Here in Owensboro, we certainly have some friendly competition among barbecue restaurants. But local pitmasters agree on one thing: when it comes to barbecue sauce, it all comes down to personal taste preference. For the most part, the food preparation at Moonlite, Old Hickory, and Ole South is the same general process. How they sauce the meat before they serve it is what gives it that signature taste unique to each restaurant.
Here are some backyard barbecuing tips to get that same great taste at home.
Cooking the Meat
Owensboro-style barbecue is usually slow-roasted over wood coals in a “pit” or smoker, which keeps the meat tender and gives it a smoky flavor. “We cook it slow and low,” says Moonlite’s Patrick Bosley. “We keep our pits between 250-300 degrees with hardwood coals, not open flame.” The key to that, Bosley says, is air regulation and constantly adding more wood to the coals to regulate the temperature.
If you don’t have a smoker, or if you prefer the convenience of grilling, you can replicate that smoky barbecue pit flavor on a grill by placing a foil packet with soaked hickory wood chips in the middle of your charcoal base. The soaked chips will smolder and smoke, putting that smoky goodness into the meat while it cooks. Leave each side of the packet open so the smoke can escape.
While the meat is cooking, pitmasters baste it with a “cooking dip.” Says Ole South’s John Storm, “It’s 90% vinegar, with some spices and salt, which gives the meat flavor and color and helps keep it moist.”
Once the meat is almost done, it’s time to sauce! Most area BBQ sauces are tomato-based and high in sugar content, which means the sauce will scorch if it’s on the grill or smoker too long. Old Hickory’s Steve Christian recommends “pouring the sauce on when the meat is done, then covering with foil until you’re ready to serve it.”
Saucing the Meat
“The good thing about barbecue is there’s no right or wrong. Just use whatever (sauce) you like.” Bosley said. Luckily for us, each restaurant sells their own signature sauces.
Ole South sells their Original Sauce, which is what they put on all the meat on the buffet in the restaurant, and a Sweet n’ Smokey Sauce, which is available at the table. “Our Sweet n’ Smokey is cooked a little longer, which makes it thicker,” says owner Greg Floyd. Floyd plans to add a third sauce soon, which will be a hotter sauce.
Old Hickory sells their Cooking Dip, Original Sauce, Hot Sauce, and John’s Sweet Heat Sauce. According to Christian, “Our Sweet Heat has a little kick at the end, but it’s not overbearing, and the Hot Sauce has more cayenne, so it does have a bite.”
To get the best taste and quality at home, Christian recommends shaking the sauce before you use it, because the spices settle in the bottom of the jar. Also, warm the sauce before you serve it.
Moonlite sells their Original Sauce, BBQ Dip, Hot BBQ Sauce, Very Hot Sauce, Thick n’ Spicy Sauce, and Gourmet Steak Sauce. The Original Sauce is by far the best seller because it’s what people are used to getting in the restaurant. “It’s what we serve on the table and put on the carry-out,” Bosley said. The BBQ Dip is not the cooking dip; it has much less vinegar. The Hot BBQ Sauce is similar to the flavor of a hot wing. The Gourmet Steak Sauce is used a lot in their catering and beef brisket.
Backyard barbecuers can also buy Moonlite’s Cooking Sauce in the gift shop, which Bosley says is a mix of Original Sauce and BBQ Dip. “It’s great for grilling. It’s actually what I use at home when I grill.”