When barbecuing, it's all about the sauce!

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My parents live about a mile from me, so I get to eat my mom's cooking all the time. I'm a lucky woman.

A few weeks ago, I headed to their house for dinner, and when I got there, she was already grilling, brushing a beautiful, chestnut-colored barbecue sauce gently onto country-style pork ribs. We sat outside drinking white wine and catching up, smelling tiny sauce drops sizzling as they dripped down into the grill pan.

When dinner was served, I discovered that this was no ordinary barbecue sauce — of course, she made her own sauce by mixing together a bunch of ingredients she had on-hand, including sambal oelek paste she got on clearance from Stop and Shop. She also used a dry rub, which amped up the flavor even more. I stole her ideas and used them on chicken the next day.

The smoky, kind of spicy, kind of sweet flavor my mom got out of this easy method was incredible. It got me thinking about barbecue sauce in general, and wondering if there were any local sauce-makers I could contact for advice about how to make my own from scratch.

Enter Lorraine Jones of Smokey Divas, which makes and bottles 92nd Sauce in Pittsfield, Mass. It's in grocery stores, but you can also get it at the Downtown Pittsfield Farmers Market. Jones' family has been preserving her grandmother's sauce legacy for years now; "The recipe is older than I am," she said.

Jones' family is originally from the Bay Area of California. The sauce story starts with her grandmother, Dorothy Turner Everett, who started Everett and Jones BBQ Restaurant in Oakland in 1973. The family business grew to five locations, and is now the longest-running African American-owned business in Oakland.

Without giving away any family secrets, Jones gave me great advice about making sauce from scratch. Apparently, you can't really ruin it, as long as you stay present as the sauce cooks slow. Some tomatoes, vinegar, molasses, and brown sugar, plus herbs and spices of your choice, will really do it. "Don't be afraid to experiment," she said. "It can always be adjusted."

Expect to cook the sauce for about four hours — "you want it to caramelize and break down," she said.

Jones is also a fan of the dry-rub method. Obviously a barbecue purist, she prepares a dry rub, grills or cooks meat, then adds the sauce after cooking (it helps if it's warm). She says she likes this because it doesn't burn or char on the meat.

So, for your consideration, some sauce recipes — one "easy route" from my mom, and then the traditional. If you're looking for something to use your sauce on, I also added 92nd's recipe for barbecue meatloaf, which is made on the grill (fun!).

Basic slow-cooked barbecue sauce

INGREDIENTS:

1 cups crushed tomatoes (or ketchup, but that's a lot of added salt)

cup brown sugar

cup molasses

3 to 4 tablespoons vinegar

Three garlic cloves (you can also add some sliced onion, which will melt naturally into the sauce as it cooks)

Herbs and spices of your choice (try paprika, pepper, cumin, celery salt)

DIRECTIONS:

Mix ingredients together in a saucepan over medium heat until everything is warm, simmering and joined together in harmony. Let simmer on low for 1-4 hours (the longer you cook it, the deeper the flavor), stirring occasionally. Sauce is suitable for use when it is thick enough to coat the back of your spoon.

My mom's quickie barbecue sauce

("Really rough — you know how I cook," she says.)

INGREDIENTS:

cup ketchup

cup mild salsa

1 tablespoon sambal oelek paste

1 tablespoon dijon mustard

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

A dash of: Smoked paprika, salt, black pepper, cumin, ginger, crushed red pepper flakes

DIRECTIONS:

Mix ingredients together in a bowl; brush on whatever meat you're grilling! Use the leftovers for extra flavor at the dinner table.

Barbecue grilled meatloaf

(Courtesy of 92nd Sauce/Smokey Divas)

INGREDIENTS:

2 pounds of ground beef

2 cups of seasoned bread crumbs

1 cup sweet onion, diced

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon of sea salt

1 teaspoon of black pepper

1 egg

1 cup of your favorite barbecue sauce

Non-stick cooking spray

DIRECTIONS:

Pre-heat your outdoor grill and coat the grate with non-stick cooking spray. Mix the beef, bread crumbs, onion, garlic, salt, pepper and egg. Form 2 to 3 mini meat loaves (about 3 to 4 inches thick) with your mixture. Place your mini meat loaves on the grill and coat with 2 to 3 tablespoons of sauce, then grill until fully cooked (internal temperature should be 160 degrees).


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