White BBQ sauce is popping up on menus from Portland, Ore., to New York City, where Shake Shack’s Danny Meyer is dousing wings with it at Blue Smoke, to fine-dining restaurants like Publican in Chicago, where Paul Kahan has served char-grilled carrots with white BBQ sauce. So what is it, and what makes it so special? Actually, the sauce has existed since the early 1920s, when “Big Bob” Gibson opened his eponymous restaurant in Decatur, Ala. Over 90 years later, a lot of people in Alabama believe BBQ sauce is white, because that’s what they grew up with. Outside of Alabama, people who have ever heard of such a thing have been few and far between. But with 93 (and counting) Shake Shacks around the world, Danny Meyer is as good a barometer as any for what you can expect to see on your plate in the coming years.
We caught up with the man who helms the pit at “Big Bob” Gibson Bar-B-Q these days, Chris Lilly, to find out why he thinks white BBQ sauce is the best.
He told us: “Before ‘Big Bob’ Gibson started his restaurant in 1925, he cooked whole chickens in a hand-dug pit in his backyard. The chickens would cook in the pit for three hours. He wanted a sauce that would keep them from drying out — that’s where the mayonnaise came in. He also loved the acidity of the vinegar and the black pepper. So you get the vinegar’s tang and black pepper, but you also get the mayonnaise and extra fat to keep your meat from drying out. That’s what makes white sauce so great.”
The Recipe: Big Bob Gibson’s White BBQ Sauce
Total Time: 10 min
Yield: 8 (2-ounce) portions
1 1/4 cups mayonnaise
3/4 cup distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 teaspoon iodized salt
1 teaspoon granulated white sugar
Using a rubber spatula or whisk, mix together the mayonnaise, vinegar, lemon juice, pepper, salt and sugar in a medium bowl. Use immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.