Hittin’ the Sauce: Which bottled Chicago barbecue sauce is truly boss?

07.08.08

ADMIT IT: Most of you grab bottled sauce when stocking up for a barbecue. There’s no shame to that game, but if you’re going to go bottled, at least go local. Which brings us to determining just which Chicago-made barbecue sauce is worthy of slathering all over your hot-off-the-grill grub. To find out, we enlisted three Chicago ’cue kings: Barry Sorkin (far right) of Smoque BBQ (3800 N Pulaski Rd, 773-545-7427); Robert Adams Jr. (far left) of Honey 1 BBQ (2241 N Western Ave, 773-227-5130); and Gary Wiviott (center), founder of LTH Forum and coauthor of Low and Slow: Master the Art of Barbecue in 5 Easy Lessons (Running Press, March 2009). The panel took part in a blind tasting of seven local sauces, rating each on a scale of one to six. Here’s the breakdown:

Hecky’s Original
Average score: 3.16
ADAMS
There’s a taste of pepper, maybe a little garlic. I like sauces with a kick. I would eat this.
WIVIOTT
I’m odd man out. It triggered a regurge reflex at the back of my throat.
SORKIN
It’s balanced. It has a richness, but it’s not syrupy. You don’t feel like it’s too heavy on the molasses, but it has a nice sauce balance. This tastes like something I grew up with.

Russell’s Original
Average score: 3
ADAMS
I would eat this on ribs, but it’s not what I look for in a sauce; it’s missing bite. But it doesn’t have a lot of sugar, which is good.
WIVIOTT
I liked this one. Nice vinegar tang, kind of thin. It would lend itself to a ham.
SORKIN
I think this is a good sauce. It’s kind of clovey, not necessarily my taste, but it’s good. If you like clove, it would be good on pork.

Smoke Daddy Original
Average score: 2.33
ADAMS
It’s out of balance. It’s not something I’d put on anything.
WIVIOTT
Very sticky, kind of gummy, but wasn’t super sweet. It had a gritty mouth feel with some cumin in there.
SORKIN
I taste a lot of cumin. It tastes too raw. Nothing’s come together. It might work as a basting sauce, because it needs to cook.

Sweet Baby Ray’s Original
Average score: 2.16
ADAMS
It reminded me of McDonald’s Chicken McNugget barbecue sauce, something for kids.
WIVIOTT
It’s so artificial-tasting and very sticky, like Spackle for covering someone’s flaws in their barbecue.
SORKIN
Liquid smoke is all I taste, and I don’t like smoky sauces. But you could glaze a chicken breast with this and throw it on the grill.

Carson’s Signature
Average score: 2
ADAMS
It’s not bad, but I need some spice to balance out the sweetness.
WIVIOTT
It’s laughably bad and sticky.
SORKIN
It has some interest. There are little pieces of onion; maybe that’s what I’m tasting.

Ditka’s Real Barbecue Sauce
Average score: 1.33
ADAMS
There’s a lot of spice. This would only be good for a half slab of ribs. This was my worst rated.
WIVIOTT
Like a cheap candy bar. If you ate a lot of this sauce, you’d go into hypoglycemic shock.
SORKIN
Light in flavor, but the spice hits you late.

WINNER Robinson’s Original
Average score: 3.66
ADAMS
It’s a little tangy, a little mild. It has what you need for a balanced sauce.
WIVIOTT
Some of these sauces are offensive; this sauce is innocuous. It’s a good base sauce with a little tang and no overly dominant flavor.
SORKIN
I thought this was a decent basic sauce. It won’t make the slab of ribs, but it won’t hurt it. I would eat this.

This article first appeared in Time Out Chicago in a different form.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *