Apr 15, 2024
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Covid Cookbook - Dr. Gus's Barbecue Sauce
I was desperate. I needed barbecue sauce and I didn't want a commercial high-fructose corn syrup blend. I wanted real hot and spicy Alabama barbecue sauce and I found it.

During much of the last year, we spent much of our lives on total lockdown, leaving the house only for curbside pickup of groceries, doctor's appointments, etc. We did this because we had family in the household at risk and because we could. My wife is retired and I worked mostly from home anyway. Move a few meetings to Zoom, add a few long phone calls and live goes on.

One of the biggest adjustments for me came in the kitchen. Since we first married, I have been the Chief Cook and Bottle Washer in the family. Pre-pandemic, this meant preparing three or four meals a week. We were busy and ate most lunches out of the house. Evenings were also full with sports, concerts and parties, with many dinners grabbed on the run or provided by friends. I had a half dozen or so go-to dishes that I could prepare fairly easily and reasonably well.

I suddenly found myself faced with the prospect of preparing 14 meals a week (I am not a breakfast person) for the family. I needed to step up my game considerably. I thought I might pass on some of the new recipes I developed along with some of my old favorites that appeared frequently during the lockdown.

Early in the lockdown we found that many of the products that we took for granted were weirdly unavailable. I am originally from Birmingham and developed a taste for Ollie's Barbecue Sauce, a condiment found on store shelves throughout Alabama. It is a thin, spicy vinegar-based barbecue sauce that for many is an acquired taste. It survived the closing of the restaurant in 2001. During the pandemic, it mysteriously disappeared from store shelves. When I could not get it, I thought I would search the interwebs to find if someone had leaked or reverse-engineered the recipe. I did not find the recipe, but I did find a recipe with an interesting story.

Way before my time, there was a popular barbecue joint on Birmingham's Southside for several generations. Opened in 1917 by Greek immigrant Gus Constatine and closed in the 50's, Dr. Gus Barbecue Gardens was staple for doctors, students and staff at the nearby University Hospital (Now UAB Medical Center). I found a recipe for his sauce that would make about five gallons. I cut it down and found it nothing like Ollie's, easy to make and very tasty.

As an historical footnote, both Dr. Gus and Ollie's were involved in landmark Supreme Court cases. Ollie's was on the losing side of a case to keep the restaurant segregated in wake of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Dr. Gus prevailed in a case to overturn prohibition era liquor laws.


Dr. Gus's Barbecue Sauce

6 c. Water
3 c. Vinegar
11 oz. Tomato juice
12 oz. Tomato paste
2 tbs. Butter
1 tbs. Lemon juice
1 tbs. Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp. Cayenne pepper
2 tsp. Black pepper
1 tbs. Garlic powder
1 tbs. Dry mustard
1 tbs. Paprika
1 tbs. Oregano
1 tbs. Pickling spice
1/4 c. Sugar
2 tbs. Salt

Mix all ingredients in a large saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat, reduce heat and simmer for five and a half hours over low heat, stirring occasionally. Allow to cool. Refrigerate for storage.

The original recipe called for tomato puree. I substituted tomato paste and a can of tomato juice. Butter was substituted for margarine in the original. I didn't have pickling spice, so I made my own mixture (dill, coriander, cloves, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, allspice, ginger).

Yields about three pints.