Underwood Ranches Spicy BBQ Sauce
Craig Underwood is the owner of Underwood Ranches, which is headquartered in Camarillo, CA, and he began working on the family farm in 1968 after returning home from studying agriculture at Cornell followed by a stint in the U.S. Navy. Underwood Ranches continued to grow and became the primary supplier of red jalapeños for Huy Fong's sriracha until a legal dispute halted the relationship in 2016. Loosing their largest client and having to support a court battle almost did Underwood Ranches in, but they began to diversify their crops and found new buyers to stabilize the business. While jalapeños are no longer their crop of focus, they still continue to grow them and created their own sauce line that centers them. There's currently two barbecue sauces in their seven offerings that are available for purchase online.
The strong presence of fruity jalapeños gives this sauce an aroma that's more akin to a hot sauce than a barbecue sauce. A fair amount of vinegar further cements that impression and it wasn't until I took in deeper whiffs that this sauced veered from the very sriracha-like profile. Those more forceful inhales released notes of Worcestershire and celery. There were also hints that there was more at work under the hood, but the distinct ingredients were hard to discern from the smell alone.
Thickness & Texture
This bright red sauce has a glossy sheen and a semi-opaqueness that allows a lot of small orange and red spice specs to visible when viewed in bright sunlight. The sauce's thickness weighs in south of the medium mark, and there's a minimal texture to the consistency that's like a watered down ketchup. From a suspended spoon, the sauce falls in a fast and even pour that switches quickly to fast drips before slowing to a few slower final ones and then ceasing, leaving a thin layer of sauce left clinging to the silverware.
Out of the Jar
Sugar didn't really have a presence in the aroma, but the first taste of this sauce is sweet and fruity. You almost think it's a tomato sauce, but that sweetness quickly fades it becomes clear that jalapeños are the base here. The medium heat is a dead giveaway, and initially the spice level remains low enough for vinegar, Worcestershire, celery, and garlic to merge together to provide a barbecue flavor. That's somewhat fleeting though as the peppers really turn up the heat, drown out all the sugar, and leave a fiery aftertaste that retains notes of fruit and vinegar.
Slathered & Cooked
This sauced brushed onto the chicken in a medium and even layer that adhered and baked down very well over indirect heat. There was some sauce loss when the leg was set directly over the flames, and what sauce remained only picked up light caramelization in spots. The first bite released a strong jalapeño fruitiness, then in the second bite, the heat entered the party. There wasn't really much boost in the sweetness, which meant the heat was the primary player for most of the consumption of the chicken, but it's wasn't quite as strong as straight out of the bottle, which meant the more mellow barbecue notes were not completely drowned out.
Put to Use
This sauce was added to an online order as my way to reach a free shipping minimum, and I didn't know what I had on my hands really until I took that first whiff. The jalapeño aroma made me instantly think of sriracha, but it still wasn't until I was actually writing up this post that I learned that Underwood Ranches was the pepper supplier for Huy Fong. While the fallout and legal battle between the two parties sounds pretty awful and sad, having Underwood Ranches enter the sauce game as a result it a silver lining because it seems like these people know what they're doing. This is up there as one of the more unique sauces I've ever tried, and as a fan of heat and sriracha, this certainly found a warm spot in my heart. The intensity of the heat did mean the barbecue underpinnings got a bit lost, which is why this sauce didn't reach the highest heights for me, but overall its still has a great flavor. The Underwood Ranches website suggests this as a finishing sauce, but it performed well on the grill for me, so I think it works in any context you want to use it in. With its distinct red jalapeño heat, wings come first to mind as an ideal use case, but I think there's also a lot of condiment applications this sauce would excel in, like topping on burgers or used as a dip for sweet potato fries.
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bkhuna Huy Fong was found guilty in court for breaching their contract and Underwood was awarded a 23 million dollar settlement.
Nice to see Underwood rising from the ashes. I hope the continue to prosper.