There are literally hundreds and thousands of people if not more who claim to have made a super duper, mouth smacking, slap your mama, kiss the dog, bend over twice and hop, head splitting, nose burning, award winning barbecue sauce. I could go on but you get the point. Real BBQ Sauce recipes were handed to someone, who handed it to someone else and so on. In fact having been in this business for so long I've actually seen people take recipes off say Betty Crocker or Allrecipes.com and even Cooks.com and twist those just a hair then marshal their forces, contact friends and actually sell those same copyrighted works of art in stores. Some of the most famous brands you use have actually come by way of this very process.
In this article I'm going to show you how to determine what a good barbecue sauce is made of and also what you should look out for. The field of Barbecue Sauce is vast and interpreting the field takes time. Anyone can make a recipe but blending in the right ingredients and creating a consistent product that will expand well for mass sales takes know how and patience.
Keep in mind when I say Great I'm talking about a BBQ sauce that focuses on taste and quality and further doesn't leave you feeling bloated or with headaches or complications.
1. Ingredient mix: State and Federal requirements demand that food producers display their contents in a specific way. Disclosure means that the item that is carried in the highest volume is displayed first. For example a good recipe Barbecue sauce will display something other than water as the first ingredient. Water is typically the most common ingredient in recipes and is used in multiple ways, primarily to thin the product and also to allow the product to move easily during mixing. Water has no real intrinsic value for anything other than those purposes. In most cases the water that is added may or may not be filtered for processing.
2. Thinness or thickness: The viscosity of the sauce will ultimately determine how well the sauce covers your meat or can be used as a dip. Food processors use a device that measures flow and viscosity and will give a rating for BBQ sauces. Typical viscosity ratings are not disclosed as part of the labeling practice. But for the average consumer the best way to determine viscosity depending on whether the container is clear or not is by tilting the container from one side to the other. The way in which the contents move from side to side will give you your best hint of flow and clinginess when in use. It's also a good idea to hold two containers side by side tilting as you go to determine viscosity. Online though, viscosity is very difficult to determine. The best way is through the descriptive content. Words like Southern style or Texas style will give some hint as to its thickness. Also, if you hear the words mop, just think of mopping floors. Typically, mopping is done with thin liquids which require a great deal of effort (basting) during use so be prepared to spend time with products like this.
3. Sugar contents: Measuring sugar contents takes some real effort. The FDA requires that all labels contain a standard nutrition panel which discloses the amount of sugar contained in a product among other things. Sugar is also one of the best ways to define a product by region. Products that are higher in sugar are typically focused in the western half of the United States. Those with less sugar typically come from the South, South East and North through Memphis all the way up through Carolina. Diabetics and those with particular sensitivities to amounts of sugar really are focusing on the total amount of sugar that can be consumed during the course of their day. It is often misleading to look at a sugar level and presume that this represents the total amount in which you will consume. The best way to determine actual consumption rates is to look at the term: Serving Size. Once you determine the serving size and consider what the product will be used for i.e., beef, pork, ribs., etc., then consider that if you cook with the Barbecue sauce that 20% of that sugar will be burned off in the cooking process. Using the Barbecue Sauce as a dip or ladling it on will increase the amount of sugar you may ingest.
4. Fat Content: Fat is in some ways a mysterious part of the Barbecue world. You would not normally think that there would be fat in Barbecue sauce. But much to the contrary fat is contained in some of the key ingredients. What matters in the case of fat is whether or not the fat is saturated or not. In 2005 the Federal Government mandated that all products identify themselves as to whether they contain fat or not and at what levels and also if that fat is saturated or not. Compliant Barbecue sauces will be quick to disclose on the label the following terms: "Not a significant source of saturated fat, cholesterol, dietary fiber and calcium". Note this representation is based on the FDA standard Percent of Daily Values for a 2000 calorie diet. A good Barbecue sauce will indicate things like olive oil or some other oil combination. Bad Barbecue sauces may not fully disclose where their fat comes from. I knew a company once that actually captured the drippings from pork ribs and bottled that with their sauce. They say they loved the taste but the fat content was so high the sauce barely moved in the jar when it was cold. Best bet, consider a healthy focus on minimizing your fat intake.
5. Salt and Sodium: Just like Sugar the same can be said for Salt intake. Keep in mind where the term salt is placed on the ingredient label. Count the number of lines down before you get to the word salt. If salt appears in the first three words of the formula think seriously before buying the product if it is a barbecue sauce. In some products like dry rubs salt may be one of 5 components that make up the product so in that case the focus should be more on use as to why the product is being selected. Salt intake is easy to overlook. You'll find it in cereal and mayonnaise, and popcorn and bread and everything else we eat. Keeping tabs on the 2000 calorie diet and what percentage salt should play can be difficult. The FDA says that for a healthy 25 year old sodium intake should not exceed 1500 mg per day. Think twice if you see Sodium levels displayed at greater than 10% of your daily volume. The lower the better, but good sodium levels for Barbecue Sauce range in the 4-8% levels.
6. Chemical additives: This is a key area of concern for many Barbecue shoppers. Unknowingly buyers will select a product based on their "catchy" name thinking that the contents will some how be glorified by that name. We are a visual society and fancy, catchy names tend to drive sales. But go beyond the catchy names and labels and look deeply into the ingredient listing. Look for words like MSG (Monosodium Glutamate), Dextrose (a simple sugar derived from grains like corn, wheat and rice), Xanthan Gum (A natural carbohydrate gum used as a thickener and emulsion stabilizer), Sodium Benzoate (a white crystalline salt used as a food preservative and antiseptic), Modified Food Starch (a food additive which is prepared by treating starch or starch granules, causing the starch to be partially degraded) and others. These items not only identify the make up of the product but can help you quickly determine the lack of creativity used to create a product. In cases where High Fructose Corn Syrup (malt dextrin), sodium benzoate, msg, and modified food starch are used these signal the desire of the manufacture to use the least amount of ingredients to expand their sales. Selling barbecue sauce is a balancing act like many products and manufacturers have to decide if they want to sell something great and natural which costs more and may not sell as fast or if they want to sell something cheap which sells more quickly. Attraction and return purchases are appealed to by increased uses of salt, liquid smoke, sugar and msg. I know two very large providers of Barbecue sauce who started with really great recipes, but when they expanded their products for mass markets they found that they could not compete against cheaper products. They got those sales by thinning out the product, adding chemical sugars and food enhancers and stepping up the amounts of liquid smoke to simulate a hickory taste. Bad barbecue sauces will seek to hide those ingredients with attempts at high degrees of advertising to redirect the ingredient focus and sell their products.
7. Shelf life: It is a good idea to pay specific attention to the shelf life of the product. A good barbecue sauce will have shelf life in excess of 12 months. This is important primarily for opening and usage. A sauce may identify its use as 12 months but because of the ingredients contained may only last 3 months after opening. Most labeled sauces have either the address or website on the container. On the internet one can send an email to the website host to question not only the longevity of the sauce but its freshness as well. If a Barbecue sauce has been opened the product should remain usable for ½ the overall shelf life. This of course depends on the conditions in which the product is stored, i.e, room temperature, not over 75 degrees F, or in overly moist area that can promote mold. As for coding, there are a number of ways to identify the shelf life date on containers. Some containers will identify the date with Useby011012 which is interpreted as the product is "best" used by January 10, 2012. Note the term best does not mean that the product automatically spoils once it reaches that date. Instead the term is meant to identify that the greatest or peak flavor of the product is achieved prior to that date and will decrease over time following that date. Further some manufacturers will use lot numbers such as 8095B1618 to identify their product dates. This information requires the sales location or the producer to identify the production date and the shelf life.
8. Label Combinations: Over the years manufacturers have used many, many combinations of ingredients to create products. With the increase is copyright violations and trademark infringements lawyers and corporations began cracking down on manufacturers who knowingly use trademark terms in their labels. Terms such as Tobasco, or Dr. Pepper or Best Foods or other may open up manufacturers to lawsuits. These corporations want to be paid for their specific naming use and certainly are happy to have their products used in the sauce but of course they will allow usage of their names at a price. Manufacturers got around this by hiring Food Scientists and Food Developers that are trained in the art of food chemical make up and reactions. Working with these individuals, manufacturers are able to mimic certain shelf products. The FDA requires that mimicked products be identified. Two very common mimicked products are Ketchup and Tobasco. Ketchup uses a formulation similar to (tomato concentrate, distilled vinegar, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, salt, onion powder, spice and natural flavoring). Tobasco will be identified in a similar way but serves to recreate the taste of the product without having to identify the trademark maker.
9. Price: This is usually the best identifier for determining whether you'll end up with a quality Barbecue Sauce. Producers who focus on price as opposed to quality have a lower threshold to meet in order to break even on the sale of their products. Their overall belief is that by selling in quantity they will make back their initial investment in a faster way and will outsell the competition. I can tell you in no uncertain terms that is so very far from the truth. Our experience has always been that people will pay for what they believe to be quality Barbecue Sauce, as long as the producer is up front and honest with the consumer. A quality product need not be flashy or have some comical name that promotes something audacious. A quality product need only identify itself plainly, outline its true reason for existing as well as exulting the benefits for the consumer which that person will undoubtedly determine once they use the product. In addition highly regulated testing organizations which can test and review products and hold their reputations in high esteem are integral in determining whether Barbecue products are good and a good value.
This list represents 9 of the most common things to look for when selecting a great versus bad barbecue sauce. Sauce tastes are objective and the only way for most people to truly differentiate quality from commonness is by the products' makeup. We have presumed here that most consumers would rather have products which are wholesome, healthy and great tasting, leaving behind the sodium, sugar, and chemicals that make up so many products nowadays. We will in the coming days identify more ways to determine quality barbecue sauces and hope that this information has been helpful to you toward making your buying decisions.
Jake, maker of all natural barbecue sauce, dry rub seasonings and marinades.
This product was added to our catalog on Friday 22 September, 2017.