fork-tender BBQ chicken

I recently received a review copy of America’s Best BBQ, which was published by the same people behind Falling Cloudberries, one of the most gorgeous cookbooks I’ve ever seen. (Seriously, I don’t know who the graphic designers are at Andrew McMeel, but their work is so good, it’s honestly enough by itself to warrant buying these books, if just for flipping value.)

america's best BBQ cookbook

In the case of this barbecue book, cookbook might not be the best term to describe it. While filled with recipes, it’s also part guide, part travelogue, part window into the barbecue belt of America (i.e., from North Carolina to Texas, with a few other states thrown in). There are a lot (a lot!) of gorgeous, glossy photos, along with stories and commentary by Ardie A. Davis and Chef Paul Kirk, the authors and researchers behind this compilation. These men love barbecue. They make it, the taste it, they travel around the country deciding what’s good enough to tell the rest of us about.

If I had one complaint, it’d be that a lot of the recipes, at least for main dishes, require special ingredients particular to the restaurants they came from: Ed’s Pepper Vinegar Sauce from The Pit in Raleigh, North Carolina, to make a barbecued hog; Curtis’ Southern Style Bar-B-Q Sauce from Curtis’s BBQ in Vermont to make its loaded pork-stuffed potato. I had to dig a little to find a barbecue recipe I could make in my own kitchen: the Apple City BBQ Sauce that, ironically, comes from my own home state, one not especially known for that sort of thing.

BBQ sauce

To make this recipe from the 17th Street Bar & Grill in Murphysboro, Illinois, I had to tweak a few things, most notably the grated onion, which I replaced with onion powder. You’d think such a substitution would ruin everything, but in fact, it gave it a wonderful kick that almost made my eyes water.

Le Creuset of BBQ sauce

It worked very well in a an old stand-by chicken recipe I’ve posted here before (back when my camera situation was a little different), the one that, with a store-bought barbecue sauce, brought me back to my grandma’s kitchen and her clear glass plates.

With this new sauce, the slow-cooker recipe was just as easy and made the chicken just as delicious, but different.

And on sandwiches a few days later, this fork-tender meat left me with nothing but happy sighs—that and a desire for more. I’d say that’s testament enough to its value and, of course, the power of good barbecue.

Apple City Barbecue Sauce
Adapted from America’s Best BBQ

(Pictured above in Coke Chicken; recipe here)

1 cup ketchup (Hunt’s is recommended)
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup apple juice or cider (I used low-sugar juice)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce (I used Worcestershire)
2 teaspoons yellow mustard
3/4 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/3 cup bacon bits
1/2 cup onion powder (or grated onion)

In a large saucepan, combine ketchup, rice vinegar, apple juice, cider vinegar, brown sugar, soy sauce, mustard, garlic powder, white pepper, cayenne and bacon bits. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and then stir in the onion powder.

Reduce the heat and simmer the mixture, uncovered, for 10 to 15 minutes or until it thickens slightly. (Note: my mixture started to bubble and spurt out of the pan, so I covered it, with the lid slightly ajar to let air in.) Stir frequently.

Allow sauce to cool and pour into sterilized glass bottles. Makes 3 cups. May be stored for up to two weeks.

Shanna Mallon

Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. kickpleat

    I do love a good bbq sauce! This looks great.

  2. lo

    As we happen upon the cusp of BBQ season, this review is more than appropriate.
    That said, I’m always impressed when a slow cooker recipe can evoke such response. This cookbook might be worth looking at for that reason alone!

    (Shout out to Alison from JSOnline for getting me over to your blog with her recent post on granola!)

  3. meeso

    That sauce looks awesome!

  4. Rachel

    yes! i totally love homemade bbq sauce… mmm… cause i always have in basic ingredients on hand etc….

  5. maris

    I’ve been looking for a good barbecue sauce recipe to make chicken with…this one sure looks and sounds like a winner! I’ll be trying it soon, especially with the summer months upon us.

  6. Don Howes

    did you use the coke and ketchup with this BBQ sauce?

  7. Shannalee

    Don: Yes! I used the Coke Chicken recipe already posted on this site, and this sauce became the BBQ sauce it requires. I’ll update the post to make that more clear. Thanks for checking!

  8. E.P.

    Mmmm, barbecue. I had some last week at a local spot (it was surprisingly good!), but I have never made my own. Is it hard to do? Because the sauce doesn’t look too challenging. (:

  9. sue

    BBQ is such a big deal down her in VA (and in NC), and I am so ignorant on the different styles- it is ALL good to me. I have heard of The Pit multiple times, and people swear it’s worth the trip to Raleigh!

  10. Shannalee

    E. P. – Not hard at all! Throw it all in a pot and cook!

    Sue – I’m definitely more in the “it’s ALL good to me” camp than the discriminating one, but I gotta’ say you’re tempting me to roadtrip it down to NC. That’s close to you guys, right? How fun would that be?

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  14. Dave

    I’m going to try the original sauce again this week with these three modifications: (1) cook 1/2 lb bacon and cook the onion in the drippings and add the cooked bacon to the pot while it simmers. I’m skipping the bacon bits. Half of the ketchup will be no salt added Heinz. If it needs salt I will add the salt. When I pull my pork shoulder, I salt it and season with a no-ketchup NC vinegar sauce. (2) I’ll pull the bacon out and run the sauce through a food mill to make sure there isn’t any onion lumps. (3) Then I’ll adjust for salt and use three peppers cayenne, black and white. My cayenne is a new jar so I have to be careful. I will start with 1/8t of cayenne and 1/4 of black and of white.

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