Not-so-modern Modernist Cuisine: KC BBQ A-OK

One of the stops on my road trip across the US last month was Kansas City. Naturally, this meant we had to sample the local barbecue, which we did at a couple of locations, namely Jack Stack and Woodyard BBQ. We tried a range of the offerings, including brisket, “burnt ends,” and pork ribs, as well as “pit beans,” all slathered with the local barbecue sauce.

When I got home, I thought it would be interesting to make a batch of the Kansas City barbecue sauce from Modernist Cuisine to see how it compares, since this was the first time I’d sampled the genuine article in its place of origin. Much like the Kentucky barbecue sauce, the Kansas City version doesn’t involve any high-tech shenanigans: it’s just ketchup, tomato paste, vinegar, sugar and spices, mixed together and simmered to reduce.

I still don’t have a smoker, so I can’t make “real” barbecue. Instead, I made sort-of pulled pork, using Michael Ruhlman’s approach from Ruhlman’s Twenty. His recipe calls for the pork shoulder to be seared on the grill (adding at least something of a smoky note), then braised for several hours in an Eastern North Carolina barbecue sauce. That sauce is substantially more fluid than the KC sauce, so I took a portion of mine and thinned it out with water to make the braising liquid.

The Modernist Cuisine recipe for Kansas City sauce definitely hit all the right notes compared to what I’d tasted: on the sweeter side, with a strong note of black pepper and chilli powder, plus the complexity of the other spices. The inclusion of Thai green chilli surprised me the most, but it added just the right amount of piquancy. I have only two complaints about the recipe: first, that the volume of spices produced a sauce with just a slight “gritty” feel.

And second, that the batch size was too small, so I have to make more already.

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