Kansas City-style barbecue sauce

Kansas City-style barbecue sauce

While the folks in Kansas City are certainly no slouches when it comes to smoking meat, the real star of their barbecue show is the sauce. It is a complex beast, with sweet, tangy and spicy flavors coming from a multitude of sources.

That complexity is precisely what makes it one of the best sauces to make at home. There are so many different recipes and such a dizzying array of possible ingredients that it would be nearly impossible for any but the most rank of barbecue snobs to tell you you’d gotten it wrong. You can just say you’ve made your very own take on KC sauce.

The one constant in any of the recipes I’ve tried and tweaked over the years has been that the tanginess should not come primarily from vinegar. There is a touch of vinegar of some kind, usually apple cider or white wine, in most of the sauce recipes but it is just another note in the symphony, not the main event.

So here’s my recipe. Feel free to tweak it to your own tastes, add or remove ingredients or change amounts. As long as what you come up with doesn’t make your guests violently ill, you’re golden.

This recipe will make about a quart of sauce, but it keeps well in the fridge courtesy of the acid from the tomatoes.
1 large onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon butter
3 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin
½ teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 ½ cups ketchup
1 ¼ cup dark brown sugar
½ cup yellow mustard (this is a great spot to tweak, if you’re a mustard fan)
½ cup cider vinegar
½ cup Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup steak sauce (another good tweak spot)
¼ cup sulphured (dark) molasses
¼ cup lemon juice
¼ cup lime juice
2 tablespoons tamarind paste
Hot sauce to taste (Do I need to tell you this is another good tweak spot?)Heat the oil and butter together in a large, heavy pot over medium-low heat until the butter melts. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is brown, soft and begins to smell sweet, up to 30 minutes. Increase the heat to medium and add the garlic, cooking 2 minutes. Add chili powder, cumin, cinnamon and salt, stir well and cook 2 more minutes. Add the wet ingredients and bring the pot to a simmer. Reduce heat just a touch and simmer, uncovered, for about 20 minutes to thicken the sauce a bit.

If you’re bothered by the small chunks of onion and garlic, use a stick blender to smooth them into the sauce. I don’t.

For best flavor, make this sauce at least a day ahead of time so the flavors have plenty of time to meld and mellow.