If your neighborhood hasn’t already come alive with the smell of searing grills and sultry smokers, I’ll bet you a pound of pulled pork it will any day now. With the Memorial Day weekend fast approaching – the official start of the grillin’ season is upon us; not that hardy Utahns need an excuse to get the charcoal embers glowing. You know who you are, out there in the December snow storms proudly monitoring that Weber, I’ve seen you. Actually, I may be you…
At any rate, the month of May is National BBQ Month with May 16th marking National BBQ Day. Let’s all take a moment to pause and salute the souls that create these wonderful public holiday. We get a day off right? Anyway, added up it seems to be a timely opportunity to talk about cooking in the great outdoors. I’ll spare you the normal blurb about finding the best cut of beef or which grocers to shop at; hint, goto Beltex Meats and just order it all. Instead, I’d like to turn you onto a few new flavors this year.
While you might’ve mastered the smoker or wowed your friends with your burgers and wings – I’m betting you’re always looking for something little new, a little different, something that stops your guests in their tracks and affirms your status as the elite grill master that you are.
With that in mind, here are a handful of local Utah producers that offer fantastic sauces, marinades and add ons that will put your Summer party over the top this year. I’ve taste tasted each one, in honor of this glorious national holiday and the brave souls who tame the flame. Each one gets my seal of smoky approval.
The eponymous Rob Sauce is the singular work of the affable Rob Clark. Clark, himself a transplant from Florida to SLC stumbled onto the precise makeup of his versatile sauce by a somewhat happy accident cooking for his kids. Clark recalled to me the moment he knew his concoction was more than just a family favorite; after a brief stint providing wings dressed in his secrete sauce at his local bar, regulars would return and ask about those magical wings from previous weeks. Such was the demand Clark started to bottle the sauce for the general public.
Flavor-wise, Rob Sauce is a riot of gleeful button pushing. Starting off with a rich molasses, steak sauce-esque flavor it quick takes on sweet, spicy and tangy note. It’s like a kid who got his first drum set for Christmas and wants to bash every cymbal – and somehow makes a decent tune. A little goes a long way here with the sauce adding umami punch in every direction.
While Clark offers up the sauce as a way to finish killer wings, in truth its flexible enough to be used in a variety of ways, from marinade to outright dip or pour over. Anywhere you want to add a jolt of liveliness to a grilled, Rob Sauce will be able to step up to the plate.
Where to buy:
- Grove Market & Deli
- General Army Navy
- Main Street Quality Meats
- Pirate O’s
- The Store
If the Summer sun isn’t radiantly searing enough for you, Ogden based Z’s is ready to bring extra intensity to your BBQ parties this season – and then some. Chilli heads James and Julie McBeth tell a familiar story – one of personal passion/obsession quickly blossoming into a much loved business.
Over a decade in the making Z’s now offers an extensive line of sauces including: Original Hot Sauce, Mustard Habanero Hot Sauce, Viking Blood Hot Sauce, Restaurant Style Salsa (HOT), Sweet and hot Shield Maiden, Fermented Garlic Gourmet Sauce Jalapeno HOT JAM, Strawlapeno, HOT Marmalade, Green Hot Sauce.
I had the pleasure to sample four of their McBeth’s incendiary creations, seen in the pic above. Let me make one thing clear, this is the real deal. If you wince at the sight of black pepper in your Alfredo sauce, stay clear, this is not for you. These are for lovers of the fiery and fierce – if that’s you, you’ll for sure want to check out this diverse range of local hot sauces.
Where to buy:
In contrast to Z’s nuclear option, Jason Moffat’s Rustic Tomato has the perfect product for you if heat isn’t your thing. Wait, I know what you’re thinking, “chilli sauce? You can’t fool me!” Moffat’s wife Brittany was quick to set me straight about the product:
One of the challenges we face is that people worry the sauce will be too spicy, like a hot sauce for example. The truth is anything but, this is a traditional home spun chili sauce that you might have grown up with on yeti family table. Even our habanero chili sauce is fairly tame; the pepper brings warmth but not pain.
I’d be quick to concur with Moffat’s assessment, the heat here is as gentle as a lapping wave on an idyllic beach – o.k. hopefully that has your tastebuds suitably soothed. The chili sauce is a Moffat family treasure, handed down through the generations – three generations in the making in fact. The I Am Salt Lake podcast recently featured Moffat and discussed his background, sauce and future goals.
In terms of application, the possibilities are myriad. It’s a no brainer to serve some up with crackers or shrimp for a light appetizer, but the rich jamminess of the sauce (from plenty of vine ripened tomatoes) would definitely make for a fine burger topping.
Bonus points: Rustic Tomato’s homestyle ketchup is also worthy of a look in too. The sauce is agreeably fruit forward and I guarantee will have your guests trying to pluck the precise flavor profile out of the air (I know I still am!) Mix it into some quality mayo, and likewise, you’ll have a unique fry sauce that’s going to be the hit of the party too.
Where to buy:
Van Kwartel Flavor Science – if the name alone doesn’t have you hooked already – well, your BBQs are probably dull and lifeless affairs anyway. VKFS is owner Tracey Price’s ode to her Bronx background, one loaded with Caribbean flavor; garlic, onions, olive oil and spices aplenty. Thusly, Van Kwartel Flavor Science offers a range of spice blends, marinades and sauces that seeks to showcase those complex Caribbean flavors. In Price’s own words:
Caribbean food is the original fusion cuisine blending the culinary contributions of the African, Amerindian, European, East Indian, and Asian people that now call this area home. Our offerings are designed to add a modern twist on those traditions and allow you to explore the complex flavors of my cultural legacy in a quick and accessible way.
Van Kwartel’s products are slightly different from the others mentioned here, not being shelf stable at purchase, these are fresh as can be. You’ll need to get these refrigerated ASAP after purchase. Not that you’ll need to worry about how to store these for long, the two impeccably fresh products I sampled leapt out of their containers with vibrance.
The jerk seasoning works as simple pour over if you don’t have the time for marination, and I bet it would be excellent mixed into ground turkey to liven up those usually ho hum turkey burgers. The VKFS website even dares yo to try to resist just serving the jerk marinade with chips…
Where to buy:
Midway based Pepperlane Products are perhaps the most established business on this list, and maybe you’ve seen them at grocery stores around town; you can’t miss their cute doilly-capped jars in the deli section of better grocery stores. The popular brand is built on jalapeño pepper jelly – a jalapebno and green bell pepper blend – a holiday treat that’s been present on holiday table spreads down through the generations.
Roderick and Sandra Weese are the current owners of Pepperlane, having joined the business in 2009 and taking full ownership in 2014 – helping grow the line of playfully named preservers: Sweet Mother Of Onion, Mango Django Jazz and Meyer, Meyer Lemon On Fire are just some of the impish names of what’s now and extensive product line.
Those spirited monikers do well to explain how you actually use these preserves: however the damn well way you want! There’s no right or wrong wag, just have fun experimenting. Sure enough each individual product brings a little heat and a lot of sweet – plus its own unique base component too. I found the Cherry Bomb (above) to be particular handy tool to add just a little fruity heat to some smoked brisket.
My suggestion, go grab a bunch and let your guests have some fun experimenting at your next cookout; just keep an eye on those jars lest a few try to make their way home with departing diners!
Where to buy:
Lastly, let me also add a quick mention to another off the radar product, one I’ve been enjoying for several years now. Available only at Sushi Groove on Highland Drive – their signature Piranha sauce. Made with TLC (that’s Tender Loving sCovilles – one for the chilli heads, you’re welcome) specially for this fun sushi restaurant you won’t find this anywhere else in town.
The Groove’s Piranha sauce leans heavily on Asian ingredients: soy, sesame, fresh ginger and wasabi plus a range of chilli peppers – red saline habanero through naga jolokia (ghost!) pepper. There’s a citrusy, zesty characteristic to the sauce and as you’d expect – it goes great with fish of all kinds.
Disclosure: Rob Sauce, Z’s, Pepperlane, Rustic Tomato and Van Kwartel all provided review samples free of charge for the purpose of this article. Our thanks to all of them!
Founder, writer and wrangler at Gastronomic SLC and The Utah Review. Former restaurant critic at the Salt Lake Tribune. Stuart is largely fueled by Uinta Cutthroat, alliteration and the use of too many big words he doesn’t understand. Ate all the pies.