Barbeque lovers are often staunch proponents and defenders of their favorite preparation, favorite meat, and favorite sauce—or lack thereof. Just as there is an entire range of styles of barbeque (everything from pulled pork with slaw to smoked chicken to a plate of burnt ends), there is a whole spectrum of barbeque sauces. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of sugary red sauces; but as an Alabama native, I must wholeheartedly profess my love of our native white barbeque sauce.
Many of you may be unfamiliar with this particular variety of sauce, as it is a North Alabama specialty. But, it is a staple of almost every barbeque restaurant in the area and has found its way to our tables and local grocery store shelves. White sauce is a tangy condiment made of mayonnaise, vinegar, salt, and pepper. While that might sound a little odd to the uninitiated, those in the know are evangelists for the stuff.
While white barbeque sauce has been served in the area for years, local lore suggests that Bob Gibson of the legendary Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur, Alabama, invented it in 1925. Bob worked for the L & N Railroad Company, but would host barbeques on the weekends, smoking meat over a hickory pit in his backyard. Eventually, his food became so popular that he quit his job at the railroad and opened a proper restaurant.
Today, Big Bob’s grandson, Don McLemore and Don’s son-in-law, Chris Lilly carry on the family tradition of low, slow pit barbeque and their signature white sauce. It is used as a marinade, to baste meat, and as an all-purpose table condiment. Many in Northwest Alabama claim to have authentic recipes. Some are thick and creamy; others are milky and easy to pour. My guess is that each is the genuine article—in its own way.
Lilly, now a world champion pit master, wrote a cookbook called Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ Book: Recipes and Secrets from a Legendary Barbecue Joint. In it he includes a white barbeque sauce recipe, though he won’t confirm that this is the version served in their restaurant. He says, “There is now a large number of ‘authentic’ versions of Big Bob’s original secret recipe and cooking method—all different from one another. This is one of my favorites.”
We’ve recently been using my son Zach’s version of white sauce at The Factory. Zach’s refused to divulge his secret recipe—shown here with our Roasted Chicken Sandwich—so we’re suggesting you get started with Big Bob’s:
BIG BOB GIBSON’S BAR-B-Q WHITE SAUCE
Makes 4 cups
2 cups mayonnaise
1 cup distilled white vinegar
½ cup apple juice
2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients and blend well. Use as a marinade, baste, or dipping sauce. Store refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
Watch the Southern Foodways Alliance’s short film about Big Bob Gibson’s here.