Not exactly barbecue central, Minnesota still boasts a solid number of local, high-quality barbecue sauces. Good news, because nothing ruins a night of grilling faster than the crummy, glorified ketchup of most mass-marketed sauces (a notable exception being Sweet Baby Ray’s). A trip to Linden Hills Co-op and Lunds turned up the following five sauces, all locally produced.
Demon Pig ($6 for 13 oz.) – Made in Breezy Point, MN, the mild version won second place in the National Barbecue Association’s 2009 competition in the “Tomato Mild” category. This sauce, much sweeter and with a strong vinegar taste, wasn’t peppery and was chock full of tiny onion and green pepper chunks. This sauce would be great on poultry or pork and, with Wee Willy’s, was the best among the five.
Ken Davis ($2.19 for 17 oz.) – A stalwart from a former Minneapolis jazzman and restauranteur, St. Louis Park-based Ken Davis doesn’t try too hard but does the trick. It smells like a charcoal fire and has no extremes — mild taste and spice. This sauce would be great in small quantities with ribs or slathered on a chicken sandwich. It’s a very solid, everyday sauce you won’t get tired of, and at $2.19 a jar, a real value. In this company, though, it’s overshadowed. But for one-third the price, what the heck. Keep a jar in the pantry.
Down Under Blackberry Chipotle (Price varied, $3.99-$5.39 for 16 oz.) – From South Minneapolis, this dark, thick sauce hits you hard with a deep yet not too spicy heat. Perfect for beef, but pork or poultry probably wouldn’t work. This sauce is ketchup-based with no vinegar and would be better with less pepper and / or chili powder. In fairness, it’s not really straight-up barbecue sauce but more of a niche meat sauce, so don’t buy this expecting anything resembling traditional barbecue sauce. Yet for a special twist, say with little smokies or for dipping, this sauce is definitely worth a try. It won first place at the 2009 Big Island BBQ competition in Albert Lea.
Triple Crown ($4.29 for 14 oz.) – A three-time winner at the Minnesota State Fair, Triple Crown from Frederic, WI, smells like beef jerky and is slightly sweet and smoky. It won’t overpower the meat, yet contains anchovy, which could be the ingredient behind the unique tang / meat flavor. This sauce is intensely rich and will add a subtle sophistication to anything. A very solid sauce.
Wee Willy’s ($4.29 for 18 oz.) – From Afton, this sauce screams “tang.” A legitimate aftertaste sticks to the back of your throat. This thinner, salty sauce had the best balance of flavors: vinegar, sugar, smoke. Bite after bite, the flavors seemed to expand. Put this sauce on a chicken breast and you’ll forget how dry the meat is. With Demon Pig, the Jack Daniel’s World Championship-winning Wee Willy’s will be a permanent and versatile addition to the fridge. On pork roast, it’s stellar.