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As a newcomer to the Shenandoah Valley, I was thrilled to learn that Virginia is not only renowned for hunting, fishing, farming, and food — it’s also the unsung birthplace of southern barbecue. But it’s not famous for it like other states are, despite having a barbecue heritage over four hundred years old. According to Joseph Haynes’s Virginia Barbecue: A History, what we now know as “southern barbecue” was inspired by European colonists’ introduction to native Powhatan peoples’ open fire cooking, and influenced by the seasonings brought here by enslaved Africans. With such diversity in the colonies, barbecue became a multicultural phenomenon, with different regions creating their own unique blends of meat, smoke, and sauces that can be used for marinating, basting, and as a condiment.
Haynes explains that the “mother sauce” was a spicy, tangy mixture of vinegar, salt, and red pepper dating back to the 1600s. Virginian variations can also contain sugar, mustard, fruit, peanut butter, and additional spices. Shenandoah Valley barbecue sauce, also called thin Virginia brown sauce (per Southern Grit Magazine), is an oil and vinegar-based concoction that might also contain tomato juice, red wine, and herbs. For my rendition, I used tomato powder made from my dried heirloom tomatoes, thyme from the garden, farm-fresh garlic, and sweet smoked paprika. You can experiment with the herbs or use a pre-made poultry seasoning blend. This sauce is excellent with poultry and pork; in the Valley, split whole chickens are traditionally dressed with it and grilled over hickory or oak wood, found in great abundance here. Try it on wild turkey or feral hog.
Serving Size: about 20 ounces
Time to make: 10 minutes
Special Equipment: Blender
Also works with: Wild turkey, wild hog, chicken, pork
Looking for more sauce recipes? Why not try this fermented habanero hot sauce?
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