Thank you to the Southern Foodways Alliance for allowing us to share “Vinegar and Barbecue: Tales of Live Cultures and Red Herrings” by Hugh Acheson.
The perfect prelude to a barbeque infused Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium weekend. Oxford, Mississippi awaits.
From Gravy #44:
In the world of barbecue, vinegar is a seasoning, a spritz, a wash—an agile épée to porcine succulence. Vinegar is a necessity when it comes to giving barbecue its glory. Good barbecue has a char, a pit-borne crust, and a rich, tender interior that yearns for that jolt of peppery vinegar.
I will not speak to the Mendoza Line of barbecue sauce, where vinegar yields to sweetness. I will not debate the merits of mustard or tomato, for the sauce I will share with you has both, but neither is dominant. I will not regale you with arguments about how whole is better than finely chopped. Or how ribs pale in comparison to brisket. Or how I think baby back ribs are a red herring, a cut sucked into vacuum bags in the deep recesses of a factory in China to be sold many moons later at a chain restaurant in the suburbs of Hoboken. I will tell you of the sauce I love.
Let’s make a simple mopping sauce. Not just a mop, not just a sauce, but something in between. Thin enough to sink into the meat, but with a little body to it. I am not much for ketchup, but understand your love. I am here for you. Believe me when I say that saccharine sauces do not complement meat cooked for hours, tended with care and precision over wood coals stoked with love and strength. That’s like roasting a perfect chicken and serving it with a melted jelly bean sauce. And don’t get me started about liquid smoke. If you go there, we can never be friends.
I just want to make the sauce using ingredients that appear in the nature, without a label. Except for that little dash of Worcestershire—and the vinegar itself, but then again, you can make that, too. It’s easy. I take hard cider and mix it with Bragg’s raw apple cider vinegar, a live culture vinegar, which you can find at stores that sell a lot of quinoa. Place it all in the biggest mason jar you have and cover with a paper towel. Store it in a cool cupboard. In about three weeks, you have apple cider vinegar.
Back to the sauce. Don’t be scared of the allspice. It’s a spice component in America’s favorite vegetable, ketchup.
PLEASANTLY LUMPY BARBEQUE SAUCE
1 tablespoon bacon fat (You’re reading Gravy, so naturally you have this at the ready)
1/4 minced sweet onion
2 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
3/4 cup cored, seeded and finely diced tomato
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground allspice (about 6 berries)
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon crushed red chile flake
1/2 teaspoon dried mustard
1/2 tablespoon sorghum molasses or honey
1/2 cup of Bragg’s raw apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup water
In a heavy sauce-pot, like enameled cast iron, heat the bacon fat over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, stirring every one in while. Then add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, cooking for 5 minutes to a pap consistency. Season with the salt and then add the allspice, Worcestershire, chile flakes, and honey. Cook down for 5 minutes until the tomatoes look like tomato sauce. Add the vinegar and water and cook for 30 minutes. Cool and pulse in the blender.
This is a sauce to have in a mason jar, and not in a squeeze bottle. It’s lumpy. That’s good. Spoon it out onto your pulled ‘cue. Taste the goodness and be happy with the rowdy friend we have in vinegar.
Hugh Acheson is the chef of 5 & 10 in Athens, Georgia, and the author of A New Turn In the South.
That recipe reads like a short story.