Tue May 20, 2014
Throughout the winter I sometimes feel like I'm just trudging through grilling to fulfill my standing recipe commitments. Sure, I don't mind grilling all year round, but the cold doesn't really inspire creativity as much as finding items that don't require me to sit outside for long periods of time. By the end of winter, I often wonder if I'm really "that into" grilling anymore, but as soon as the days start to grow longer and warmer, a renewed enthusiasm is born and I'm 100% back into game. With my love affair with the grill completely reignited, an onslaught of recipe ideas begins to flow. These tend to be so massive that I never get through everything I set out to accomplish by the time the cold starts to sink in once again.
Barbecue sauce is just one small category within the larger scope of grilling, but even within those confines, I have so many variations I'd like to try out that it can be daunting and I end up only doing a few each season. Last year I wanted to get away from the regional sauces I've focused on in the past and do something completely different. I got what I was looking for in this balsamic barbecue sauce.
If you read my barbecue sauce reviews, you'll come to find I don't care much for producers who just change one ingredient from a base sauce to be able to label it as whole different variety. Want hot? Just up the cayenne. Sweeter? Dump in brown sugar. Smoky? Add an extra dash of liquid smoke.
I believe a sauce needs to be built around its defining trait by using specific ingredients and quantities that best compliment that characteristic. So when considering a balsamic sauce, I broke down my standard sauce recipe and built it back up in a way that would best highlight that ubiquitous vinegar.
Of course the sauce had to start with a good balsamic foundation. To make best use of this, I reduced down an entire cup of vinegar until it reached a syrupy consistency. This not only concentrated the balsamic flavor, but also enhanced its sweetness, and getting sweetness from the vinegar itself seemed like a better place to turn than sugar.
From there I went through the motions of building the sweet, tart, spicy, and fruity flavors associated with a well layered barbecue sauce. In doing so, I ended up swapping out some of my standard ingredients for ones I thought would better meld with the vinegar.
To begin, I made a change from onions to shallots for their milder and sweeter flavor. I also got my heat source from crushed red pepper and white pepper—as opposed to hot sauces or jalapeños—scaled back the ketchup, upped the honey and mustard, and rounded it out with molasses and Worcestershire.
Once the whole sauce was together, I let it simmer for 15-20 minutes until it thickened slightly. I personally like to take the time to simmer my sauces, as they tend to result in a more concentrated flavor, although I've also put together some mighty fine no-bake sauces as well.
Then the immersion blend came out and I puréed the sauce until it was smooth.
The end result was a very thick sauce that I would describe more like a balsamic barbecue glaze. The strong tanginess and robustness of the vinegar found a balance with the sweeteners, while mustard and Worcestershire gave extra depth, and a bit of white pepper provided a touch of spice. It coats heavily, and a little goes a long way in adding a strong and unique flavor that will make your barbecue stand out from the crowd in this fresh grilling season.
Balsamic Barbecue Sauce
- Prep Time:
- 30 Minutes
- Cook Time:
- 20 Minutes
- Total Time:
- 50 Minutes
- 1 1/2 cups
- 1 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/3 cup finely minced shallots (about 1 medium)
- 2 teaspoons freshly minced garlic (about 2 medium cloves)
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1/2 cup ketchup
- 1/4 cup honey
- 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon molasses
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper, plus more to taste
- Kosher salt, to taste
- Bring balsamic vinegar to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer until vinegar is reduced to 1/3 cup, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat.
- Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add in shallot and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and crushed red pepper and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Stir in reduced balsamic vinegar, ketchup, honey, brown sugar, mustard, molasses, Worcestershire, and white pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and let cook until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Season with salt and additional pepper to taste.
- For smoother sauce, puree with an immersion blender, or in the jar of a regular blender, until smooth. Let cool to room temperature, then transfer to an airtight container and store in refrigerator for up to a month.