Here are Some Strategies for Using Barbecue Sauces
"I like restraint, if it doesn't go too far." Mae West
How much sauce will you need? Show restraint! Let the meat and smoke flavor come through. One coat is usually enough. Two max. Here's a rule of thumb: A full slab of spareribs with the tips still on will need at least 3/4 cup of a thick sauce for both sides, a slab of St. Louis cut ribs will need 1/2 cup, and a slab of baby back ribs will need 1/3 cup. But don't forget that you will want to have another 1/2 cup or so in a bowl on the table for folks who want more. If you are serving cut ribs, sauce them before you cut them. Don't sauce the cut sides.
Apply the sauce after the meat is ready. Thick sweet sauces can prevent the smoke from penetrating the meat. Penetration is good. If you are cooking hot, the sauce can also burn (but then so will your rub, yet another reason to cook low and slow). If you put the sauce on too early it can get gummy and sticky. So apply the sauce at the end of the cook, just long enough to heat it and cook it without burning it. Some sauces are great right from the bottle, but most sauces benefit from baking on the meat. If you are cooking over indirect heat, low and slow at about 225°F, you can add the sauce about 30 minutes before removing the ribs.
Play it safe. Remember, all uncooked meat contains microbes and spores and is therefore potentially hazardous. Pour the sauce you need into a cup or bowl and dip your brush or spoon into the cup or bowl. When you are done, throw the extra sauce out. Never put it back in the fridge. Even if the meat appears to be cooked, uncooked meat juices get on the brush and then get into the sauce. If you have a bit of sauce left in the cup when you are done painting the meat, do not serve it as a dipping sauce. It is contaminated. Even if you boil it or microwave it, and you have killed the microbes, spores are not all killed by heat. Use fresh, uncontaminated sauce for serving at the table. Your motto is: When in doubt, throw it out. Click here for more about food, knife, and grill safety.
Warm the sauce. If you can, warm the sauce on a sideburner or in a microwave to take the chill off. No sense putting 40°F sauce on 180°F ribs. Warming it will also make the sauce less thick so it will penetrate the meat better.
Sizzle and crisp the sauce over direct heat. If you like your sauce caramelized and crispy, perhaps even a little burnt or with char marks, paint on the sauce and place the slab over hot direct heat for ten minutes or so per side, watching carefully so it doesn't turn to carbon. Sauce can go from red to black faster than a clean hog can get sloppy. Incineration is not the only hazard with this technique. If you have perfectly cooked ribs, sizzling the sauce is a great opportunity to overcook the meat. If you use this technique, shorten the cooking time by about 30 minutes. The high heat will overcook the meat if you don't.
Here's some techniques for sizzling the sauce depending on the cooker you are using:
If you're cooking on a charcoal grill. Use the cooking method described in my article Best Setup For A Charcoal Grill. When the ribs are ready, remove the top water pan and put the slabs right over the coals and heat for about ten minutes on each side until the sauce bubbles. Again, stand there and watch the slabs so the sauce bubbles but does not burn!
If you're cooking on a gas grill. Cook with the method described in Best Setup For A Gas Grill. When the meat is ready, crank up the heat to high and slather on the sauce. Heat it for about 5-10 minutes on each side or until it bubbles.
If you're cooking on a smoker. If there is an offset firebox, perhaps you can sizzle the sauce over the flame on a grate in the firebox, but there's a lotta heat in there. I recommend using a gas grill for sizzling if you have one. If you have a gas grill in addition to your smoker, fire it up to medium or high about 30 minutes before the time to serve the meat, transfer the slabs to the gas grill, paint on the sauce, and stand there and watch them so the sauce bubbles but does not burn! If you don't have a gas grill, just place the saucy slabs about three inches under the kitchen broiler, back side first, for about ten minutes per side. Again, keep an eye on it.
Torch it! Another good way to crisp the sauce is to whip out your propane soldering torch or invest about $30 in an amazingly hot butane culinary torch (at right) and scorch the sauce enough to caramelize the sugars. Do this at tableside to dazzle your guests (or send them running for the exits). Hooo-ah!
Hit it again. Some folks like to sprinkle on a last splash of dry rub just before serving for an extra kick-o-spice.
Apply the sauce at the table. A good strategy is to serve the meat without sauce and allow your guests to apply it at the table as a finishing sauce in whatever quantity they like.
Skip the sauce. If the meat tastes great, and it should if you've cooked it properly, you might want to go skip the sauce like they do in many rib joints in Memphis. If you have a good dry rub, proper smoke penetration, and it is not overcooked, consider going commando.
This page was revised 12/13/2008
About this website
AmazingRibs.com is all about the science of barbecue, grilling, and outdoor cooking, with great BBQ recipes and tips on technique. Learn how to set up your grills and smokers properly, the thermodynamics of what happens when heat hits meat, as well as hundreds of excellent tested recipes including all the classics: Baby back ribs, spareribs, pulled pork, beef brisket, burgers, chicken, smoked turkey, lamb, steaks, barbecue sauces, rubs, and side dishes, with the world's best buying guide to barbecue smokers, grills, and accessories, all edited by Meathead.
Advertising on this site
AmazingRibs.com is far the most popular barbecue website in the world and one of the 50 most popular food websites in the US according to comScore and Quantcast. Visitors and pageviews increase rapidly every year. Click here for analytics and advertising info.
| Weights, Measures, Conversions | Tips & Techniques | Recipes | Equipment Reviews | BBQ Culture & History |
| My Ingredients | BBQ Joints | About Us | Blog | Links | Newsletter | BBQ Tunes |
| Privacy Promise, Code of Ethics, Other Legal Terms | Advertising & Sponsorship Opportunities |