In the world of Competition BBQ, judges are looking for the perfect balance of flavor. The profile that seems to be winning every contest right now is what I like to refer to as…. Sweet Heat
Just about every team uses some combination of sweet sauce glazed over dry-rubbed meat. The idea is simple, but balancing these flavors and making them unique (so yours stands out) is the hard part.
Today I want to talk about the sweet side of this flavor profile.
Most BBQ sauces have some ingredient that really brings sweet flavor, often it’s the dreaded “High Fructose Corn Syrup” that your doctor, momma, and evil politicians preach about.
My problem with sauces that use this approach – aside from the fact that it’ll give you “the sugar” – is that it’s one-dimensional. It only brings sweetness to the table.
But there are plenty of other ingredie nts out there that bring along some unique flavors. To me it’s about using a sweet ingredient that has more to offer than just sweet.
And the BBQ sauces out there doing well – both in competitions and on the shelf – are doing just that.
For my BBQ sauce recipes, I use a few favorite sweet elements that deliver on other levels too.
Local Honey has a natural, sweet taste that’s miles better than corn syrup. It’s very rich. Honey takes on floral notes from the nectar of the flowers that’s used to make it… so different types of honey gives you a range of different flavors. I like to pick mine up locally from a small farm because to me, it has the freshest taste.
Molasses is another great sweet element because it’s practically liquid brown sugar. It’s got a strong, robust taste –and a little bitterness tha t plays really well with the sweet flavor. If you can find a local source for it too, go for it because it will have a better flavor than the store bought variety.
Fruit Preserves are a great way to add sweetness because you get the added bonus from the fruit itself. I like to use apricot myself. The apricot seems to give me more of a fragrant flavor that other fruits just don’t have.
Agave Nectar is super sweet – there is no bitterness here – so you don’t have to use much. Plus it dissolves really easily, so it works great in a finishing sauce. If honey is too strong for you, substitute Agave Nectar and get the same effect.
Besides using plain white or brown sugar, I use these dry ingredients to add flavor along with sweetness…
Honey powder which is basically dehydrated honey.
Piloncillo (Mexican cone sugar) is raw sugar pressed into a cone. It’s adds a sweet, caramel flavor to sauces or rubs.
Turbinado sugar or sugar in the raw is a natural form of sugar. It is made of larger crystals which makes it dryer than brown sugar. If you’ve tried our rub, then you’ve probably noticed it.
I also saw something the other day that I haven’t tried, but I’m about to… It’s Mesquite Powder. It’s said to “add a warm, mellow caramel flavor to almost any food that needs a touch of sweetness”… so if you’ve tried this let me know. I’m really curious to find out…