Katie Stew

A rich, simmering blend of my favorite things

Memphis Style BBQ Sauce


As part of the 4th of July extravaganza, my beau and I also decided to try something new and make our own barbecue sauce. Now, bbq sauce is a much debated and controversial subject. Depending on where you are from it is hot and vinegary, sweet and thick, spicy and tomato-y, or maybe it is just from a bottle. But wherever you are from, you tend to have your own idea of what a good bbq sauce tastes like.

Being from Arkansas, I’ve always felt I had the best of all worlds. The sauces tended to be a nice combo of the spice of Texas and the sweet of Memphis. They were almost always spicy, with an excellent tang and lasting flavor on the palette.

I’ve visited Memphis on a number of occasions and always love the bbq there. There is a famous rib joint there called the Rendevous, that serves some of the best ribs I’ve ever had, after my daddy’s of course. So when we were looking for the perfect recipe to put on our own ribs for the 4th of July, we settled on a recipe for a Memphis-style sauce from my cookbook, “Barbecue! Bible : Sauces, Rubs, and Marinades, Bastes, Butters, and Glazes”.

Probably the most significant reason we chose this particular recipe is because it is from John Willingham, “a legend on the American barbecue circuit: He’s a winner of dozens of grand championships, at the Memphis in May, Kansas City Royal, and Jack Daniel’s Invitational barbecue competitions.” And my favorite part about the article preceding the recipe was this: “his sauce… contains something for everyone: tomato sauce, steak sauce, mustard, even Coca-Cola. (“I figure with this many ingredients, everybody’s bound to like something,” Willingham quips.)”

How amusing is that? I also figured with all the ingredients, everyone was bound to like something about it. And it was yummy. It wasn’t the perfect sauce of my childhood, but it had a great lasting flavor and a serious tang to it. It tasted better the second day. I recommend you give it a try to get some fun flavors of the South.

Memphis Style Barbecue Sauce

Yield : Makes 4 cups



  • 4 cups tomato sauce
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 cup Coca Cola, or other cola
  • ¼ cup steak sauce (such as A1)
  • ¼ cup yellow mustard
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon Juice
  • 3 tablespoons molasses
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
  • ½ teaspoon liquid smoke


  • ½ cup (packed) dark brown sugar
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons Basic Barbecue Rub (John uses a rub he manufactures called “W’ham”, I used a Corky’s rub)
  • 1 tablespoon pure chili powder (not a blend)
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon mustard powder
  • 2 teaspoons garlic salt


1. Combine all the wet fixin’s in a large, heavy, nonreactive saucepan and slowly bring to a boil, uncovered, over medium heat.

2. Meanwhile, combine the dry fixin’s in a bowl and mix with your fingers.

3. Reduce the heat and stir the dry fixin’s into the sauce mixture. Gently simmer the sauce until thick, concentrated, and richly flavored, about 30 minutes. Use right away or transfer to jars, cover, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate. The sauce will keep for several weeks.


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