Of the hundreds of products I tasted at last month’s Winter Fancy Food Show, Jake’s Famous barbecue sauces really stood out. His Asian-inspired Blue Oak reminded me of the complex espresso sauce provided at the legendary Franklin’s in Austin. It was one of the very few sauces I’d gladly put on my meat (though not use for mopping). And Jake was kind enough to send samples to test.
I procured a tray of pulled pork and a tray of brisket from Park Side Eatery, an excellent local establishment that has an indoor smoker so is able to deliver barbecue in the dead of winter. Cheap buns and sides of cole slaw and baked beans* were set out as accompaniments, then I invited in my tasters.
Judging time. Blue Oak scored well, though I may have stuffed the ballot box to bring it to the top. It’s what hoisin sauce might taste like if it had been invented in Texas. Ingredients include soy sauce, mango puree and ginger on a flavor base of tomato sauce and molasses. (By the way, Jake told me the name might change to better reflect the Asian influence.) This is a must-try in my opinion.
The runner up was Memphis Blues. It’s Jake’s only sauce that has mustard ahead of tomato in the ingredient list, but it’s still darker and more robust than the watery yellow mixtures often poured on pulled pork. That’s its primary application, but it’s sturdy enough to use on beef as well.
We really liked the Texas Medium Hot, which is a great all-purpose sauce with just enough kick. This is what I’d put on my brisket. It doesn’t contain cumin, which I consider a hallmark of a Texas sauce, but is very well balanced without it.
Maple Bourbon got mixed reviews. It’s as complex as the Blue Oak but some felt the flavors didn’t come together as well. I want to try this mopped onto some ribs where I think it will mingle with the meat and smoke flavors and produce a standout result.
There’s also Original Mild Southern which was pleasant and closest to what most people think of as a jarred barbecue sauce, but with better ingredients; and Really Hot that really is, to the point where I almost don’t recommend you use it on its own. (Southern barbecue places often offer a “mixed” sauce, combining mild and spicy.)
Except for Memphis Blues, molasses is the key to the flavor profile. That’s good if you like this bittersweet ingredient as I do, but it’s not for the raised-pinky set. When you pour Jake’s sauce on your meat, some serious business is going to happen.
There’s not a drop of high-fructose corn syrup, the favorite ingredient of grocery store sauces, yet Jake’s has plenty of body with thick tomato sauce and bits of ingredient (I like it that he did not puree it to a uniform liquid).
So, where can you get these elixers? Start by going to Jake’s “locations” page to see if there’s a retailer near you. Distribution seems to be mostly in the west with a bit in the south, including Austin-based Central Market.
If you live in the frozen boondocks like I do, you’ll have to order direct. At present there’s a relatively hefty shipping charge, which Jake says simply passes on his own cost and he’s working to negotiate discounts with the shipping companies. Relative to other costs in life, I think it’s worth a few extra bucks to try what may be one of the best jarred sauces on the market.
Disclosure: I was provided free product for my review, but no other form of compensation.
* By chance, I bought a can of B&M Bacon & Onion Baked Beans. Not bad at all. The first canned beans I have tried that did not demand extensive doctoring with dried mustard, Worcestershire, brown sugar and cider vinegar, though those ingredients woudn’t have hurt.