Otis' Battle Tested Signature Mesquite
Growing up, Mike Otis really wanted his father's barbecue sauce recipe, which was passed down to his dad from his grandmother who developed it in the 1920s. His Dad told him that the responsibility of the sauce was so great that he must wait until his 21st birthday for it to be entrusted to him. As promised, Mike's 21st birthday card from his dad came with a 3x5 index card that had that family sauce recipe written on it. Mike started cooking the recipe, making some minor changes of his own, and continued the trend of sharing it with family and friends who often commented that he should be bringing it to market. Mike finally did that in 2019 by starting the Battle Tested brand—run out of his home base in Raleigh, NC—which is a nod to his family's deep history of US military service and his mission to give back to the veteran community by donating 5% of the profits from the sauce to a veteran run charity that works to battle against veteran suicide. The Battled Tested brand currently has four different recipes that are available online and in stores throughout North Carolina with some additional locations carrying it in Virginia, Tennessee, South Carolina, and New York.
An acidic tomato character reminiscent of tomato paste is the first thing to hit in the aroma of this sauce. There's a hearty molasses sweetness backing that up and giving the sauce a standard sweet, tangy, and fruity barbecue profile. As the name suggests, there's a hearty smokiness too, but despite the often strong pungency of mesquite, the smoke here isn't overpowering and melds well with the other ingredients. A second whiff brings with it the clear savory and complex touch of Worcestershire while a noticeable spice layer rounds out the aroma with onion, celery, and earthy pepper notes.
Thickness & Texture
The maroon, semi-glossy sauce is opaque, making it hard to see any spices except a couple white pepper seeds and small black pepper specs. The sauce's thickness sits comfortably at medium while its slight texture and thinned tomato-paste like consistency has it falling from a suspended spoon in a large drip at first, followed by a fast and uneven pour that switches to a few fast drips, then one or two slow ones before ceasing and leaving a medium layer of sauce left clinging to the silverware.
Out of the Jar
Despite the sweetness being reserved in the aroma, the start of the flavor is surprisingly sugary. There's an equally strong tomato in conjunction with the sweetness, and it only takes a split second for acidity to join the party that, along with a molasses depth, creates a very robust and balanced barbecue flavor from the get-go. As the sauce settles on the tongue, the molasses gains a little more prominence as Worcestershire adds to a building complexity that also includes an extra wave of tartness from vinegar. The flavors keep rolling from there by way of a smokiness first, and then tastes of celery, garlic, and onion. Everything mingles together for a bit until the sauce starts to exit the mouth, which is when peppers first amp up the fruitiness a tad before releasing heat to add a kick to the aftertaste that continues to hold all flavors in a fairly balanced manner, which just a little bump in the tartness at the end.
Slathered & Cooked
This sauce coated the chicken in a medium and even layer that never fully baked down over indirect heat. That led to higher than average sauce loss over direct heat, and what stuck only developed light caramelization in spots. The flavor mostly fell in line with what was tasted out of the jar, giving the leg a very robust and complex flavor profile where you really could taste all the ingredients going on. There was a notable boost in the molasses sweetness, but with a strong acidity and heavy Worcestershire savoriness, the chicken never tasted overtly sugary in any way. The smoky flavor of the sauce also provided a good hit of mesquite that tasted natural and well in tune with the overall profile.
Put to Use
Smoky recipes often give me pause because nothing can kill a decent sauce quite like too much liquid smoke. What I've been finding though is that sauces pushed over a smoky ledge more often than not come from the big brands, while those more steeped in barbecue traditions use smoke deftly as an asset, which is exactly what's happening in Otis' Battle Tested Signature Mesquite. That's enough to give this sauce a tip of the hat, but there's so much more good going on here with a quick progression of flavors that delivers all the barbecue complexity you want in a balanced manner that really lets you taste the craft that went into the production. My only real qualm with this sauce happened when it failed to bake down well, but that didn't hamper the final product, which is just a testament to how robust the flavors are and how well they work together. That also makes this sauce pretty all-purpose, so I don't think you're going to go wrong with whatever you slather it on, and I think gas grillers might find this sauce especially good because it has a natural smoky flavor that could be missed by not cooking with wood.