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The Wide World of Barbecue

Right this moment in the dead of winter, we need to remind ourselves  that warmer days lay ahead. Our poor old backyard grills are in sorrowful hibernation, just counting down the days until we fire them up for a barbecue. But why wait? Chef Jerry Pellegrino loves grilling and making barbecue.  But one thing that impresses him is that as you go around the country, barbecue means different things in different regions.

From the Lone Star State to the shores of North Carolina, you can find great barbecue doused in sauces that are sweet, savory, tangy or just plain delicious. But before you crown one style of regional sauce your favorite, get to know how they differ:

Of course, we’ll start with Texas, that bastion of mouth-watering barbecue. Here you’ll find brisket infused with quintessential Texan flavors like chili powder. Basically, be ready for some serious spice – Texans don’t do anything halfway.

Kansas City, Missouri
OK, let’s talk KC. Sauces here are a little sweeter, and usually have a molasses-like quality to them. When making your own, you’ll likely use ingredients such as tomatoes, brown sugar and onions. That doesn’t mean residents of Kansas City don’t like their barbecue to have any kick to it, though – feel free to throw in some black pepper and hot sauce too.

North Carolina
The barbecue sauce in North Carolina may appear to be going through a sort of identity crisis, but they’re still delicious. Barbecue aficionados in the Tar Heel State staunchly fall into one of two categories: Eastern-style devotees or fans of Lexington-style sauce. Both versions of the condiment have a base of vinegar, red pepper flakes and salt, but Lexington barbecue throws in some ketchup or tomato paste for additional sweetness.

No Alabama tailgate is complete without some pulled-pork sandwiches, and no pulled-pork sandwich is complete without the state’s signature white barbecue sauce. Mayonnaise is what gives this sauce its unusual color, but it also contains ingredients like lemon juice, vinegar and black pepper.

South Carolina
Speaking of unusual barbecue sauces, South Carolina residents prefer theirs to be mustard-based. As you can imagine, this gives the sauce a unique yellowish color, which separates it from its red-hued counterparts that you’ll find elsewhere in the U.S.

Memphis, Tennessee
The barbecue in Memphis is tangy and thin, which makes it very different from is Kansas City competitors. While the sauce is also tomato-based and contains brown sugar, it includes mustard and vinegar among its ingredients as well. Side note: There’s a heated rivalry between Kansas City and Memphis barbecue, so if you find yourself in the region, be sure not to pick sides unless you can make a compelling argument for your favorite!

Big Al’s KC BBQ Sauce

2 cups ketchup

2 cups tomato sauce

1 ¼ cups brown sugar

1 ¼ cups red wine vinegar

½ cup unsulfured molasses

4 teaspoons hickory-flavored liquid smoke

2 tablespoons butter

½ teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon onion powder

¼ teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon paprika

½ teaspoon celery seed

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

In a large saucepan over medium heat, mix together the ketchup, tomato sauce, brown sugar, wine vinegar, molasses, liquid smoke and butter. Season with garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, paprika, celery seed, cinnamon, cayenne, salt and pepper.

Reduce heat to low, and simmer for up to 20 minutes. For thicker sauce, simmer longer, and for thinner, less time is needed. Sauce can also be thinned using a bit of water if necessary. Brush sauce onto any kind of meat during the last 10 minutes of cooking.

Alabama White Sauce

1 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

2 Tablespoons brown sugar

1 Tablespoon brown mustard

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon prepared horseradish

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl until smooth and well combined.

Transfer to a lidded jar. Use immediately or let set in the refrigerator for 24 hours to let the flavors meld together. Will keep 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.