Gridiron Chef

  Posted 9/18 by Mark Wimer, Exclusive to Footballguys.com

Football season is upon us once again, and tailgating is in full swing at home fields across the USA. That means it is time for grilling various kinds of meat on the barbecue - whether in the parking lot before a game, or at home on the deck. Besides a quality cut of meat and a grill, the most essential item for a good barbecue is a good barbecue sauce. So, I decided to start at the beginning with the Grid Iron Chef columns this year, and get back to basics.

In the years since I last wrote about grilling sauce, I've mixed up several hundred batches of barbecue sauce, all of them variations on the following, easy-to-use base sauce. Please note, all the recipes in the Grid Iron Chef column are suggestions - not hard and fast rules. I encourage people to experiment with the proportions suggested in the recipes (or the extra ingredients that comprise the variations). Taste test your sauce as you go along so you can adjust it to suit your personal preference. Anyway, without further ado:

Cola Barbecue Sauce

  • 1/2 cup ketchup - I'm not picky about the type of ketchup - usually I use the Kroger store brand.
  • 1/2 cup regular cola (not diet) - Personally, I prefer Coke or R.C. Cola for this recipe, but I imagine other sorts would work.
  • Dash of your favorite hot sauce - I use Texas Pete right now, as I have a huge bottle in the fridge, but in the past I've used Tabasco and Louisiana with equally good results.
  • Dash of White or Apple Cider Vinegar

Dump the above ingredients into a blender or food processor and process until uniform in color. Adjust for taste (more hot sauce for those who like hotter sauces; more cola to make the mix sweeter, etc.).

The Cola Barbecue sauce is very flexible and works equally well on Chicken, Pork or Beef, in my opinion. However, the base recipe is far from the only way to mix up a sauce. Often, I find myself inspired by other ingredients I am working with for a particular meal, and tweak the sauce to fit the rest of the menu. One really great variation I stumbled upon came about because I was roasting garlic bulbs to make garlic bread as a side dish, and I decided to squeeze 4 or 5 cloves of the roasted garlic into the barbecue sauce, too. The roasted garlic added a nice smoky-garlicky note to the sauce. Also, spreading roasted garlic on toasted multigrain bread makes awesome garlic bread!

Roasted Garlic

Preheat Oven to 350 F

Peel off excess outer skin from the garlic bulb, leaving just a few layers to bind the cloves

Slice off the top of the head of garlic to expose the cloves

Cut/Tear off squares of foil sufficient to wrap up each head of garlic

Place garlic heads on squares of foil, and loosely wrap, leaving the top open for now (creating a cup of foil around the garlic)

Drizzle each head lightly with olive oil

Grind on fresh pepper and sprinkle with thyme (if you have fresh, use that - if not, dried is OK too).

Seal foil tightly and roast for 55 or so minutes (just under an hour)

Remove from oven and let cool. Get out a bowl or Tupperware container, and squeeze the roasted cloves out of the papery skin into the bowl. Spread on bread for awesome garlic bread. Toss 4, or 5 (or 10!) cloves into your base Cola Barbecue sauce to suit your personal taste while blending and enjoy some good 'Q with your garlic bread. 1/3 of a cup of roasted garlic mixed into your mashed potatoes is also a great way to enhance an old favorite.

Another nice add-on to the Cola Barbecue Sauce is several generous squeezes of mustard. I've used Garlic Mustard when I didn't have time to roast garlic (I've also added Dijon mustard into the sauce along with roasted garlic to good result).

A "quick" substitute for roasted garlic is to dump in about 1/3 of a cup of dried onion flakes and a couple of fresh cloves of garlic while you blend the sauce - the smoky taste from the dried onion combines with the fresh garlic to produce a similar flavor in the sauce.

When I want a really hot barbecue sauce, (for hot Buffalo wings, etc.) I'll throw in a 1/2 teaspoon of ground cayenne pepper or maybe more, depending on my guests and their heat tolerance. Really aggressive hot sauce would do the trick, too, I suppose (I don't keep Dave's Insanity Sauce in my kitchen, but I have friends who do). Remember to taste-test your sauce often when you are adding aggressive spicing/a lot of heat - you can always add more, but you can never get the stuff back out once you mix it in!

Of course, some folks like their barbecue sauce more sweet than spicy or garlicky, which is fun, too. One nice variation I've mixed up was Raspberry Syrup Cola Barbecue Sauce - my mom had some raspberry syrup in the fridge and I was making a raspberry vinaigrette salad dressing with it one night. On a whim, I dumped in about 1/3 of a cup of the raspberry syrup into my cola barbecue sauce - it was an instant hit.

Some other good "sweeteners"

  • Molasses - adds a nice smoky-sweet flavor to the sauce, and makes it more "clingy"
  • Clover, Orange Blossom, Tupelo or Buckwheat Honey all work well and add interesting notes (I like to use orange blossom honey in my sauce when I am grilling shrimp, for example - the citrusy honey works well with sea food).

The next time you fire up the barbecue, try mixing your own custom barbecue sauce. It's inexpensive, fun - and a good way to build your rep as a master of grill-craft!

Here's to good friends, good times, and good food! Enjoy!