Sugar Talk Sugar Talk
Around the world series: sugar application in traditional Texan BBQs
We have arrived once again on our ‘around the world’ series. This time we have landed in the wild west of Texas. The second largest state in the US, famous for its cowboy boots, being the live music capital of the United States and of course, its delicious BBQ cuisine.
Welcome to Texas
Texas BBQ is one of the most famous types of barbecues on earth. The meat smoking tradition was brought to central Texas by the Czech and German settlers during the mid-nineteenth century.
The sauce of our Texan ancestors would probably look and taste very different to that of today, mainly because it didn’t contain tomatoes or sugar. From Virginia to Texas, 19th century accounts of barbecues are remarkably similar in their descriptions of the sauce. A guest at a San Antonio barbecue in 1883 recorded the sauce as, ‘Butter, with a mixture of pepper, salt, and vinegar.’ This sauce was likely used for basting while the meat cooked over direct heat and adding sugar to that mix would just make for burned meat. A similar fat-heavy recipe is still used as the mop sauce today at community barbecues.
The Deep South even has its own BBQ name, known as ‘barbacoa’, but traditionally, Texas is divided into four types: Central, East, West, and Southern Texas. The most famous variety of Texan BBQ is the East and Central Texas varieties due to how Eastern Texans cook their BBQ until the meat can fall off the bone and marinate their meat with sweet tomato-based sauce and cook it over hickory wood. The Central Texans usually rub their meat with spices or black pepper and salt before cooking it over the indirect heat of either oak or pecan wood.
The Southern Texan BBQ is still just as worthy as it features molasses-like sauce that keeps their meat moist, while the West Texans cook their meat over direct mesquite wood heat.
BBQ sauces to complement its meat
Many Texans create their own BBQ sauce at home, adding moisture and a deep rich flavour to grilled chicken, beef or pork ribs. With the perfect combination of tang and sweetness, traditional BBQ sauce isn’t overpowering and won’t drown the charred and smoky profile of grilled meats. Made with simple ingredients, the recipe doesn’t have high levels of salt or sucrose like store-bought sauces do.
Homemade sauces have been experimented with over time, such as increasing the amount of cayenne and chili powder in the seasoning for a spicier version or adding brown sugar and paprika for a sweeter and stickier sauce.
Adding soft brown light sugar complements the BBQ sauce, as its fine grain easily dissolves. The sauce will become richer in flavour, adding a sweet aroma and finish in a thicker consistency, perfect to apply to cooking meats on the BBQ.
Southern Texan BBQ includes a tablespoon or two of molasses to seal in moisture to meats and add a uniquely bittersweet flavour. The application is then mixed with a liquid smoke and Worcestershire Sauce, which combined creates an incredibly rich, dark bittersweet sauce, perfect to layer over hotdogs and burgers. Similar molasses-rich marinades are ideal for flavouring jerky as the meat dries, providing both flavour and texture to the meat.
A BBQ glaze is a type of sauce that has a thicker, shinier texture and sticks to food. Glazes are typically applied during the cook, not necessarily at the start, while a sauce is typically added at the end.
BBQ glaze provides an amazingly deep, sweet flavour when light cane muscovado sugar is applied. With its natural preservatives, the glaze can be preserved and saved for future use. Muscovado, like brown sugar, easily dissolves, creating a smooth finish and dark glossy colour.
Once a glaze is applied, the sugar burns from the heat of the BBQ, creating a crispy finish to the meat fats and a sticky texture to the flesh. This is where sticky fingers after BBQ chicken or ribs is essential and created the universal saying ‘finger licking good’, as traditional BBQ is eaten with our hands.
Tomato, brown, and BBQ flavoured sauces are perfect condiments for a BBQ, even outside of Texas. Homemade dipping sauces are becoming increasingly popular as pop-up BBQ street markets or small up-and-coming business want to ensure their customers receive the best ingredients with no additives or preservatives.
Homemade or manufactured condiments such as tomato sauce can be too acidic without adding sugar. A variety of sugars are used to sweeten tomato, brown or BBQ dipping sauces. These include crystallised table sugar, or white sugar, and Ragus’ pure sugars such as the soft brown light sugar mentioned and even a dark cane muscovado sugar or dark soft brown sugar to create a richer colour and deeper flavour.
Dark cane muscovado sugar adds thickness and depth in texture to dipping sauces. This pure sugar is high in molasses, and contains a high mineral matter, creating a deeper colour and flavour – a perfect addition when producing dipping sauces, chutneys and pickles, the ideal extras to any BBQ.
Join Ragus in our next ‘around the world series’ where we land in Italy, offering sugar applications in traditional Italian cocktails to beautifully rich desserts.