Rhubarb BBQ Sauce

From Rob Levitt of The Butch­er & Larder

I adore bar­be­cue. Every­thing about it appeals to me. The long, slow cook­ing of tough, fat­ty cuts, the dynam­ic tex­ture con­trast from the ten­der, juicy meat min­gling with the charred bark, the smoke and spice….

What I love most about bar­be­cue as a butch­er, though, is the con­tro­ver­sy. Every­one is an expert and everyone’s sauce/rub/method is the best. Everyone’s home­town favorite is the best, and if you are from one of the major bar­be­cue regions of the US, your bar­be­cue is the only true bar­be­cue and all oth­ers are false. 

The beau­ty of being a neu­tral par­ty is that I can explore all of the bar­be­cue regions and choose my favorites. Last sum­mer I was obsessed with East­ern North Car­oli­na style bar­be­cue. The sum­mer before, it was all about Rod­ney Scott and South Car­oli­na Whole Hog, and after a trip to KC, I was obsessed with Burnt Ends.

Mid­dle Amer­i­ca bar­be­cue is a curi­ous thing. It seems to take com­po­nents of dif­fer­ent regions and com­bine them into a sticky, spicy, tangy kind of thing that does well with beef and pork. Tex­ans and Car­olini­ans often shake their heads at Mem­phis and KC, but its appeal is unde­ni­able and I am so into it this year. 

One of the best parts of work­ing at Local Foods is see­ing all the new prod­ucts com­ing into sea­son. It real­ly gets the wheels spin­ning. So when I saw the first green stalks of rhubarb hit­ting the shelves, I couldn’t help but won­der if cook­ing it into a bar­be­cue sauce might add an inter­est­ing tang to a Mem­phis style sauce. It did indeed!

Rhubarb Bar­be­cue Sauce:

This can be used for any­thing from bast­ing ribs on the smok­er to spik­ing an oth­er­wise unas­sum­ing ham­burg­er. Yields about 2 quarts. Cov­ered in the refrig­er­a­tor, this keeps about 2 weeks.


1 bunch Rhubarb (about 4–5 large stalks), chopped in 1 inch pieces
1.5 Cups Sug­ar
1 medi­um Onion, rough­ly chopped
1 T Cayenne Pep­per
1T Ground Black Pep­per
2t ground mus­tard seed
1 t Ground Gin­ger
1 t Ground Cin­na­mon
2 T Onion Pow­der
1T Gar­lic Pow­der
2 28 oz cans Toma­to Puree
3T Salt


1. Mix the rhubarb and sug­ar togeth­er and let sit for at least an hour or overnight. 

2. In a heavy-bot­tomed saucepan over medi­um heat, cook the onion in a lit­tle bit of canola (or olive if you pre­fer) oil until just start­ing to brown around the edges. 

3. Add the rhubarb/sugar mix­ture, juices and all, to the pan and sim­mer until syrupy. 

4. Stir in the spices and cook anoth­er 2 min­utes. Add the toma­to and salt. Stir well and let sim­mer over medi­um low heat for about an hour.

5. Puree with a hand blender (or a reg­u­lar blender…) or pass through a food mill. Taste and add more salt if need­ed.

6. If you like you sauce tang­i­er, add a few dash­es of cider vine­gar. If the sauce seems too thick, you can thin it out with water (though I’d rather use Bour­bon…)