JohnTom's Sneaky Hot
John Tom Branson is the namesake of this sauce, but it's his grandchildren who are behind the brand and lovingly carrying on their grandfather's passion for barbecue. After relocating to the midwest from the south, John Tom found himself in a factory line of work and his love for barbecue remained a pastime. It was only following his retirement that he decided to turn his true love for cooking into a business, but he passed away suddenly of a heart attack before fulfilling on his dream, and with him went his barbecue sauce recipe as well. Fast forward to the mid-2000's and John Tom's grandson Lathay Pegues decided to try to recreate the sauce while studying at Indiana University Bloomington. Despite his efforts, he never matched his grandfather's sauce completely, but his efforts brought about equally delicious results, which led him to team up with his cousin Terrell Cooper and friend Rodney Robinson to start the JohnTom brand in 2006. The business remained a side project until 2014 when Lathay suffered a budget-related job loss from a news station that allowed him to shift his focus to the barbecue business 100% and start to really grow and expand the brand. That brings us to today, where the three JohnTom Barbecue sauces are available online and in select stores throughout Indiana.
A very familiar barbecue aroma fills the nose on first whiff of this sauce with a robust mixture of sweet molasses, acidic tomato, and a Worcestershire-based savoriness. Subsequent and deeper nosefuls brings out the more minor players like the common onion and garlic powder duo, a mellow smokiness, and just the slightest hint of heat that causes a tingle in the nostrils that a little vinegar tang is also partial responsible for.
Thickness & Texture
This glossy sauce has a dark maroon hue and is opaque, but despite those qualities, you can still see some small and medium spice specs that are white, red, and black. The sauce's consistency is syrupy and smooth, while its thickness is just a tad north of the medium line. From a suspended spoon, the sauce falls in a single large drip at first followed by many quick and smaller ones before slowing and releasing a final three to four. The sauce then ceases its flow and leaves a medium coating left clinging to the silverware.
Out of the Jar
This sauce starts off with a strong sweet molasses flavor that mixes with tomato next to deliver an upfront barbecue profile. The Worcestershire comes next and adds most of the complexity and depth, while vinegar begins to give the sugars some contrast. The sauce stays primarily sweet though when it gains a little smokiness and very light tastes of onion and garlic. Those last two are fleeting as the sauce turns more tangy and then, after leaving the mouth, the heat hits and gives an extra layer of flavor to the remaining molasses, tomato, and smoky aspects that makes the aftertaste very full flavored and well balanced.
Slathered & Cooked
This sauce coated the chicken in a medium, even later that baked down well over indirect heat. When moved directly over the coals there was very fast caramelization, but no burning and just a little sauce loss. The flavor of the sauce shifted a little more sweet but retained the deep molasses and Worcestershire components to give it a fairly standard "bold" taste. The more nuanced spices, smokiness, and heat were diminished following some time on the grill and didn't really come into play until the leg was done being consumed.
Put to Use
I like the descriptor of "Sneaky Hot" here—it's a common trait for a barbecue sauce to be sweet just up until the end like this one is, but I never thought of such a quick and succinct way of saying it. While there wasn't anything really groundbreaking with this sauce, the robust flavors were delivered in a well balanced and pleasing manner out of the jar that makes this a no-brainer better choice when pitted against a lot of the common name brand barbecue sauces. The heat played a good hand in the raw state, but became sneaky to the point of almost being absent after being cooked. Without as much prominence from the peppers, the chicken had a good, albeit more flat, mainly sweet molasses flavor that will still leave most folks very happy. Take this all in stride from a guy who's drawn to spicier sauces and found his favorite of the JohnTom line-up to be the hottest of the bunch—if you have more of a sweet tooth, your rating of the three sauces may very well be reversed from mine. No matter what though, there's no doubting this is a well crafted sauce that will make your grilled or smokes meats taste great and its robust profile is especially well suited for ribs and other heavy flavored meats like burgers, brisket, and pulled pork.