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Barbecue Sauces Reflect Regional Differences

July 02, 1987|JOAN DRAKE | Times Food Writer

Sometimes food stories have rather unusual origins. This one began when a plane from Los Angeles to New York was diverted to Kansas City because of weather. Stranded in an unfamiliar city and being a food writer, I did the only logical thing--looked into the local cuisine specialties.

Searching my memory, only one thing came to mind--Kansas City barbecue. Despite arriving at the hotel at 9 p.m. and leaving again at daylight, two bottles of locally made barbecue sauce were in hand when I boarded the bus back to the airport.

On arrival back at the Los Angeles Times Food Department, those bottles prompted a discussion of how barbecue sauces vary around the country, which led to collecting bottled sauces from different regions. Food experts in the local areas were consulted for background information and their recommendations of products.

Unfortunately, some of the most famous sauces--Arthur Bryant's in Kansas City, Mo., Fincher's of Macon, Ga., Lexington from North Carolina--weren't available by mail-order. Still, those that were acquired provided excellent insight into regional differences.

From the Southeast came mustard-vinegar style products that most of our panel thought looked and tasted more like a basting sauce. (None of the panel members were from that area of the country.) The recipes undoubtedly originated in Europe and were brought to this country by early colonists. Since tomatoes were considered poisonous until the 19th Century, it makes sense that they weren't used in these early recipes. Between tradition and people simply being used to and liking the flavor, the sauces never changed.

Begin moving west, even just from eastern to western North Carolina, and sauces change in color from mustard yellow to orange and red. They also become sweeter with the addition of brown sugar. By the time one gets to Memphis and Kansas City, tomato flavor becomes the norm and molasses or honey may replace the brown sugar.

Available ingredients for making the sauces and a shift in meat supplies from pork to beef necessitated many of these changes. So did the fuel used for cooking--from hickory wood in the East to the mesquite of Texas. Southwestern chiles took the place of eastern spices, color darkened to red-brown.

West Coast sauces seem to combine both Midwest and Southwest traits. Naturally, there's always an exception to the general rule, and we found variety in the sauces collected from each area. Living in a mobile society, this is only to be expected.

Here's a description of the sauces tasted. They were tasted alone, and with cubes of bread, beef brisket and chicken breast. The object was not to judge--it would be impossible to compare one to another because many were so different--but simply to detect regional differences. All sauces listed were found to be acceptable by a majority of the panel members.


Maurice Bessinger's Piggie Park Barbecue Sauce

Piggie Park Enterprises

Box 6847

West Columbia, S.C. 29171

(800) 628-7423

Regular, spicy hot and hickory flavors were tasted. These were the most yellowish in color of the entire collection and all three had a relatively thin consistency. Subtle differences were detected in the three flavors. Tasters felt they were more of a basting sauce and suggested uses included with ham and stirred into deviled eggs. Sauces are available from the above address at $6 for one (16-ounce) bottle, $12 for three, $18 for six, or $28 for a case of 12. Flavors may be mixed within orders.

Johnny Harris' Famous Bar-B-Cue Sauce

Johnny Harris Bar-B-Cue Sauce Co.

2801 Wicklow St.

Savannah, Ga. 31404

(912) 354-8828

Regular and hickory flavors were tasted. Catsup gives a red-orange color to this sauce with a dominant mustard taste and relatively thin consistency. Not much difference was detected between the two varieties. One taster commented on a Worcestershire sauce flavor. The manufacturer suggests heating the sauce to increase flavor and brushing it onto meats and poultry only during the final minutes of grilling. A minimum order of six (12-ounce) bottles is available from the above address for $16, when shipped west of the Mississippi River. Flavors may be mixed within the order.


Gates' and Sons Bar-B-Q Sauce

Best of Kansas City

6233 Brookside Plaza

Kansas City, Mo. 64113

(816) 333-7900

Red in color with medium consistency. Tasters found it very spicy, with the flavors of cumin, chili powder and vinegar. A gift pack of two (18-ounce) bottles is available from the above address for $14 plus shipping. The company will mix one bottle of Gates' and one of Hayward's, if requested.

Hayward's Pit Bar-B-Q

Best of Kansas City

6233 Brookside Plaza

Kansas City, Mo. 64113

(816) 333-7900

Lighter red in color than others in the regional group, with a relatively thin consistency. Tasters commented on the honey flavor. A gift pack of two (18-ounce) bottles is available from the above address for $14 plus shipping. The company will mix 1 bottle of Hayward's and 1 of Gates', if requested.

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