South TX barbecue sauce?
March 31, 2019 9:04 AM   Subscribe

I am from San Antonio, TX. I actually dislike barbecue, but I want to make a complete meal of it for my SO as a cultural exercise. Can you personally recommend a regionally appropriate barbecue sauce recipe? The kind I want is thin and not too sweet, with a lot of vinegar. At home it's a condiment to put on the meat once it's done, not for basting or whatever. Any ideas? Thank you.
posted by 8603 to Food & Drink (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
The kind of Texas-style barbecue sauce I've always had was made simply by running a big can of fire-roasted whole tomatoes through a food mill (this will result in a thinner puree than using crushed tomatoes), then adding cider vinegar (or, better yet, Steen's cane vinegar!) to taste, salt and a ton of coarse cracked black pepper, and simmering it on the stove for a little while to bring things together. Add a touch of cumin if that's your thing. This is the sauce I'm used to having with brisket, shoulder clod and sausage in the triangle that connects San Antonio, Austin and Houston.
posted by slkinsey at 9:25 AM on March 31, 2019 [4 favorites]

Thin and vinegar-y makes me think of The Salt Lick's BBQ sauce.
posted by neushoorn at 9:42 AM on March 31, 2019 [2 favorites]

This recipe for Franklin's "Classic Barbecue Sauce" looks similar to the thin, vinegary type of sauce I've had at some places in Central Texas.

Here's the recipe:

Classic Barbecue Sauce, by Aaron Franklin

Makes about 3 cups

1 3/4 cups ketchup
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon white vinegar
1/4 tablespoons plus 11/2 teaspoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons plus 11/2 teaspoons
Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon chile powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse black pepper

Combine all of the ingredients in a saucepan and warm gently over medium heat, stirring occasionally. There is no need to bring the mixture to a boil, as the idea is just to warm it enough to melt and integrate the ingredients. Once you have done that, remove from the heat and let cool. Transfer to a jar, bottle, squeeze bottle, or however you want to store it. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
posted by bradf at 10:27 AM on March 31, 2019 [4 favorites]

Having lived in Austin for a while and eaten at the Salt Lick a bunch, I can tell you people commented on the untraditional-ness of their sauce — I remember it as sweeter and with different spices than others in the area. It's very good, but it's definitely not Default Central Texas Barbecue Sauce, despite coming from a very popular barbecue chain in Central Texas.

If I was going to try to make my own Default Central Texas Barbecue Sauce, bradf's looks more plausible to me.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:59 AM on March 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

I actually prefer the thicker tomato-based sauces, like you'd get at Rudy's or Stubb's. Here's another recipe for that style:
makes about 2 cups

1 (8 oz) can tomato sauce
1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 1/2 tbsp white vinegar
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup lemon juice (2 lemons)
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp course black pepper
1/4 tsp cumin
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

Combine all ingredients in a large pot. Simmer until slightly reduced.
posted by bradf at 11:11 AM on March 31, 2019

The most important thing to understand about Texas-style barbecue is that the sauce is unimportant. I saw Stubbs (the man, not the venue) at HEB buying Mumbo sauce once, FWIW.
posted by adamrice at 3:13 PM on March 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

In spite on the comment immediately above, Stubbs' own sauce is very good, more traditional that Salt Lick's, and widely available, both on-line and in stores such as HEB and Randall's. I would go with that and save the trouble for cooking the things you can't get off-the-shelf.
posted by ubiquity at 9:09 AM on April 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm not going to be prescriptive about barbecue (I grew up in Tulsa, where BBQ influences are somewhat evenly divided between KC, Memphis, and Texas-style) so if you want a particular type of sauce go for it. That said, when I think "thin and a lot of vinegar" that puts me into Carolina BBQ, not a style I grew up with at all in Oklahoma (or encountered on trips to Texas, but admittedly I wasn't looking for it when I was chasing down migas or mole). When I think of Texas-style barbecue, I think of meat (particularly brisket, but sometimes also sausage) with no sauce. In his book Aaron Franklin first says of sauce, "here in Central Texas, it's an afterthought." Here's how the introduction to the sauce part of the book starts:
“In the rest of the country, sauce is an essential, inseparable component of barbecue. In Central Texas, barbecue sauce is considered optional, at best.

You see, in Central Texas we believe that well-made barbecue has no need for sauce. If the pitmaster has done his or her job, the well-balanced flavors of great beef or pork and sweet oak smoke are complex enough and delicious enough to stand on their own. It’s the German-Czech orthodoxy we’ve inherited, and until recently, there still were places that stayed true to the meat-market origins of the cuisine and didn’t offer sauce (or silverware) for their meat. Nowadays, however, pretty much everyone has sauce because diners expect it.”
I don't think of Texas as a saucy barbecue sort of place. I get the courtesy of it, now, but it's not what I expect. I'd expect (and enjoy) a thin, vinegar-based sauce on Carolina-style whole hog BBQ, but not served with beef or on pork ribs.
posted by fedward at 9:28 AM on April 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: None other than Smolik's in Karnes City serves barbecue sauce, so that's good enough for me! But I found their recipe online and am pretty sure I can do better. Obviously this is not like the south proper where everything is drowned in sauce.
posted by 8603 at 9:39 AM on April 1, 2019

Mesquite wood is the key local flavor element. Blacks (Lockhart, one the two oldest joints in Texas, the other being just down the street) will sell you Norma Jean’s Sauce online though.
posted by spitbull at 7:56 PM on April 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

By the way Kreuz’s Market will ship meat anywhere overnight.

posted by spitbull at 8:00 PM on April 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

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