Carolina Mother Sauces

Auguste Escoffier was a French chef who looked to streamline the education process for young chefs. Rather than having people memorize 500 sauces, he distilled all the major French sauces into 5 “Mother Sauces”. These consisted of 3 gravies, a tomato sauce, and an emulsion. Add black pepper to the white gravy and you have a West Texas breakfast. Add cheese and you have the basics for mac & cheese. Genius!

The Carolinas have 3 major regions for Sauces – Eastern, Piedmont & Central-South. I will present the three Carolina Mother Sauces of which anyone can add their own personal touch. They are designed to be simple. While I certainly have my own tricks, most additions don’t really add that much. The austere nature of Carolina BBQ doesn’t focus too much on the sauce. If you’re spending more time fiddling with your sauce than the pig, something is amiss. You’ll also notice, like my rub, I have a thing for whole numbers. I believe “equal parts” anything is the greatest virtue. It’s BBQ not chemistry.

Eastern Carolina Sauce

The poor vinegar pepper sauce. People just can’t leave well enough alone. It’s cheap to make, easy to whip up, and contains only 5 ingredients. Well that’s just begging for people to put on their “Chefs” hat and kicker her up a notch. I’ve seen everything from honey to Thai fish sauce.

You can place whatever you’d like in your Eastern Carolina sauce except ketchup. Putting ketchup in it distinctly makes it Piedmont Sauce. The whole East/West divide is more or less centered on this so to see ketchup is a bit odd. It’s like seeing bacon in a vegan dish, it might taste great but we might have a disconnect somewhere in the conversation.

I don’t put any salt in my vinegar pepper sauce because salt is difficult to scale, especially if you’re doing large batches. I’m sure you’re all intelligent people but there are PhDs out there doing the scaling for big batches cooking. I, on the other hand, finally got out of the 5th grade on my 3rd try. So I’ll leave the salt out. What I like to do is season the meat with salt as I chop it, dressing it with the Vinegar Pepper sauce and tasting to order. You really can’t go wrong doing that.

2 Cups of Cider Vinegar

3 tablespoons of white sugar

2 teaspoons of hot sauce (preferably Texas Pete)

2 teaspoons of red pepper flakes

2 teaspoons of ground black pepper

Put all this into a pot, bring to a simmer, and you’re done.

Piedmont Sauce

This is served in in the Piedmont triad – from Greensboro to Lexington. This is traditionally a “dip” so you’ll want to add salt to taste. They folks in Western Carolinas dump this stuff on everything even the coleslaw! For this you’ll want to grind your black pepper slightly more coarse as it will look very pretty against the dark red sauce.

To your Eastern Carolina Sauce above add

½ Cup of Ketchup & Replace the white sugar with brown

Central-South Mustard Sauce

The sauce is called Central South because it’s more of the center of South Carolina that is big into the mustard. I love mustard sauce, unlike the “dressings” of the previous two sauces, this one can actually be a sauce. You can glaze it on chicken, slather it on ribs. Again I’m offering a fundamentals version of the sauce. If you feel like tossing in some peach jelly you’ll be good company. But please, no honey. It’s too easy to make it taste like a honey mustard sauce. I like her a bit spicy so I add in some habanero sauce. You’re free to omit this.

2 Cups of the cheapest yellow mustard you can find

0.5 Cup of Cider Vinegar

0.5 Cup of Brown Sugar

0.5 Cup of Ketchup

Dash of habanero sauce (look for the scary XXXtra hot ones)

1 Tablespoon of black pepper

1 Tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce

Bring to a simmer. Stir. Done.


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