William Dickey / Styling Buffy Hargett / Food Styling Pam Lolley
The color spectrum of barbecue sauce is rich and diverse--one reason why sampling different styles from all over the South is so much fun and so delicious. Ask the average person the color of their favorite sauce, and you’ll probably get answers such as brick red, mahogany, or caramel.
Pose the same question to a resident of North Alabama, though, and you’re sure to get only one answer: white.
"It’s the only sauce we know here, because it’s what everyone grows up on," says world barbecue champion Chris Lilly of Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur, Alabama. Bob Gibson is credited with concocting white sauce back in 1925. Today, this tangy, mayonnaise-based condiment, traditionally used to dress chicken, is as synonymous with the state of Alabama as legendary football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. "We marinate with it, use it to baste, plus we use it as an all-purpose table sauce," explains Chris.
Yet because white barbecue sauce is such a regional anomaly and because grocery shelves are dominated by the myriad incarnations of tomato-based sauces, many Southerners have never tried it. Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s time to get out the chicken and fire up your smoker or grill.
Yes, We Have No Tomatoes
Like its tomato- and mustard-based cousins, white barbecue sauce comes in shades ranging from porcelain to putty. There are also differences in consistency. Some sauces flow like fat-free milk, while others are more reminiscent of a creamy dressing. As for the ingredients, well, purists such as Myra Grissom, owner of Miss Myra’s Pit Bar-B-Q in Birmingham, insists there are only four: mayonnaise, vinegar, salt, and coarsely ground pepper.
"Everyone says they have a special recipe, but there’s really no secret. You start with the basics, and you can’t go wrong," recommends Myra, whose family tree leads back to Decatur. She’s been serving up her version of white barbecue sauce in Birmingham for more than 19 years. "I love it as a dip for pretzels," she says with a smile, "but we also use it to perk up salads and to top pulled pork sandwiches and grilled fish."
One taste and you’ll understand why Myra says, "no Southern home should be without it."
This article is from the August 2005 issue of Southern Living.