Tar Heels BBQ Sauce
Caroline and Page Skelton birthed the North Carolina-centric Cackalacky brand back in 2001 with a single spicy sauce and few pieces of merch. In those early days, they were making small batch products that were sold locally, but they gained some notoriety and with that came national attention through appearances on television, radio, and in the news. Despite that growth, Cackalacky remained focused on working with North Carolina-based businesses, leading to many collaborations that are mutually beneficial to both partners. Within the diverse brand of sauces, seasonings, other edibles, and merchandise, Cackalacky currently has four unique grilling and barbecue sauces.
An heavy wave of vinegar and molasses fills the nose on the first whiff of this sauce. While the molasses definitely delivers a sweetness, the tomato that sits underneath those two primary players has a deeper, acidic character, more akin to tomato paste than ketchup. Subsequent nosefuls bring out additional barbecue complexity mainly by way of Worchestershire and a background smokiness. Any spices that are at work here are pretty much non-existent in the aroma.
Thickness & Texture
This maroon sauce is semi-opaque, but, like in the smell, there little to note in the spice department except for a couple visible black specs. The sauce has a very glossy sheen and a thin and watery consistency. From a suspended spoon, the sauce falls in a very fast and steady steam, switching to final drips within a couple seconds, and then leaving almost no sauce left clinging to the silverware. What is left adhered is a number of very small red spice specs.
Out of the Jar
The first taste is much in line with the aroma with a strong molasses flavor, which has a sweetness that quickly fades in favor of vinegar. At first that vinegar strikes a balance with fruity tomato and savory Worchestershire, but the vinegar remains and increases while those other ingredients fade into the background. It's only when the sauce exits the tongue that spices come into play with a faint smokiness and more pronounced peppery heat that melds with the vinegar to create a mild tongue tingle in the aftertaste.
Slathered & Cooked
The sauce brushed onto the chicken in a very thin and even layer that clung and set well. That translated to a decent sauce layer after a few brushings that held up well to direct heat with no sauce loss. There was also light caramelization while the sauce further baked down, creating a somewhat dry look that benefited from an extra one or two brushings to bring it in line with a more standard barbecue sauce. The flavor shifted much more in favor of sweetness and the first few bites tasted mostly of sweet molasses. After that, a mild tang, tomato depth, and Worchestershire all came into play to add a minimal barbecue depth. The more nuanced peppers and smokiness never really stood out after being cooked.
Put to Use
Cackalacky's Cheerwine sauce was an early one I picked up after moving to Durham since it was pretty uniquely North Carolinian. While I found a lot to like in that sauce, this Tar Heels recipe didn't deliver in the same way for me. Overall there wasn't anything really wrong with the sauce, but the flavor was simplistic to a fault, especially after being cooked. You get the tang, tomato, and molasses barbecue components, but there's little pushing it further to make it stand out in a crowd. So, while could coat your ribs, chicken, and pulled pork in this stuff and come out just fine, there's a whole host of other sauces I would recommend before this one.