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When properly cooked, great barbecue, such as a slab of ribs, is mighty good nekkid, but most folks prefer it with barbecue sauce. To most Americans, barbecue sauce is red and sweet and it comes from a shelf near the ketchup. To those of us who travel and would rather lunch out back of a rickety shack under a shade tree rather than under the golden arches, barbecue sauces come in a rainbow of colors and flavors, and their recipes are tied to the area of origin.
That's because barbecue has evolved along disparate paths around the nation, led down these trails by the racial and ethnic immigrants. Indeed, barbecue sauce is a purely American cultural phenomenon.
Every grownup should have a personal secret recipe sauce. To add a personal flair to your next cookout, serve your homemade sauce from a jelly jar and be prepared to take a few bows, and requests for the recipe. If you feel ambitious, serve your guests a choice of several regional sauces.
Below are the 9 classic American barbecue sauces (if we stretch the definition of "sauce" to include Memphis dry rub). Click the links for my recipes if you want to make your own. If you want to taste examples of these styles but don't want to make them, click here for a list of my favorite commercial barbecue sauces.
Tell me about your fave in the comments below.
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For more of Meathead's writing, photos, and recipes, please visit his website AmazingRibs.com.