Lem's Meat Varnish Southern Style Barbecue Sauce
This is the second in a lot of three sauces by Lem's Meat Varnish that I purchased on a recommendation made by a Meatwaver. The Lem's brand hails from Charleston, WV and was founded in 2014 by Chris Lemon as a competition team of the same name. Chris's skills in smoked meats led him to open a take out restaurant in 2017, which closed a couple years later. From there, Chris kept the Lem's Meat Varnish name going as a sauce business that focuses on small batch production with high quality ingredients. There's currently three sauces and three rubs in the Lem's line-up, all available online and at select stores in the Charleston, WV area.
The distinct pungency of mustard hits first in the aroma of this sauce, but with a medium sweetness that has a mild molasses tilt to it, the mustard's harshness is restrained a bit. After a deeper whiff, a barbecue complexity builds with Worcestershire being the next most prominent player along with a mellow smokiness that lingers in the background. You can smell there are spices at work, but expect for some black pepper, it's hard to discern what's at play because the mustard does a good job masking the smell of the ingredients that have lighter touches.
Thickness & Texture
This sauce has a mustard-yellow color, and while the hue is light, the sauce is opaque, making it hard to see any spice specs except for medium bits of black pepper here and there. The sauce's thickness is a few notches north of medium and its consistency is more paste-like than syrupy with a fair amount of texture to it. From a suspended spoon, the sauce falls in one large drip followed by one or two smaller and slower ones, then ceases and leaves a thick coating of sauce clinging to the silverware.
Out of the Jar
A sweet mustard taste starts out the flavor profile. The sauce isn't overly sugary, but rather, has just enough sweetness to keep the mustard from tasting pungent out of the gate. The bite of mustard comes in though as the sauce settles on the tongue and joins forces with a vinegar tang to create a strong bite. Next, the Worcestershire brings the majority of the complexity, but there's a light fruitiness, molasses depth, and distant smokiness aiding it in cementing the flavor as solidly barbecue. As the sauce leaves the tongue, there's a very light sharpness from black pepper that mixes with an increased mustard presence to leave a pungent and sharp aftertaste.
Slathered & Cooked
This sauce coated the chicken in a thick, uneven layer that baked down well over indirect heat. When moved directly over the coals, there was light caramelization in spots and a medium amount of sauce loss. The flavor was pretty akin to what was experienced out of the jar, but with a slight boost in the sweetness, it tasted a bit more like a standard barbecue sauce. The mustard was still front and center though, delivering a pungent, tangy, and sweet taste overall. Some mustard sauces suffer a bit of a grittiness after being cooked, but this was not one of the them and had a smooth and pleasant texture.
Put to Use
There was time in the not that distant past that I was not a fan of mustard barbecue sauces, but I've grown from merely appreciating this variation that has its roots in South Carolina, to now really liking it a lot. This has led to my review bank of mustard-based sauces to grow fairly large, and I've formed stronger opinions of what I like and don't like with mustard sauces and found Lem's entry into this category a few steps above the middle of the lot. I liked the upfront mustard pungency of this sauce, but with enough sugar and complexity to keep the mustard in check and solidly define it as a barbecue sauce. I struggled to get a grasp on the spices at play in here, but with the Worcestershire, vinegar, and smoke, I'm not sure that really mattered that much because there was a lot going on already. That being said, I've had mustard-based sauces that deliver a more robust experience than this one, which is what kept Lem's from reaching the top ranks. I was left wishing there was just a little bit more flavor there while eating the chicken, which the sauce did pair well with, giving it a light mustardy touch that almost always works well with poultry. Beyond being brushed on chicken, I think this sauce would work well seasoning a pile of pulled pork, as a dressing for potato salad when mixed with some mayo, and as a condiment for any number of things from chicken fingers to fried pickles and beyond.