By Suzanne Corbett

Locally made and small-batch limited editions fill the shelves at St. Louis Home Fires, the headquarters of The St. Louis BBQ Society.
photo by Suzanne Corbett

Summer is all about the sauce: sweet, spicy or savory, made thick or thin, designed to make grilled foods pop with added flavor, and make the backyard grill master a star.

Perhaps it’s that star quality that drives the backyard chef to search for something beyond the bottled sauces that Grandpa used to drench pork steaks in.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the old-time sauces. I actually like my pork steaks swimming in the sauces I grew up with. And not unlike most native-born St. Louisans, I still hold affection for Maull’s, the hometown barbecue sauce. However, my palate has evolved. I now scan the shelves for boutique sauces that some consider “barbecue bling.” That’s the uniquely flavored finishing sauces, along with edgy condiments, that today’s patio chefs and grill masters embrace.

“We have over 40 different sauces on our shelves at various times of the year,” said St. Louis Home Fires owner and founding president of the St. Louis BBQ Society Frank Schmer, who has witnessed the shift in sauce preferences. “Barbecue sauces are like food. Some of them get popular and some fade out, while others are imitated. One thing is for sure: When it comes to sauce, people are always looking for something new to try.”

Current trending sauces flooding the marketplace are those made in small batches, and sold as limited editions by producers who are committed to quality over quantity. It’s a successful production strategy – similarly practiced by small-batch microbreweries and craft distilleries – which resonates with consumers.

BeerSauce Shop’s custom-made, bourbon-infused barbecue sauce photo courtesy of BeerSauce Shop

“Small-batch sauce producers can offer a broader range of flavor profiles. Just look at the success of Blues Hog or Uncle Bob’s,” Schmer said. “Blues Hog is an award-winning BBQ team that began bottling its competition sauce. They now make several flavor styles, including a new raspberry chipotle barbecue sauce. Then there’s Uncle Bob’s, a local company that will custom-make sauce for anyone. Just take them your recipe, and they’ll make you your own small-batch custom sauce.”

Another outpost appearing on the barbecue landscape is BeerSauce Shop, where sampling is encouraged.

Owner Andrew Tessmer hawks 250 different barbecue sauces, hot sauces and rubs, along with an equally impressive number of beers. To discover which sauce tastes the best with which beer, Tessmer recommends a variety of theme tastings. Just belly up to the sauce bar with a flight of brews, or a craft soda for those who don’t imbibe.

“Sauce pairings are always going on,” said Tessmer, whose staff stands ready to guide the barbecue- and brewski-faithful in their quest of making a perfect flavor match. “There is always something new to try. We’re excited about our bourbon-infused sauces, aged in Stumpy’s bourbon barrels. It really adds zing to the sauce.”

Shrimp Mogador with Chermoula Sauce, served at The Benevolent King photo courtesy of Bengelina Hospitality Group

After sampling, go shopping. Among this season’s trendiest sauces are those with heat, like the fiery finds from Ghost Scream, sauces and condiments made with the world’s hottest chili, the earth-scorching ghost pepper. Ghost Scream has a variety of killer hot sauces to spike up any bottled barbecue sauce. Two selections that scream for attention: the Vindaloo Curry Sauce and the sweet hot Chili Garlic Jam. Both are great when used as an add-in to commercial and homemade sauces.

Beyond summer’s typical sauces, consider something to bring a little international adventure to the grill – sauces with complexity, such as a Moroccan chermoula, a favorite sauce of three-time James Beard Award-nominated chef Ben Poremba, who spotlights this quintessential Moroccan sauce at his latest restaurant, The Benevolent King.

“In Morocco, chermoula is the most important summertime sauce. It’s traditionally a lemon garlic sauce that has chopped parsley or cilantro,” Poremba explained. “It becomes more complex with the addition of ginger, cumin and coriander. It’s served with grilled or fried fish, and is also great with grilled chicken, but I love it with vegetables. Chermoula is my go-to sauce. I use it everywhere.”

Chef Jack MacMurray photo by Suzanne Corbett

Finally, don’t overlook fruit sauces, especially those featuring summer tree fruit such as peaches and cherries. An excellent example is executive chef Jack MacMurray’s Spiced Cherry Red Wine Glaze, a sweet-smoky sauce that enrobes the bacon-wrapped smoked pork tenderloin served at the Boathouse in Forest Park

“The Spiced Cherry Red Wine Glaze is a complex sauce – light, with a nice balance of sweet and smoky flavors. It’s a great finishing sauce. It’s what I used on lamb when I won the 2010 Taste of St. Louis competition,” MacMurray said. “This sauce has been my ace up my sleeve that I’ve used for a long time.”

Sauces can indeed make grilled meats magical, adding sizzle and snap to an otherwise ho-hum dish. So don’t be afraid – go ahead and get saucy!

Grab a brush and lightly dab, slather or pour it on. Enjoy the summer and don’t spare the sauce.

MacMurray has shared his Spiced Cherry Red Wine Glaze with Gazelle readers. It is a delightfully light, versatile summer sauce, which can accompany grilled meats, game and poultry any time of year.


Bacon-Wrapped Smoked Pork Tenderloin with Spiced Cherry Red Wine Glaze

Bacon-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin sauced with Spiced Cherry Red Wine Glaze photo by Suzanne Corbett

4 (6-ounce) pork tenderloin filets

4 slices smoked bacon

Barbecue spice rub (your choice)

Wrap bacon around filets and secure with a toothpick. Sprinkle barbecue spice rub on all sides of wrapped tenderloin, lightly rubbing spice into the meat. Place in a smoker or on a grill using indirect heat, and cook until internal temperature reaches 135 degrees (allow pork to rest for five minutes to allow temperature to rise to 145 degrees). Cooking time is about 25 to 35 minutes, which will vary, depending on grill or smoker used. To serve, plate pork, and ladle with sauce over top. Makes four servings.

Spiced Cherry Red Wine Glaze

2 cups tart cherries, in juice

1 cup red wine

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1 cup light brown sugar

1 teaspoon chipotle powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Fresh grated nutmeg

Place all sauce ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer and continue to cook until sauce has reduced by one-half (about 10 to 12 minutes). Remove sauce from heat; whisk in butter and fresh nutmeg. Keep sauce warm until ready to serve.