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Local sauces that top the taste test

Summer Grilling | Extras

June 29, 2005|Charles Perry | Times Staff Writer

Barbecue sauce bubbles over with good old American inventiveness. We doctor store-bought sauces and make our own from scratch. And sometimes we start selling our sauce. Here in Southern California, no fewer than 26 companies are doing just that. In fact, we seem to be in the middle of a barbecue sauce explosion. We were frankly surprised to find so many locally made sauces. But maybe that was because there's no one place to get a sense of how many there are. Markets (Whole Foods is an exception) rarely carry any sauces apart from national brands.

Recently the Food section tasted as many local barbecue sauces as we could get our hands on, a total of 48 -- hot ones, sharp ones, sweet ones and a few odd ducks, such as Seasonings' RoBeQue, flavored with root beer. All the main traditional styles were represented, including dark, sweet Kansas City versions, spicy, Texas red sauces and sharp, mustardy ones in the Georgia-Carolinas manner. Because this is California, a number stressed organic ingredients or healthful qualities, or indulged in wacky experimentalism. We tasted and tasted (this is hard work, folks). And we whittled down the list to our top nine.

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Mo's Smokehouse Philthy Phil's Georgia Style BBQ Sauce. The one sauce that made it into every taster's top five was this mustard-based sauce. With its suave balance of sweet and sour and sharp finish ("like the final damning point in a brilliant argument," claimed one taster), it would be good on most kinds of barbecue, but its perfect home would probably be chicken. It's significant that at the Mo's Smokehouse barbecues (San Luis Obispo, Pismo Beach, Chico and Huntington Beach), you can buy it by the quart, as well as in the more usual 12-ounce jar ($3.95). Otherwise, it's available only in a mixed pack of four sauces ($14.95) from www.mosbbq.com or (805) 543-8808.

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Zeke's Back Porch BBQ Sauce. Another mustardy sauce, but a little more raucous than Philthy Phil's because it has only a hint of sweetness. It's versatile -- some tasters have put it on salad. $4.95 at Zeke's Smokehouses (Montrose and West Hollywood); otherwise, call (323) 850-9353 or e-mail an order to jgregory@zekessmokehouse.com.

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Marshall's Rib Sauce. This is a mouth-filling, slightly smoky sauce that doesn't overwhelm the flavor of meat. The secret appears to be a shrewd balance of molasses and vinegar; think KC Masterpiece, but more elegant. Available at Marshall's Bodacious BBQs in Ventura and Camarillo and at Whole Foods Markets; $4.29.

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E. Waldo Ward & Son Meat and Barbecue Sauce. From a tiny condiment and preserves company that's been in Sierra Madre since 1891 comes a spicy sauce with a concentrated tomato flavor, a good touch of vinegar and a nudge of horseradish. $3.70 plus shipping from www.waldoward.com.

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D's Original All Natural BBQ Sauce. This sauce, from the Burbank barbecue named Ribs USA, is said to be the recipe of the Louisiana grandmother of one of the partners. It has a brooding, molasses-heavy flavor brightened with a hint of pineapple and a slightly bitter finish. A bargain: a 19 1/2 -ounce jar is $2.99 at Whole Foods Markets.

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Gayle's Extra Sassy Barbecue Sauce. This is spicier than the original Gayle's sauce, the rather sugary Southland favorite that also lends its flavor to California Pizza Kitchen's famous barbecued chicken pizza. It has the same mild vinegar finish and a bit of cumin in the nose. $2.99 at many supermarkets.

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H&W Smoke House Original Apple BBQ and Basting Sauce. A rustic tomato-y sauce with a subtle cider-like note that would be good with chicken or pork. $5.99 from www.madeincalifornia.net/store.

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Lucille's Original Bar-B-Que Sauce. From the Lucille's Smokehouse Bar-B-Ques in Long Beach, Brea, Torrance, Belmont Shore and Rancho Cucamonga. A very rich, sweet molasses sauce -- we might have preferred a little more vinegar, but it really is luscious. $3.95 at the restaurants or via the website, lucillesbbq.com.

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The Best Barbeque Sauce You'll Ever Taste. A highly distinctive (or, if you prefer, downright eccentric) sauce with the consistency and almost the taste of thick strawberry jam -- except that the seeds turn out to be coriander seeds, exploding now and then with a dash of exoticism. It's probably too sweet for anything but ribs, but thoroughly unique. Sold at Albertsons markets, butcher shops and Barbeques Galore stores in Orange County. $5.95 or three bottles for $20 (shipping included) from www.givemefoods.com.

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