Not-so-modernist Modernist Cuisine: Kentucky barbecue sauce

When I offered my husband his choice of the various barbecue sauces in Modernist Cuisine and started listing them, he stopped me as soon I said “Kentucky.”

“That one. You should make that one.”

I looked at him. “Why?”

“Does it have bourbon in it?”


That’s why.”

There are at least a handful of recipes in Modernist Cuisine that stand out for how low-tech they are: the Pad Thai I made before is one of them; the barbecue sauces are another (with the notable exception of the centrifuged one). Barbecue itself is given the full modernist treatment, with relative humidity specified as well as temperature, and some sous vide thrown in for good measure. But most of the barbecue sauces are of the “mix ingredients, simmer until thickened, season” variety.

The Kentucky one is no exception, and it’s served well as my all-purpose barbecue sauce so far this grilling season. I’ve used it on both chicken and ribs, and its combination of sweet, tangy and umami really made the meal in both cases. And the flavour of the bourbon was definitely a nice touch.

In my case, neither the ribs nor the chicken were smoked. Usually, when Canadians say “barbecue,” they really just mean grilling, rather than proper, smoke-based Southern American barbecue. Consequently, sauce is used differently, too. Instead of reserving it to slather on the meat at the table, even sugar-heavy sauces are often treated like a “mop.” With careful heat management, you can develop additional flavours through caramelization, while stopping short of burning it outright.

I hope to one day learn how to make proper barbecue, but for now, I’m just looking forward to trying out the other barbecue sauces in Modernist Cuisine… well, maybe not the centrifuged one: I’d rather spend that money on a smoker than a centrifuge.

What’s in your favourite barbecue sauce?

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