.
This "Memphis-style" is my favorite to make at home—it takes the aspects of sweet tomato-based sauces I grew up on, but by dialing back the sugar and amping up the vinegar, creates a sauce where seasonings and spice are more defined and achieves a pleasing balance between the main defining aspects of a barbecue sauce.
It's also a champion of usability. This thinner sauce bakes into tasty layers and caramelizes beautifully. It creates a flavor-packed sheen when finished on ribs and is an excellent consistency for dipping.
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cups tomato sauce
- 1/2 cup cider vinegar
- 1/3 cup rice vinegar
- 1/3 cup molasses
- 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons yellow mustard
- 1 teaspoon Louisiana hot sauce
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add tomato sauce, cider vinegar, rice vinegar, molasses, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, mustard, hot sauce, salt, black pepper, and cayenne and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer until slightly thickened, about 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Transfer sauce to the jar of a blender and blend until smooth. Let cool to room temperature, transfer to a jar and store in refrigerator for up to a month.