Getting Saucy while You Cook: Mop Sauces

Alesson learned the hard way by almost every beginning cook is that barbecue sauce can’t stand the heat.

Traditional barbecue sauce burns, as does most heavy sauce with a tomato or sugary base. Brush it onto chicken or ribs early in the cooking, and you end up with a blackened exterior instead of the full, toothsome flavor (and texture) you were looking for.

Enter mop sauces. These lighter sauces are formulated not only to add flavor and juiciness to your meat but to do it on a hot grill or in a smoker.

You use mop sauces to add moisture to meat and, if they include an acid like vinegar or citrus juice, to help keep it tender. You can make them from just a few ingredients or using other barbecue elements you may have on hand, which means that mop sauces are an easy area to dip your toes into the waters of experimentation.

Here are a few suggestions for crafting a mop without too much trouble :

  • Make use of marinade. Boil any leftover marinade to make sure it’s free from bacteria, and then dilute it with water. You can use vinegar or a light fruit juice to dilute it, but only if those ingredients show up in the marinade. Using something with a strong flavor will throw off the balance of your intended flavors, so proceed carefully.
  • Start with your dry rub. Combine a few tablespoons of your dry rub with about a pint of apple juice or cider vinegar — or both.
  • Thin your barbecue sauce. If you use a low-sugar barbecue sauce, you can dilute it with water, juice, or vinegar until it’s the right watery consistency for mopping.
  • Bring beer to the task. Add beer to your rub or barbecue sauce to create a mop. Beer is slightly acidic, and it adds moisture and a gentle, usually pretty neutral flavor that isn’t going to stomp all over the other flavors in your cooking. And, you know — it’s practically a staple, so you’re likely to have some on hand.

If you really want to keep things simple, just bust out the apple juice. Pour some in a spray bottle and spritz it onto the meat while it cooks. Apple juice adds moisture, and it’s mild enough that it won’t assert itself over the primary flavors from the meat or your seasoning rubs. Apple juice also adds a touch of color and sheen to ribs or chicken.

No matter which mop sauce you decide to use, you want to brush or spray it onto the meat you’re cooking approximately every halfhour.

In this chapter, you find easy recipes for the sauces that can take the heat.

Finding further uses for hardworking beer

Even if drinking it were the only good purpose beer had going for it, the stuff would never go out of fashion. Turns out beer is like an all-purpose fix-it, bake-it, clean-it, and more for household jobs. Kind of like vinegar, only much better for drinking.

Here are several more projects you can assign to beer :

  • Washing your hair: Boil it first to take out the drying alcohol, and then wash your hair with beer. Makes it extra shiny.
  • Keeping your copper clean: Beer’s mild acidity makes it a swell way to put a shine on copper.
  • Saving your vegetation: Slugs love beer but don’t know how to stop. Bury a few jars half-filled with beer in the yard before bed, and you wake up to a whole mess of drunk, drowned slugs in the morning. Beer also is rumored to improve brown spots in your lawn.

Making Mops Especially for Pork

Pork dries out easily, but mopping it regularly while it cooks staves off the unappealing desiccation.

Because of fears of the once-common (and extremely uncomfortable) parasitic infection trichinosis, pork often is overcooked by wary grillers and smokers. The reality is that trichinosis now is very rare, in large part because of improved feeding and handling practices.

Bourbon Que Mop Sauce for Pork Tenderloin

Bourbon shows up in a goodly number of sauce recipes, and why not? It not only provides acidity and rich earthiness but also gives a cook something to sip while he works. This recipe from Paul Kirk uses butter to beef up the richness factor and add further acidity.

Preparation time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 5 minutes

Yield: About 3⁄4 cup

  • 1 whole lemon
  • 1⁄2 cup soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon
  • 1 tablespoon grated onion
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon hot sauce
  • 1⁄8 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1⁄8 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1 Cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice into a small saucepan.

2 Throw the lemon halves into the pan.

3 Turn heat to medium-high and add remaining ingredients, stirring to combine.

4 Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes.

Note: Brush over tenderloin before cooking, and mop sauce onto meat regularly as it cooks.

Mopping Sauce for Pork Ribs

Charlie Lamb of Charlie’s Butcher Block swears by this deceptively simple, super-tasty mop recipe.

Preparation time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: None

Yield: 21⁄2 cups

  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1⁄2 cup Worcestershire sauce

In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients.

Smoke Hunters BBQ Mop

Try The Smoke Hunters’ mop recipe on ribs or pork shoulder. (For the team’s sauce recipe, Big R’s BBQ Sauce, turn to Chapter 9.)

Preparation time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Yield: About 21⁄4 cups

  • 2 cups apple or pineapple juice
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1⁄2 cup brown sugar.

In a medium saucepan, combine all ingredients and stir over medium heat until sugar has dissolved.

Butch’s Whole Pig Basting Sauce

Butch Lupinetti did, in fact, throw down Bobby Flay on the cooking competition show “Throwdown! with Bobby Flay,” where he outcooked the snarky chef in a barbecue competition. His basting sauce brings a lot of heat to whatever you use it on.

Preparation time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: About 10 minutes

Yield: About 2 gallons

  • 1 gallon apple cider vinegar
  • 4 cups cayenne pepper
  • 1 gallon water
  • 1 cup brown sugar (or to taste)
  • 6 lemons sliced in 1⁄4-inch slices
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons Butch’s Smack

Your Lips Magic Dust (or your own seasoning rub)

In a large pot, bring all ingredients to a boil. Inject or mop pig generously.

Can also be used as a sopping sauce to dip your cooked meat into — as long as you like it hot.

Biting into a whole-hog cooking project

Butch’s basting sauce recipe makes enough for a whole hog, but you don’t have to use it that way. If you’re thinking about smoking a whole hog, keep in mind that for every 25 pounds of dressed pig, you get about 10 pounds of meat. And buying a whole hog isn’t like picking up a chicken on the way home from the office — make sure you give your butcher at least a week’s notice.

Also, you need a grate that’s about 4 feet wide to accommodate a whole hog. Unless they own monster smokers, most people dig pits and line them with stones or build temporary pits from concrete blocks and a metal screen. Don’t forget about the charcoal, either: For a 100-pound hog, you need a good 60 pounds of the stuff.

Finally, unless you’re using a rotisserie, butterflying the hog is the best way to get it to cook evenly. To butterfly the hog, you need to split the rib bones from the spine without breaking the skin along.

Concocting Multipurpose Mops

An acid and a lot of liquid are the critical points of a mop sauce; where you take it from there can be very different depending on the seasonings you throw into the mix.

The following recipes highlight particularly versatile mop sauces.

Spicy Mop Sauce

The red pepper flakes in this recipe from Grillmaster’s Garden give a subtle heat to this mop sauce. Let the sauce sit in the fridge for an hour or two to give the heat a chance to permeate the liquid and give a better balance to the sauce.

Preparation time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: None

Yield: About 2 cups

  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 11⁄4 cups cider vinegar
  • 2⁄3 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients.

Variation : You can also use this sauce as a marinade. It works well with any meat. Just soak it in the marinade in the refrigerator according to the time suggestions you find in Chapter 4.

The multipurpose mop

You’re more likely to use a basting brush or small mop brush to apply them to whatever you’re cooking, but mop sauces may have gotten their name from early cooks’using cotton rag mops (the very kind you may use to clean the kitchen floor) to baste large amounts of meat while it smoked. They’d dip the thing in basting liquid and heft it up over the meat to coat a lot of it in one sweep. When you consider that a lot of mop sauces include vinegar — as famous for its cleaning power as for its meat-tenderizing properties — maybe the practice really wasn’t much of a stretch.

Up in Smoke Mop Sauce

John Webb from the Up-in-Smoke team uses this mop sauce along with his Original BBQ Sauce (see Chapter 9).

Preparation time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: None (but need to let sit overnight)

Yield: 2 cups

  • 1 cup vinegar
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper

1 In a storage container, combine all ingredients and shake.

2 Let sauce sit in the refrigerator overnight to let flavors combine.


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