An online search for Alabama barbecue sauces returned almost exclusively white sauces. This is quite odd, there is such a thing as an Alabama Red BBQ sauce. This search result is based on the famous white sauce of Bob Gibson of Decatur, Alabama. While worthy of attention due to its unique nature, it is not true that all Barbecue in Alabama features white sauce.
Alabama is clearly famous for its red BBQ sauces. Dreamland Barbecue and Archibald’s, both from Tuscaloosa, Alabama are well known beyond the region in large part to the association of that town with college sports and the steady traffic from visiting fans and sportscasters. These are just two of the most heavily recently publicized BBQ houses famous for their red sauces. Those that grew up in the state recognize there is a long history of BBQ in the state complicated with an interaction of politics and racial relations. And those that grew up in the state recognize there is a long definite history of these tangy, hot sauces. Somewhere between the thicker Memphis sauces (check out my easy Memphis sauce) and the vinegar dressings of the Carolinas, an Alabama BBQ sauce seems to hit it just right.
Being thinner, Alabama red BBQ sauces can be added at the end of cooking. If you are grilling pork (ribs or butt) low and slow, brush some on for about 30 minutes to an hour before finishing. Additional extra sauce is added right before they are removed from the grill producing a moist and flavorful BBQ. If you are thinking about grilling a beef brisket, my Texas version of BBQ sauce might fit your needs better. A bit of difference in the flavors compliments the beef.
Dreamland BarBQ Sauce and Archibald BarBQ Sauce
I don’t have the secret formula for either of these sauces. However, if you are interested in reproducing either of those sauces, consider the following.
- Both sauces are thinner than my recipe. Therefore, add more water and/or vinegar to your taste. (See discussion below about why a thin sauce.)
- Archibald’s sauce is spicier. To replicate that add a bit more red pepper either through a pepper sauce or dried peppers. They also seem to use yellow mustard instead of dry mustard.
- Dreamlands’ sauce has more mustard giving it a more orange appearance. Add more dry mustard or prepared mustard to your taste.
Notes on Ingredients
BBQ sauce is a very personal thing. Directly above I address two famous sauces that many prefer and my thoughts on reproducing them. Below I discuss most of the ingredients in my Alabama sauce and a bit about their origins or purpose. Feel free to examine this recipe and adjust it to your taste.
Liquid Ingredients: Making it easy to brush on
My Alabama BBQ sauce uses tomato sauce, apple cider vinegar, and water. Why water? Alabama sauces have a tang from vinegar but are not vinegary. However, you want to be able to cook them on the meat. A moist sauce penetrates nicely and allows some sweetness to penetrate the skin. Adding water allows us to accomplish this without an overwhelming vinegar taste.
Sometimes people worry about adding sauce while cooking — Concerned that the sugar might burn. However, sugar does not caramelize until over 300°F, so if you are cooking low and slow (225°F) you are fine.
Garlic and Onions: Let’s be fresh
In this recipe, I have used fresh garlic and onions. These are minced and cooked into the sauce. If you are going through the trouble of making your own sauce, this step is worth it. However, if not available or time-limited, you may substitute granulated garlic and onions. The recipe specifies the proportions.
Flavor Profiles: Just a little bit different
A bit of mustard adds a zing to all BBQ sauces. I prefer to add dry Mustard, usually in the form of English Mustard that has a spicy taste. My recipe doesn’t add a lot, but if you are a fan of Dreamland BBQ, you will notice that the sauce is a bit orange indicating more mustard. Feel free to double it, if you like.
Perhaps, it is the Creole (Cajun) influence from Lower Alabama. A cuisine that features dishes with bay leaves and a dusting of filé on top. Or perhaps, it is from the number of Greek restauranteurs that opened some of the state’s earliest successful BBQ restaurants, but bay leaves are typical in Alabama Red BBQ Sauce. Frankly, bay leaves add a structure to the taste of any sauce for any purpose.
Bringing a Little Heat
Maybe again it is the Creole/Cajun influence but Tabasco provides the right source of heat for this sauce. Use as much as you like, but remember the meat is the star of BBQ.
Notes on Techniques
Making Alabama Red BBQ Sauce
The act of making the sauce is pretty easy. Bring together the ingredients, simmer and that is it. However, as with most simmered sauces, the taste improves if allowed to mellow. Overnight is great, but even a few hours ahead will work.
Improving your Grilling Techniques
Approaches that are required sacraments of some barbecue artists are sacrileges to others. Sauce or not while on the grill, or not at all. Rubs, no rubs, etc. Therefore, I have left my analysis only to the sauces. However, if you want a guide to grilling, nothing comes close to Meathead Goldwyn’s book Meathead. This is a thorough guide to the practical lessons of grilling, as well as, the scientific reasons behind it. Get it, read it, and develop your own techniques.
Notes on Equipment
Southern Barbecue requires slow cooking at a low temperature. The colloquial phrase is, “low and slow is best.” This is especially true with pork generally used in the Memphis barbecue. Therefore, a grill that will allow for a low and slow approach is required. With grill prices reaching the price of household appliances, this can be a problem. Personally, I have been very successful with the reasonably priced Char-griller AKRON Kamado grill. This works very well with the heat deflector accessory that helps with the modification of heat. Generally, you are shooting for about 225°F (approximately 110°C), and keeping a fire that low can be hard, so the deflector helps. Also, of note, sugar burns at about 300°F, so keeping the heat low allows you to add sauce while cooking if you like. I generally add it about 30 minutes before completing cooking.
Additionally, I have found the grill works efficiently for traditional grilling and as a wood-fired pizza oven.
Alabama Red BBQ Sauce
Preserving the Heritage
- 15 oz can of tomato sauce
- 2 tablespoons butter
- ½ cup apple cider vinegar
- ½ cup water
- ¼ cup dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard
- ½ medium onion, finely minced (substitute ½ teaspoon granulated onion powder, if desired)
- 1 medium garlic clove, finely minced (substitute ¼ teaspoon granulated garlic powder, if desired)
- ½ teaspoon Tabasco Sauce
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon celery salt
- 2 bay leaves
- Add the butter and the minced onion and garlic to a small saucepan. Over low meat melt the butter and lightly cook the onion and garlic until just golden.
- Combine all the remaining sauce ingredients in the saucepan. Stir to combine and bring to a full boil.
- Lower the heat and simmer for 20-25 minutes. The sauce is ready when the tomato sauce tastes like "cooked" tomatoes.
- Taste and adjust seasonings to your personal taste.
- Remove the bay leaves.
- The sauce is ready to use. However, the flavors will mellow if allowed to sit covered for an hour or two. However, it is best if it is allowed to mellow overnight in the refrigerator. If you intend to store it, transfer it immediately to a sanitized glass container. The sauce should store well refrigerated for a few days.
Dreamland BarBQ sauces and Archibald BarBQ Sauces
I don't have the secret formula for either of these sauces. However, if you are interested in attempting to reproduce either of those sauces, consider the following.
- Both sauces are thinner than my recipe. Therefore, add more water and/or vinegar to your taste. (See discussion in the accompanying article about why a thin sauce.)
- Archibald's sauce is spicier. To replicate that add a bit more red pepper either through a pepper sauce or dried peppers.
- Dreamlands' sauce has more mustard giving it a more orange appearance. Add more dry mustard of prepared mustard to your taste.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 20 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 28Total Fat: 1gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 3mgSodium: 267mgCarbohydrates: 4gFiber: 0gSugar: 3gProtein: 0g
Calculated Nutrition is estimated.
Tuesday 29th of March 2022
I lived off of Archibalds for a while when I was younger and I've gone through gallons of their sauce. I can tell you their sauce definitely uses regular yellow mustard. You can clearly see it floating around in the sauce.
Saturday 25th of March 2023
@Jeff Zeanah, Oh yeah, I think Archibalds is the best bbq on the planet. Where else does a sweet old lady cut your meat onto a plate straight off the pit without taking a step away from the register? I like the original Dreamland but Archibalds is next level.
Wednesday 30th of March 2022
I agree with you. I should have made that distinction in the first write-up. I have added that to my notes now. BTW, do you have a favorite?