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RBR Tailgating: Bourbon Bar-B-Q Sauce

Most of the stadia in the SEC are going to smell like brown liquor. Your meat might as well smell like it too.

I’m of the opinion that cooking chicken drumsticks slathered in Bar-B-Q sauce is the highest and best use of a Weber grill.

There are any number of meats and vegetables that make a hell of a showing as well, don’t get me wrong. A Weber style portable grill, the most obviously portable choice for a tailgate, can turn out a hell of a New York Strip or rack of lamb. But so can other things. In fact, with the exception of the previously mentioned chicken drumsticks, I can think of a better way to cook most everything.

Steak houses have pretty much slammed the door shut on any arguments avowing that anything cooks a steak better than an 800˚ oven. There’s a whole industry charging outrageous amounts for a piece of meat adorned with salt and… well that’s it. They don’t even let you sniff the overcooked asparagus in melted butter side dish unless you fork over an extra seven or eight dollars.

I used to work for a wine distributor. Steak houses, all of them, run a roughly twenty-five percent cost on wine; if they spend twenty-five dollars on a bottle, they sell it to you for one hundred. Restaurant industry average is about forty percent. That covers labor, insurance, etc. and allows for a modest profit. The steak house industry mocks and mangles the normal supply and demand arguments because they have ridiculously hot ovens and you don’t.

Lamb lovers such as myself are relatively few and far between. For reasons I cannot fathom a large constituency of my fellow taste-budded human beings find it “too gamey.” I don’t get the objection. My fellow ovinelatelists would no doubt agree that lamb cooked over charcoal is better than no lamb at all, we’d prefer our chops pan seared and finished in a salamander broiler.

You could make an argument for burgers. Weber and burgers go hand in hand, but I’d be hard pressed to get as even and controlled a cook over a fire as I would from an iron skillet or commercial griddle.

Webers make hot dogs sing. They get glorious little burned spots in unpredictable places and the smoke permeates and stands out as a competing flavor to the otherwise mild (but undeniably delicious) mish mash of leftover piggy bits and spices. It’s a fantastic way to cook ‘em, but any twelve year old that’s spent a day at “overnight camp” can tell you that there is no better hot dog than the one you just speared on the end of a sharpened stick, burned and blistered in an rock-contained camp fire, and wrapped in a piece of school cafeteria grade-white bread.

This is not meant to be a tirade or gerry… jerim… (there is a word that starts with a soft “g” that is related to tirade and all I can think of is gerrymander which is clearly wrong, and no, this is not a note for the editors to be removed before posting - I do those in [brackets] - but an admission to the readers that I failed to find the better word) against Weber. I hope it is clear that I’m not denigrating my Weber grill. It does an amazing job. I have Weber friends.

I’m serious when I say that I can’t think of any budget busting instrument of perfection that would improve upon the chicken I make on my ninety dollar five pound (complete guess) 22 inch Weber.

But this post isn’t about chicken. It’s actually about sauce.

Bourbon Bar-B-Q Sauce

½ medium yellow onion

3 cloves garlic

2 tbsp. unsalted butter

½ cup Bourbon or sour mash if you are going to be pedantic

2 cups tomato ketchup (or “catsup” if you live in Russia)

1 cup Coca-Cola (or Pepsi if you seriously live in Russia)

2 tbs. brown sugar

1 tbsp. cayenne pepper

1 tsp. Sriracha or Tabasco sauce

1 tsp. ground mustard

1 tsp. cumin

1 tsp. chili powder

salt and pepper to taste

Start with a sauce pan over high heat and add the butter and onion. Saute until the onion starts to turn translucent and then add the Bourbon. Stirring often enough to keep you from wandering off and forgetting about everything and burning the onions beyond recognition, let the alcohol cook off for about five minutes.

Quick note about cooking off alcohol: It doesn’t really happen.

The famous and dramatic splash of brandy in a sauté pan that flames in vulgar hues of blue and orange leaves about three fourths of the original booze content intact. The longer and less flashy methods burn it off less and less efficiently as time goes by. A two hour simmer still leaves five or ten percent of your original proof in the pan.

I’m not pointing this out to be a prude or to scold. I feed my kids food with alcohol in the sauce all the time because I know that the quantities are so small that it makes that splash of vanilla extract in the average cake icing look like a shot of Everclear. I’m mentioning this because I’ve argued with more than a handful of chefs when a guest says they can’t have any alcohol period. You are not cooking it off, and that matters to someone with an allergy, a sobriety test on the horizon, or a spot on an organ donation waiting list. Thus concludeth the preachy part of this post.

I listed the amount of cayenne pepper as one tbsp., but I used two because I like it spicy. One is still enough to give it a kick. Two is just more fun. Let your capsaicin tolerance be your guide.

After five minutes of pseudo cooking off, add everything else to the pan and mix well. When it starts to bubble, turn the heat down to low and simmer for thirty minutes, stirring every few. I kept a glass of water on hand which sounds ridiculous as I write it because I was in a kitchen with a sink, but anyway, I kept a glass of water on hand to thin the sauce if it got too thick but I never needed it. I also kept a bottle of distilled white vinegar because experience told me that tomato based Bar-B-Q sauce needs vinegar. I didn’t use it either. I’ve no idea, but I’m wondering if the bourbon had the sharpening effect I usually ascribe to vinegar.

Don’t let leftovers go to waste.

After thirty minutes of simmering, puree with an immersion blender or in a food processor.

I went on a bit about chicken earlier because my argument was sound, based on perfect reasoning, and that the conclusion about drumsticks being the perfect charcoal food was practically unassailable (notice how repeated use of the word “drumstick” marginalizes any white meat heresies before they arise) but this sauce is not just for the ideal. We put it on ribs too.

It was an across the board success, if I do say so myself.

Still… more better:

Slather it on about ten minutes before whatever you are cooking is done. It’s pretty damn good.

Bragging rights are on the line this week. It’s maybe not as big a deal as last year’s game was because last year was a leap year, but we are on the cusp of defining our relationship with a not ignorable population of our fellow states-people and collegiate fans. Start by making better Bar-B-Q sauce than them. Tailgate to a standard, if I can borrow and twist a phrase.

No injuries, Roll Tide, and… “Jeremiad!” That was the word I was trying to think of. It’s like a mournful tirade.

Dammit. I might have even worked out some way to play with that and found some sort of “Jeremy-Jeremiad” pun re Jeremy Johnson. That might have even been topical considering that we have no idea if Sean White or last year’s August Heisman winner will be starting. I’m leaving lively vocabulary points on the field.