Barbeque sauce had its origin in a very practical goal: to preserve meat. Prior to refrigeration, it was helpful to coat a sliced animal part with vinegar (a natural bactericide) or salt (a natural preservative). But after the turn of the 20th century when refrigeration became more widespread, and particularly after WWII when the US became obsessed with barbecuing, sauces became an integral part of the final flavor.
When to apply the sauce is a matter of some contention, of course, as is anything in such an individualized practice as cooking. Purists would insist that after the meat is done cooking is the best time. Any sauce applied during the grilling period, they argue, is prone to burning. But that carmelized crust is often just the effect you want, some will respond.
But whether you are a radical or a traditionalist, there are certain ingredients that are common to most recipes.
Some form of tomato paste provides the base of most barbeque sauces. Its thick consistency and fine flavor make it a uniquely great partner to a good cut of steak, pork or chicken. Mustard is often added to spice up the mixture as only mustard can. Vinegar helps preserve while providing a distinctive tangy hint. Most will add some type of sugar in the form of molasses or maple. Many sauces will contain bits of a tasty plant, such as onion or even garlic.
But beyond the basics there is a whole world of possiblities.
Every region in every country that barbeques has its own special take on how a sauce should be prepared. Family recipes are one of the most closely guarded secrets and quite a few win prizes in cooking contests.
Something as simple as the addition of a bit of lemon juice or Worcestershire can make the difference between bland and boffo. A bit of cayenne will liven up an otherwise ordinary sauce. But for the Chinese a hoisin, made from sweet plums, is the perfect ingredient.
Teriyaki is a traditional Japanese covering for chicken and it has been adopted by many around the globe. This soy-based, salty mixture provides a sweet, tangy flavor that just can’t be achieved any other way.
Mustard-based sauces are a common sight in the South part of the US, but the specific type is as unique as every household. Everything from ordinary yellow mustard seed to Dijon has been used. The French influence in Louisiana has made the use of mustard in barbeque sauce a real specialty.
But wherever you live and whatever you prefer, adding a sauce to your barbeque clearly serves a single, common goal: to add enjoyment to an already great meal. Share your joy!