Grilling is one of the classic ways to cook. We evolved by cooking over open fire and that process takes on many forms. From competitive BBQ contests to summer backyard cookouts, we all love grilled foods. But you can enhance them by adding sauces designed to complement the smoky flavors.
I wanted to cover a wide spectrum of flavors and cuisines so you can find fun new accompaniments to try. You can use these sauces to discover new ingredients or as an inspiration to create theme dinners around the sauce origins.
Of course, the first grilling sauce you think of is BBQ sauce and I have a fun, slightly different one for you to try. Using soda as an ingredient is very common in southern cuisine and I like the sweetness it adds to sauces. I combined root beer with bourbon for a nice kick and rounding of flavors. You won’t necessarily taste any of the individual ingredients, but together they make a sensational sweet and tangy tomato-based sauce.
I served this BBQ sauce as a mop sauce and glaze for ribs. It complemented the pork beautifully. If you are going to serve it with a different meat or chicken, you may want to cut back on the sweetness and increase the heat.
The second sauce is inspired by the flavors of South America and combines cilantro and fresh chiles for a bright, light sauce that is perfect with your grilled foods as well as a dip for chips or vegetable crudités. It is positively addicting and my friend Karen is encouraging me to bottle it for her to take home to Canada!
This sauce is so good and versatile that I recommend you double the recipe. This way when you keep “testing” it with tortilla chips to see if it is OK, you will still have enough for serving at dinner.
Compound butters are often used in French cuisine. It is common to see a pat of seasoned butter placed on top of a juicy steak, melting onto the beef. These butters can be used with much more than just steak – chicken, seafood, pork, poultry and vegetables are all better with a beautiful compound butter. You can use any combination of herbs and seasonings that you like. I often make several at the same time, each a different flavor, roll them into logs and wrap with parchment and plastic, and then store them in the freezer for future meals. They also make fabulous gifts for family and friends.
I planned this butter to be served melted over a steak hot off the grill, but one of my friends added some to his grilled vegetables and thought it was almost better that way. It is wonderful when people come over for testing night and give me new ideas on how to serve my recipes.
My recipe calls for chipotles in adobo. These are smoked jalapeno peppers that have been marinated in a piquant and spicy sauce. If you don’t want to buy a jar just for this recipe, you can use chipotle powder. If you want your compound butter to have more kick, add some of the liquid from the jar or more chipotle powder. But watch out, it is really spicy!
And the final sauce is a green version of harissa, the North African condiment that goes with everything. It is a bit like their version of ketchup and they use it at many meals. It has some similarities to chimichurri sauce, but with different spices and a lot more heat. It is an uncooked sauce that comes together very quickly with the use of a food processor or blender. You can control the heat by using milder chiles or just cutting back the number you use.
All of these sauces and the compound butter can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator. Whip them up a couple days ahead of your barbecue or party and that is one less thing you need to worry about on party day.
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Spicy Bourbon-Root Beer BBQ Sauce
A sweet and tangy sauce to complement grilled meats.
- 1 cup root beer
- 1 cup ketchup
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice (or more lemon juice)
- 1/4 cup good-quality bourbon
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 3 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar (add more if you like a sweeter sauce)
- 1 tablespoon molasses (not blackstrap)
- 2 teaspoons ground chipotle pepper
- 1 1/2-inch slice of fresh ginger, peeled
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper, if needed
- Place all of the sauce ingredients except the salt and pepper in a heavy-bottomed 3- to 4- quart saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring often. It will foam up as it comes to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 15 to 20 minutes. Discard the piece of ginger. Taste, and add salt and pepper if desired.
- Remove from the heat and cool about 15 minutes. Transfer to a bowl or jar, cover and refrigerate. The sauce will last in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks.
For a spicier sauce, stir in a couple splashes of Worcestershire and some chipotle powder.
Zesty Cilantro-Chile Sauce
A smooth creamy spicy sauce for grilled foods.
- 1 fresh green jalapeno or serrano chile, stem and seeds discarded, coarsely chopped
- 2 poblano or Anaheim chiles, stems and seeds discarded, chopped
- 1 handful (about 1/2 bunch) fresh cilantro or parsley, rinsed, patted dry, and larger stems discarded
- 1 garlic clove, peeled, split in half lengthwise and center core discarded
- 1 shallot, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 1/2 cup high quality low-fat mayonnaise, such as Hellmann’s or Best Foods
- Zest and juice of 1/2 lime
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste.
- Combine the chiles, cilantro, garlic, and shallot in a food processor or blender. Pulse until finely chopped. Add the mayonnaise, lime zest and juice. Blend until smooth and creamy.
- Turn off the machine, taste and adjust seasonings, adding salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate, covered tightly. Letting it sit overnight will give the ingredients time to blend and become smooth. Return to room temperature before serving.
Smoky, Spicy Salsa Butter
Spicy compound butters add a flavor boost to meats, fish or vegetables.
- 4 sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil, drained
- 1 chipotle in adobo, chopped or 1 teaspoon ground chipotle powder
- 1 medium (or 1/2 large) onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves or parsley, chopped
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, at room temperature
- Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- In a food processor, pulse the tomatoes, chipotle, and onions together until finely chopped. Add the cilantro and butter and blend until smooth. Taste and add salt and pepper to your liking.
- Transfer to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate overnight to allow the flavors to blend and intensify. When firm, press and roll it into a cylinder, wrap it in plastic and freeze for longer storage. When you are ready to use it, just bring it down from the freezer about 45 minutes ahead of time and slice into “coins”. Serve on grilled beef, chicken, shrimp, or vegetables.
If you want more heat, you can add some of the adobo liquid or more chipotle powder, but remember that the flavors will develop during the resting time and become hotter as the butter sits.
A spicy North African sauce that complements grilled meats.
- 1/2 cup packed baby spinach leaves (stems discarded)
- 1/2 cup packed Italian flat-leaf parsley leaves (stems discarded)
- 4 mint leaves, plus extra for garnishing
- 2 poblano peppers, stem and seeds discarded, finely chopped
- 1 jalapeño, stem and seeds discarded, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled, cut in half lengthwise, bitter core discarded
- 1/2 large shallot, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 2 to 3 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon Chipotle Morita chile powder
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 2 tablespoons Dukkah seasoning, optional
- Fill a medium bowl with cool water and add the spinach leaves. Agitate the water and then set the bowl aside for 15 minutes. This gives any sediment and grit time to settle to the bottom of the bowl. Use your hands to carefully lift the spinach out of the water. Set it on a clean kitchen towel and pat dry or place in a salad spinner to remove water.
- While the spinach is resting in the water, rinse the parsley, drain thoroughly and pat dry with paper towels or place in a salad spinner to remove water.
- In a blender or food processor, combine the spinach, herbs, poblanos, jalapeno, garlic, shallots, coriander, cumin, chile powder and lemon juice. Pulse until everything is fairly finely chopped. With the motor running, slowly pour the oil through the opening in the lid and blend until you have a smooth puree. Stop the motor and add a pinch or two of salt and a couple grinds of freshly ground black pepper. Pulse a few times. Taste and adjust seasonings. Keep in mind that the intensity of flavors will continue to develop as the sauce rests, so if you are making this in advance, do not over season at this time. You can adjust seasonings again before serving. Stir in the Dukkah (if using).
- Transfer to a bowl or jar with a lid and let rest at least 4 hours or overnight. For longer storage, pour a thin layer of olive oil over the top of the puree. This helps preserve the sauce. Store, covered, in the refrigerator up to a month, adding a fresh layer of olive oil on top each time you use the harissa.
This sauce is wonderful served as an accompaniment to grilled chicken, duck, pork, and vegetables. It can also be used as a salsa and served with tortilla chips and vegetable crudités. Depending on the type and number of peppers you use, this sauce can pack a punch of heat, so warn your guests!
Dukkah is a Middle Eastern nut and spice blend.