Otis' Battle Tested Original Hickory
Mike Otis has been cooking his family's sauce since her turned 21—on that birthday, his father passed down the family recipe that his grandmother first developed in the 1920's. Mike continued to both refine and expand upon that recipe, and after some nudging from friends and family, he brought his sauces to market in 2019, running the business out of his home base of Raleigh, NC. The brand name he chose was "Battle Tested," which not only alludes to the long roots of the sauce, but also his family's history of service in the armed forces. As a way to give back to the community the Otis family have long been a part of, 5% of the profits are donated to a non-profit that focuses on veteran suicide prevention. The four sauces that comprise the Battle Tested brand can be purchased online and in select grocery stores in and near North Carolina as well as numerous spots in upstate New York.
A tart, heavy tomato smell is what first hits in the aroma of this sauce. While vinegar is front and center, there's still a notable sweetness that has a molasses depth to it. The sauce has a lot of complexity to it too, mostly by way of a heavy amount of Worcestershire, but spice notes of celery and garlic add to that. As the name implies, there's also a hearty smokiness, but it's not overtly strong and blends well with the overall heavy tomato character.
Thickness & Texture
This maroon sauce has a semi-glossy sheen and a bit of a texture to it from the tons of spices that can be easily seen. These come in small white and orange specs as well as medium sized white and black specs that look like there could be some veggie pieces in there too. The medium-thin sauce has a consistency like thinned tomato sauce with just a slight syrupy quality, which translates to a fast and uneven pour from a suspended spoon that ends with a couple slow drips and leaves a thin coating of sauce left clinging to the silverware.
Out of the Jar
There's a lightly sweet tomato start whose sugars are fleeting as vinegar cancels them out quickly and cements a tart tomato taste that's present from then on. As the sauce settles on the tongue, Worcestershire brings a strong savoriness and complexity at the same time a medium smokiness rounds out the barbecue profile. The spices come into play next with a strong earthy pepper quality and lesser amounts of onion, garlic, and celery. The vinegar ramps up after that, along with the tomato, leaving a strong and sharp aftertaste with a little hint of heat in the background.
Slathered & Cooked
The thin and even layer of sauce that brushed onto the leg baked down very well over indirect heat. While it looked like the sauce was well adhered, there was a medium amount of sauce loss when the chicken was moved directly over the coals where it also quickly caramelized in spots without any burning. The initial bites were considerably sweeter than was was tasted out of the jar, allowing the molasses to come more into the forefront and the tomato taking on a ketchup-like quality instead of a tomato paste one. It took a few bites for the Worcestershire and spices to come into play, but once they did, the leg had a robust, layered, and well balanced taste from that point on.
Put to Use
I started my Battle Tested journey with their two Signature sauce, and from what I can tell, the only big difference between those and the original recipes is the addition of hot sauce. For me, that singular added ingredient made the difference between a great sauce and really good one. This Original Hickory recipe had most of what what was commendable from the brand—well blended smoke, good progression of flavors, interesting spice layer—but also felt like something was missing to push into a higher tier. This was more true after being cooked, when the sauce's flavor flattened out a tad due to an increased presence of sugar. Still, there's a lot to love in this sauce and it's textbook barbecue flavor will make your chicken, ribs, and the like taste just as you would expect them to, and without tasting the Signature and Original recipes side-by-side, the differences are so minor that you likely would not even notice.