Recipe: Kaycee “Red Menace” Sauce

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Every Tuesday this summer we’re featuring a new recipe on the blog from one of our Savor the South® cookbooks. Each little cookbook in our Savor the South® cookbook collection is a big celebration of a beloved food or tradition of the American South. From buttermilk to bourbon, pecans to peaches, bacon to catfish, one by one each volume will stock a kitchen shelf with the flavors and culinary wisdom of this popular American regional cuisine. Written by well-known cooks and food lovers, each book brims with personality, the informative and often surprising culinary and natural history of southern foodways, and a treasure of some fifty recipes—from delicious southern classics to sparkling international renditions that open up worlds of taste for cooks everywhere. You’ll want to collect them all.

Today’s recipe is from John Shelton Reed’s Barbecue. John Shelton Reed lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Cofounder of the Campaign for Real Barbecue (, his many books include Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue, coauthored with Dale Volberg Reed. His “Red Menace” take on Kansas City barbecue sauce includes bourbon—just to make things more interesting!

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Kaycee "Red Menace" Sauce

Barbecue sauce is important in Missouri. St. Louis leads the nation in per capita sauce consumption, and Kansas City even hosts an annual sauce contest. Perhaps that’s why when most Americans hear “barbecue sauce” they think of the Missouri version—what you find at your grocery store, at chain restaurants, and on a McRib, for that matter. Oddly, you don’t find it at the Kansas City place that local boy Calvin Trillin famously declared to be “the single best restaurant in the world,” Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue, where the idiosyncratic sauce is long on the flavors of vinegar, black pepper, and onion. For a “Kansas City–style” sauce—tomato-based and very sweet, with a touch of heat—check out Bryant’s longtime rival, Gates and Sons Bar-B-Q. Ollie Gates says his sauce tastes good on broccoli. Cynics would say it tastes good on cardboard, and that’s why some of us don’t quite approve of it: You really can’t taste the meat it goes on. As Gary Wiviott says, sauces like Gates’s “can cover a multitude of sins,” so this is what to use if you’ve burned the chicken or undercooked the ribs. Food writer Hanna Raskin calls it a “sauce comb-over.” Barbecue blogger Meathead Goldwyn agrees; he says that sauces like these (“ketchup on steroids”) don’t penetrate the meat and “sit on top like frosting.” But he adds that when used as mops in the final minutes of cooking they caramelize well and add a nice glaze to ribs and chicken. Here’s an utterly typical Kansas City sauce, a lot like what Gates and Sons has served since 1946. (The bourbon’s not typical, but makes the sauce a lot more interesting.)
Course: Condiment
Servings: 1 quarts


  • 1 quart ketchup
  • 1 cup water
  • 3/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar packed
  • 1/2 cup bourbon whiskey optional - see above
  • 2 tbsps. chili powder
  • 2 tbsps. molasses
  • 1 tbsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsps. onion powder
  • 1 1/2 tsps. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper or to taste
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt


  • Combine the ingredients in a saucepan and bring them to a boil over moderate heat.
  • Reduce the heat and simmer for 25–30 minutes, stirring often. This freezes well.


From Barbecue: a Savor the South® cookbook by John Shelton Reed. Copyright © 2016 by the University of North Carolina Press.