Though the weather has turned the slightest bit nippy these days, we still have at least two good months of outdoor grilling left this season. And as odd as it may sound, you may be even experiencing grill fatigue. You’ve done your salmon, halibut, steaks, chicken, ribs, burgers, hot dogs, and every vegetable in your CSA box. You’ve done your dry rub, wet rub, herb marinade, yogurt marinade, and every other flavorful liquid in your pantry. So what’s left?
How about steak sauce? And not the supermarket staple A-1, but rather a locally crafted sauce that has been steakhouse-tested. Three such sauces recently arrived at Heavy Table HQ, and we gave them the ol’ taste test to see how they would perk up a late-summer barbecue.
Croix Valley Steak Sauces came into being about 14 years ago when Damon Holter developed them for his parents’ Hertel, WI, Timberidge Steakhouse, and last year he turned his focus to retail sales. Now based in Hudson, Holter boasts that his three varieties, Original, Garlic ‘n Herb, and Hot ‘n Spicy, can be used as anything from a traditional marinade to a pizza sauce or a component of a Bloody Mary. But being the steak purists that we are, we tested the three sauces as accompaniments to grilled tenderloins and rib-eyes. Here’s how they fared:
Original – Despite being touted as “the perfect combination of sweet and spicy,” the Original blend mostly offered a touch of sweetness to a simply grilled steak. The taste was perfectly pleasing but not mind-blowing, and it was a tad on the thin side for our preference. Perhaps the tomato and onion flavors would stand out more when paired with a more neutral chicken breast; with steak, the sauce was merely good, not Tony-the-Tiger grrreat.
Garlic ‘n Herb – Herb, yes. Garlic, not really. While the rosemary and oregano shone through in this sauce, the garlic flavor was lacking. We wouldn’t have really missed the garlic if the bottle merely stated “Herb” because the herbs brought a delightful, lighter touch to the sauce, but once you put out the expectation for garlic, your product better deliver. If you’re a garlic fiend, you’d be better off making your own concoction with the amount of garlic to your liking.
Hot ‘n Spicy – Upon first bite, you’d be hard-pressed to call this sauce anything but mildly hot and spicy. But keep eating and you’ll find that the chili flavors build up in your mouth, so by the time you’ve had that last bite of steak, you’ll want your water glass to be nearby. Our favorite of the three sauces, the Hot ‘n Spicy isn’t too overwhelming for the heat-averse but has enough of a kick to lend some zing to your meal.
These sauces won’t lend themselves well to an Extreme Makeover: Barbecue Edition, but it might be worth having a bottle or two in your pantry (or for a host / hostess gift) if you’re looking to introduce some new elements to your grilling repertoire. It’s only September — there’s no need to let grill fatigue get the best of you yet.
Croix Valley Steak Sauces ($5.99 / 15-oz. bottle or $16.99 for a three-pack) are available locally at Lunds and Byerly’s, Kowalski’s, and various butchers and markets. Visit the website for a full list of Minnesota and Wisconsin retailers.