Spices To Elevate Your Alabama White Sauce

Regionally speaking, more than just state lines separates our different approaches to food. Culinary styles are decided by agricultural and historical delineations, and the complex network of American barbecue styles is no exception. Though cuts and cooking styles differ across the board, nothing sets your geographical barbecue preference apart like which sauce you prefer. In North Carolina, the vinegar-based barbecue sauce reigns supreme, while the ketchup- and molasses-rich barbecue sauce of Kansas City, Missouri leans more sweet rather than savory. Secret recipes for each abound, but there's one barbecue sauce that eschews this secretive tradition: Alabama white barbecue sauce.

Alabama's pale entry into the barbecue world is a classic of the American South, often enjoyed with freshly smoked chicken wings and drumsticks. Made up of mayonnaise, apple cider vinegar, salt, and pepper, its simple formula is still jam-packed with a complexly tangy flavor. It's the iconic creation of Big Bob Gibson, a railroad man based in Decatur, Alabama who ran a lucrative and tasty side hustle with his backyard smoke pit. Since its invention in 1925, Gibson's white barbecue sauce has remained relatively untouched, as it needs little to improve upon the delicious original recipe. However, there are a few exciting add-ins that can help take your white sauce to the next level.  

Spice up your sauce

First up, consider your spice rack. You can go the way of one of the French mother sauces, béchamel, and add a warm, nutty dose of nutmeg. While Americans tend to think of nutmeg as a sweet spice reserved for desserts, nutmeg adds complex depth to plenty of sauces and even to some savory delicacies like sausage and pasta. 

Then there's the spicy mustard component. Dijon mustard, whole grain mustard, plain yellow mustard, and even a pinch of dry mustard powder could punch up the heat and tang of your dish. Mustard is known for its spice, with Dijon, brown, and whole grain mustard running spicier than yellow mustard, so consider adjusting the amount of mustard according to which type you use. 

Looking to further pump up the heat in your sauce? A dash of your favorite hot sauce should work as well, particularly the acidic vinegar-based ones, like Crystal's hot sauce or Tabasco. Keep your additions to a conservative amount, and taste as you go. Much of the spiciness should still come from the cracked black pepper, so keep it balanced between the hot sauce and the mustard. 

With any of these spice additions, what you're really trying to achieve is an Alabama white barbecue sauce that has all the hallmarks of the original but with a touch of your own flavorful razzle-dazzle.