The Hog's Rack California Spicy
Toby Thurman, the owner of the Hog's Rack, was kind enough to reach out and send me both of his sauces to sample. This sauce has its roots in Fairfield, California, where it was developed over twenty years ago in a now defunct restaurant. It wasn't until the past couple years though that the sauce was brought to market under the Hog's Rack name, which probably doesn't mean quite what you think it does. In the Thurman family, "rack" was used to mean eating or food, and when paired up with "hog," the phrase alludes to enjoying eating plentiful and well. When crafting this sauce, not only was there a focus on the quality of the ingredients going into it, but also an idea to start to define a style of barbecue sauce that's uniquely Californian. The Hog's Rack currently has two sauces that are available online, with a couple more recipes currently in the works.
A heavy wave of sweet molasses greets the nose on the first whiff here, but a balancing tanginess prevents the sauce from venturing into overly sugary territory. Behind those prominent traits sits a medium smokiness and peppery sharpness. With some deeper nosefuls, a few additional players come into focus including a slight mustard pungency and a spice layer the includes garlicky and earthy notes.
Thickness & Texture
This maroon sauce has a glossy sheen and, despite its opaqueness, you can still make out a ton of small white and red spice specs littered throughout, along with a few larger bits of black spices. The sauce's consistency is very smooth and syrupy with a medium-thin thickness. From a suspended spoon, the sauce falls in a fast and steady pour that switches to numerous quick drips followed by a few slower ones before the stream stops and leaves a thin layer of sauce adhered to the silverware.
Out of the Jar
The first taste is like taking in a spoonful of molasses, but the sauce quickly settles in and mixes with tomato to add the first taste of barbecue depth which is then built upon by an upfront smokiness and and medium tang. That tartness increases the longer the sauce sits on the tongue, and as that happens, a mustard pungency works its way in followed by the spices which release tastes of garlic, onion, and pepper concurrently. Next the tang takes a faster upward turn at the same time that the peppers transition from earthy to spicy, reaching a plateau a few notches above the medium level and mixing with the lingering molasses flavor to define the aftertaste.
Slathered & Cooked
This sauce brushed onto the chicken in a thin and even layer that baked down quite well over indirect heat. When moved directly over the coals, there was spotty caramelization with no burning and a moderate amount of sauce loss that had the leg benefitting from one final brushing at the end. The first few bites of the chicken were a pretty one note sweet molasses experience. It took about halfway through for the spices, smokiness, and a mild heat to enter and to start to get at some of the complexity tasted out of the jar, but it never reached the same level with the sweetness overshadowing things like mustard and the earthiness of the peppers.
Put to Use
In doing some research prior to writing this post, I saw the Hog's Rack team was doing a great job of getting the sauce into people's hands and garnering lots of love across social media. That made be double think my initial impression, which was less enthusiastic than others, and I took the time to find more to love about this sauce. That first take was likely a reaction to the molasses-heaviness of this sauce, which isn't a trait I'm particularly fond of. Of course, that's my own taste buds, and when I considered what else was going on under the hood here, I developed a great appreciation with this sauce which takes that heavy handed ingredient and gets it to taste well balanced and layered with the tomato, and mustard along with the a smokiness that blends in very nicely. A lot of that didn't hold up completely after being grilled though when the sauce tilted more in favor of sugar, allowing the molasses to dominate to a point of drowning out some ingredients I knew were in there. So I ended up bumping up my initial rating a couple spots, but kept in the acknowledgment of the pitfalls as well, which has me recommending this sauce best as a condiment on things like burgers or steak, where that strong molasses flavor and all the supporting complexity will be best balanced by big beefy flavor.