The color spectrum of barbecue sauce is rich and diverse—one reason why sampling different styles from all over the South is so much fun and delicious. Ask the average person the color of their favorite sauce and you'll likely get answers ranging from brick red to mahogany to caramel. Pose the same question to a resident of North Alabama, though, and you're sure to get only one answer: white.
"It's the only sauce we know here because it's what everyone grows up on," says world barbecue champion Chris Lilly of Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur, Alabama. For his part, Bob Gibson is credited with concocting "white sauce" back in 1925. Today, this tangy, mayonnaise-based condiment, traditionally used to dress smoked and grilled chicken, is as synonymous with the state of Alabama as legendary football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. "We marinate with it, use it to baste, plus we use it as an all-purpose table sauce," adds Chris.
Yet, because white barbecue sauce is such a regional thing and since grocery shelves are dominated by the various incarnations of tomato-based sauces, most folks (including many Southerns!) have never tried it.
If you fall into the "never tried it" category, then I'm here to tell you that it's time to get out the chicken, fire up your smoker or grill, and stir up a batch of sauce.
Like its tomato- and mustard-based cousins, white barbecue sauce comes in shades ranging from porcelain to putty. There are also differences in consistency. Some version flow like fat-free milk, while others are more reminiscent of a creamy dressing.
As for ingredients, well, purists such as Myra Grissom, owner of Miss Myra's Pit Barbecue in Birmingham, insist there are only four: mayonnaise, vinegar, salt, and coarsely ground pepper. "Everyone says they have a special recipe, but there's really no secret. Start with the basics and you can't go wrong," suggests Myra, who's family tree leads back to Decatur. She's been serving up her version of white barbecue sauce for almost 25 years. "We use it to perk up salads, top pulled pork sandwiches, and as a sauce for grilled fish. I even love it as a pretzel dip," she says with a smile.
Chris and Myra both admit, however, that it's not uncommon to find all sorts of additional ingredients—everything from lemon juice to onion powder to cayenne pepper. The recipe below begins with a traditional base, then calls on the flavor-boosting power of fresh garlic, prepared horseradish, Creole mustard, and a touch of sugar. The resulting sauce has a touch of eye-opening heat, lip-smacking acidity with just the right amount of creaminess. One taste and you'll understand why Myra says, "No Southern home should be without it."
White Barbecue Sauce
Makes 2 cups
Prep: 5 min.
If you prefer a thicker sauce, omit the water—you'll get the same great flavor.
11/2 cups mayonnaise
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. coarsely ground pepper
1 Tbsp. Creole mustard
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. prepared horseradish
Whisk together all ingredients until blended. Sauce can be prepared up to 2 days ahead.
recipe courtesy of Southern Living