Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Not for me

White BBQ sauce. I've had it - a lot of it, in fact - and for the record, I don't like it.

If you've never had, or even heard of, white BBQ sauce, you should know that it's a mayo-based sauce, spiked with vinegar and spices, that's quite popular in Alabama.

The first white sauce I ever consumed came from Nashville's famed Hog Heaven, which is owned by Alabama native John Cowan. That was about 15 years ago. In the intervening years, I've had white sauce in a dozen different BBQ joints in Alabama and South Tennessee. And each time I ate a pile o' pulled pork garnished with the stuff, I became more convinced that the Good Lord never meant for mayonnaise to be poured over smoked pig. (And I say this as a feller who loves him some mayo.)

That said, Slashfood.com tells us about a new gourmet white sauce, developed by the aforementioned John Cowan, that may be coming to a store shelf near you:

A Birmingham restaurateur is putting a gourmet spin on a barbecue tradition that's thus far remained fiercely regional.

Sweet Bones Alabama, a downtown 'cue joint, last week began bottling its version of Alabama white sauce, a mayonnaise-based concoction pioneered in 1925 by Decatur's legendary pitmaster Big Bob Gibson, who liberally slathered the stuff on chicken. The sauce has since become a favorite dressing for just about anything fried or smoked in North Alabama, including pickles, tomatoes and venison.

"It's a very versatile sauce," Sweet Bones' owner John Cowan says.

While many white sauce fans make their own batches of Big Bob's famous sauce – an authorized cookbook published last year revealed the exact proportions of mayonnaise to pepper to vinegar -- Cowan thinks he's improved on the original. Among the first artisanal barbecue sauce makers to tackle white sauce, Cowan's crafted a recipe he describes as "much more complex, with more layered flavors."

In a somewhat incestuous stroke that would likely stun barbecue purists, Cowan's white sauce includes a splash of his North Carolina vinegar sauce.

But Cowan's no stranger to the white sauce game, having introduced the condiment to Nashville back in 1978. A foodie buddy of his had mentioned the sauce in a "have you eaten" one-upmanship contest, so Cowan drove to Alabama to try it. White sauce was soon on the menu at his barbecue restaurant, Hog Heaven.

Still, Cowan concedes white sauce's lingering exoticism might inhibit its sales beyond Birmingham – even if the bottle looks pretty.

"To be honest," he says of the traditional preparation, "it really doesn't sound appealing at all."

Doesn't sound appealing, indeed.

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