Center Stage makes a big production out of barbecue


February 06, 1994|By ROB KASPER

When you make your own barbecue sauce, you are never quite satisfied with how it tastes.

You struggle with the urge to endlessly fiddle with the recipe.

And sometimes you wrestle with what you are going to call the bTC concoction. Do you name it after yourself? After a relative? Or how about naming it after the dog?

These fine points of sauce-making became apparent to me recently when I spoke with some of the folks who had whipped up barbecue sauces for a contest at Baltimore's Center Stage. The shindig, sponsored by radio station WLIF Lite 102, was held one icy evening last week, an hour or so before the curtain went up on "Das Barbecu," a hilarious country-western rendition of Richard Wagner's "Ring" opera. Judges for the sauce contest were Sloane Brown, news director for the radio station, Lisa Willis, co-anchor at WBFF-Channel 45, and myself.

In keeping with the cowpoke theme, the winner, Kenneth A. Smith of Columbia, picked up a free trip to Houston, by gum, Texas, for his efforts. When I asked Smith how he had come up with his victorious concoction, he gave me the aw-shucks-t'weren't-nothin' response.

"I'm just a dumper," Smith said. He allowed as how when he got home from his job at the Bank of Maryland in College Park, he was often in a rush to get something to eat. In his hurry, he began dumping ingredients into store-bought, hickory-flavored barbecue sauce.

Once he dumped in maple syrup, another time brown sugar. He liked the way these sauces tasted, but his bride, Michelle, thought they were too sweet. She grew up in Leonardtown, where the barbecue sauce leans toward the tart.

So Smith tinkered. And one night he tossed in a half-cup of apricot preserves, and Kenny's Sauce was born.

His wife liked it so much she urged him to enter the Center Stage contest. He did. He won. So sometime this spring the happy couple will be winging their way to Texas, where they will celebrate their first wedding anniversary, and where Smith, a native of Neptune, N.J., plans to buy himself a pair of boots.

Meanwhile, back in Baltimore, other sauce makers have been scratching around figuring out how to improve their potions.

Scott Knoerlein said the sauce he entered in the contest suffered from a batch of rowdy ginger. He explained that getting ready for the contest, he had made five different versions of the sauce. He began by giving each of the sauces' ingredients a number. Then he adjusted the results by increasing or decreasing the amount of each numbered ingredient.

The method produced some interesting results, he said. For instance, he found that tossing in some instant coffee gave his sauce a deep, rich color. But somehow, he said, the ginger, which at first appeared well-behaved, later got disorderly and overpowered the fruit flavors in the sauce.

Coming up with a name for their barbecue sauce also proved to be tricky for some folks. Jennifer Breakey of Towson called her sauce "Aunt BB's Barbecue Sauce." She wasn't quite sure why. The recipe came from her family, she said, but her family never had an Aunt BB. Still, it is a good sauce, she said, especially on chicken.

Ernie Ney, who put a touch of Old Bay seasoning in his sauce, said one of his sauce-making buddies in the Kings Contrivance neighborhood of Columbia came up with a name for the sauce. "He called it 'Old-Bay-BQ,' " Ney recounted. At first, Ney didn't catch the pun. But he does now, and he likes the name. More importantly, he likes the sauce.

My favorite sauce-naming story came from Scott Knoerlein, who lives in Butler, near Cockeysville. When he got a dog, he named the dog after the town. When he had to come up with a name for his sauce, he named his sauce "Butler's Sauce," after his dog.

*Kenny's Sauce

1 cup hickory-flavor barbecue sauce

1/2 cup apricot preserves

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon A-1 sauce

pinch dry mustard

pinch chili powder, optional

Warm store-bought sauce in pan over low heat, mix in ingredients in order listed above.

Let cool, serve on cooked meats.

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