Monday, May 23, 2011

Saucin' it Up Western North Carolina Style

I prepare all the sauces used by our team in competition, and I produce varieties that cover an array of regional styles: Kansas City (my signature sauce), Texas, Georgia, etc.  One of my favorite styles is from Western North Carolina. I call it "Pig 'n' Chicken Pickin' Juice".

Many of you BBQ junkies out there probably equate North Carolina with a style of sauce that is essentially pure vinegar. What you're thinking of is the Eastern North Carolina variety, and it is another one of the sauces in my repertoire.

The Eastern North Carolina sauce – which I also make and have dubbed "Carolina Pork Pucker" – is essentially apple cider vinegar, black pepper, red pepper flakes, and a touch of brown sugar.  On the other hand, the sauce typically found in Western North Carolina has these same ingredients plus ketchup, worcetershire, hot pepper sauce, and some other spices.

The Pig 'n' Chicken Pickin' Juice is one of my favorite sauces to douse on meat, especially on pulled pork. It's also my hands down favorite to make, mainly because like a fine wine, it needs a little time to age (more about that in a moment).

I have a couple of special ingredients that I put into the sauce. The first secret weapon is a fair amount of red pepper flakes. What makes them special is that they are the dried seeds from kung pao peppers, but what makes them truly unique is that they come from my sister's garden.

Let me tell you one thing about these peppers: they are very hot. I like to use 'em on pizza and in chili, and they are about 2 to 3 times as hot as your run-of-the-mill red pepper flakes. I also pulverize these peppers in a spice grinder when creating my proprietary BBQ rub, and when I take the lid off the airborne particles tend to go right up into my nostrils to create the most exquisite pain-pleasure sensation possible. That's the kind of kick that goes into this sauce.

The other key ingredient might sound a little offbeat: butter. More specifically, I use clarified butter, which has had the milk solids skimmed off. The use of clarified butter in Pig 'n' Chicken Pickin' Juice doesn't affect the flavor all that much, but it certainly does improve the texture and mouthfeel. And while that sounds like a bunch of pretentious foodie vernacular, I can tell you that using the butter does, in fact, make a big difference.

The recipe that I developed is for a very large batch that produces just over a gallon... 4½ quarts to be exact. After I simmer the sauce for about 45 minutes, I'll let it cool overnight and then put it into tightly sealed storage containers that I won't touch for anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks. The bottles will be kept at room temperature in the darkest recesses of my basement pantry so that the peppers and other ingredients can steep in the vinegar and other liquids to metamorphose into sauce that is delightfully pungent, slightly sweet, and 100% flavorful.


The first thing I do after the resting period has concluded is open the lid on a jug and take a big whiff. The head rush is quite intense and overwhelming in a pleasant sort of way. After I've indulged myself with a few minutes of huffing the fumes, I pour the sauce through a fine mesh strainer to filter out the particulate matter.


At this point, the red pepper flakes have done their job, so they can be discarded. The grains of black pepper, however, are small enough to make it through the sieve, which is important because they constitute a much-needed component of the final sauce.

The reward that awaits me at the end of this process is a whole lot of kickass sauce that works great on pork and chicken. I've even been known to buy bag of slaw mix, add in some of this sauce, and let it sit overnight for a wonderfully tangy rendition of red cole slaw.

But do you want to know one of the best ways to try this sauce? Just pour equal amounts of Pig 'n' Chicken Pickin' Juice and vodka into a shot glass and toss it back. It's one hell of a BBQ bracer!!

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