On Thursday night, I was rummaging around in the refrigerator, trying to make room for all of the ingredients I'd gotten for Saturday, and I ran across a mysterious jar of homemade barbecue sauce. After some reflection, I realized it had been a gift from Mike Roach, one of the guys who works with Cooper, and that we'd never opened it. An idea was born.
When we have pork, Cooper makes his own sauce, plus we usually serve something cheap from a bottle (like Sweet Baby Ray's) or something a little better from a bottle (like Gates). So we've got a few different sauces scattered around the house - mostly tomato-based with a little vinegar thrown in. And where there are a few different options, there's an opportunity for competition.
Five minutes later, I was in PowerPoint, making up scorecards:
The tasting was blind, of course, with each sauce in it's own glass jar:
Alicia pegged Cooper's sauce right off - we expected that everybody would know which one was his, since it's much more vinegar-heavy than the other options. Even our guests who'd never had Cooper's sauce commented on how totally different it was than everything else. One of our new friends, the very helpful Bob, mentioned right away that it was pretty "Carolina."
Interestingly, there was a lot of debate about which of the other three came from a bottle. Everyone knew that Sweet Baby Ray's was bottled - that wasn't a surprise. But there was some real discussion about whether Roach's sauce or Gates came from a bottle. Roach admitted to us that his sauce was on the sweeter side - sweeter than he likes - because that's what his wife and daughters prefer. It was popular around here, too, and took home several votes for favorite sweet/spicy balance and favorite consistency.
In the end, Gates was probably the overall winner - it received the most favorite balance and favorite consistency votes - but because we have good friends, Cooper's sauce was the official overall favorite. Everybody had strong opinions, though and each sauce had at least one champion.
I, of course, abstained from the voting. I have to agree with our friend Christine, though. She said that Cooper's sauce is so different from the other options, which makes it good if you're looking for something that's not the traditional BBQ sauce you'd find in Maryland. But sometimes you ARE looking for that type of sauce - and on those days, Gates is my favorite.
But they're all good. Because really, even the worst BBQ is still pretty great.