Just add water…

by zydecopaws on July 23, 2011

Anyone up for a powdered BBQ sauce review? The nice folks at Shirley J sent me some of their BBQ sauce mix for a test drive. As usual, the standard disclaimer applies; I don’t work for them, they aren’t paying me to do this, and I only received enough of the product for review purposes. And as most of you that have been around here know, if I don’t like something, I say so.

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According to their marketing material, Shirley J specializes in just-add-water soups, sauces, seasoning, and baking mixes. They’ve been in commercial kitchens for over 30 years and appear to be branching out into home and retail channels. Prior to them contacting me, I’d never heard of them, but that isn’t surprising given I don’t spend any time in commercial kitchens.

The mix is pretty easy to use. According to the directions on the container, you just add one part of mix to three parts of water and mix well. For optimum results, the directions suggest simmering for 2-3 minutes. Several recipes were provided in the marketing package, and the cover letter suggested it could be used with meat or vegetables, as a rub or marinade, and on burgers and fries.

So I opened up a container and set out to put several of these claims to the test. The sauce mix is a fine powder, and has a very distinct odor of tomato, paprika, and mesquite when sticking your nose over the bottle. I don’t recommend taking a big snort of this stuff, but unlike a lot of spice mixes the aroma doesn’t fill the room as soon as you open the lid. I think this has a lot to do with it being a fine powder rather than a larger grind of spice mix. So far so good, the smell isn’t too bad and should go with the test menu for tonight.

Bubba Ho-Keg was fired up with the diffuser in place, and Shirley J was used in place of other spices to make up a modified version of trashbag taters. One of the first observations was that the powder very quickly liqufied when mixed with the EVOO for the taters, and rather than having obvious bits of spice sticking to the taters it looked more like they’d been dipped in a very light tomato juice. They cooked up ok, but there was a bit more “stickage” to the grill pan than normal. The finished result also didn’t seem to have anywhere near as much obvious spice as what we normally see.

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Also on the menu was chicken breast two ways; one with the Shirley J as a rub…

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…and the other with the mix brushed on near the end of the cook.

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Sauce was served on the finished plate for dipping purposes to round out the testing for tonight.

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As for the final results, I’ll have to say the jury is still out. I am not a big fan of mesquite on chicken or pork, and generally prefer to get the flavor from actual smoke wood rather than a sauce. The rubbed chicken was good, but not great, and there wasn’t a huge amount of flavor for the amount of powder I used on the chicken (which might have been a positive given my bias against mesquite flavoring). As a dipping sauce I was less than impressed; again, that overwhelming combination of tomato and mesquite was pretty hard for me to ignore.

However, the chicken breast that was brushed with the sauce while still on the grill wasn’t bad at all. It wasn’t anywhere near as good as any of the Big Butz sauces, but was on a par with many of the bottled sauces found in most grocery stores. I would rank it just below Sweet Baby Rays and above all the Kraft and KC Masterpiece brands in terms of flavor when used in this manner.

I suppose if I was still an active backpacker this would be a great option over any liquid sauce if I was so inclined to take BBQ sauce along on a trip. Further, there are some additional recipes that this might go well with; I might have to make a run to the grocery store tomorrow and pick up some ground beef and give their version of a Sloppy Joe mix a go. I may also pull out some leftover pulled pork and see how it pairs up, or cook up some sort of beef that goes well with BBQ sauce.

Until then, I’ll reflect on how subjective these reviews can be and how much they are dependent on individual taste preferences. Feel free to give them a try, especially if you prefer to mix up small amounts of sauce when you need it rather than having open bottles hanging around in your refrigerator.

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