Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Ribs with Sam Houston's barbecue sauce

“Grand Barbecue!” read the headline announcing a large gathering for Senator Sam Houston in the Texas Banner. This was back in 1847, so it’s apparent that Texans have been eating and enjoying barbecue for a long time. And as this is the time of year when we celebrate Texas Independence, I can’t think of a finer way to honor our brave forefathers than by eating barbecue.

This year marks the 175th anniversary of Texas’ fight for freedom from Mexico. Now, if you can recall back 25 years to the 150th anniversary, we all learned a new word—sesquicentennial. Well, apparently there’s also a word for 175th—terquasquicentennial—which is quite a mouthful. As it took me almost a year to figure out how to say sesquicentennial when I was young, I reckon I’ll figure out how to pronounce terquasquicentennial in time for the bicentennial in 2036.

But enough about words, let’s get back to that barbecue. Sam Houston State University has a recipe on its web site for Sam Houston’s favorite barbecue sauce. When I first saw it, I scoffed and figured it was a fake document trying to capitalize on this Texan hero's good name. But the thought of this barbecue sauce from the 1800s intrigued me, so I did some research.

First, I was curious if people ate barbecue sauce back in the 1800s; I learned that sauces were indeed used to baste the meat as it cooked over the fire. Then I wondered if all the ingredients listed in the recipe were around during Sam Houston’s lifetime. Save for chili powder, which wasn’t sold until the 1890s, the other ingredients—such as Worcestershire sauce, pepper sauce and ketchup—were available while Houston was alive.

I was thrilled. Perhaps this recipe for Sam Houston’s favorite barbecue sauce was actually the genuine article! But no matter its authenticity, the recipe would be useless if it didn’t taste good. So, I made a batch and put the recipe to work.

I followed the recipe closely. In a nod to keeping it true to Houston’s time, however, I used crumbled chile pequins instead of chili powder—as the pequins are not only Texas’ native chile pepper, but it’s likely that Sam Houston would have had access to them, as well. The recipe also called for pepper sauce. I used Tabasco, which didn't come to market until six years after Houston died, but there were other pepper sauces both sold and made at home during his life, so it’s likely that Houston would enjoyed the bright heat of pepper sauce, too.

As the sauce bubbled on the stove, I dipped my spoon into the pot to taste this concoction. It was a good, solid tomato-based barbecue sauce—a little sweet, a little tangy and a little fiery. Satisfied that it was edible, I slathered the sauce on some ribs and then held my own grand barbecue.

sam houston barbecue sauce

This time of year, Texans enjoy taking special note of our state’s rich history. And if you’re celebrating the road to Texan independence, I can’t think of a finer way than by enjoying what may have been Sam Houston’s favorite barbecue sauce.

Happy Texas Independence Day!

Ribs with Sam Houston’s barbecue sauce

For the ribs:
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 racks St. Louis ribs

For the sauce:
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
¼ medium yellow onion, grated
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup ketchup
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons paprika
4 dried chile pequins, crumbled
1 tablespoon dry mustard
2 teaspoons water
Salt and black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 300 and line a large roasting pan with foil.

Mix together the salt, black pepper and cayenne and then sprinkle the ribs with the seasoning. Place the ribs meat-side up in the roasting pan. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 1 1/2 hour.

While the ribs are cooking, make the sauce. In a medium pot, heat up the vegetable oil on medium-low heat. Add the grated onions, and while stirring cook for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Stir in the ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar and hot pepper sauce. Add the brown sugar, paprika and crumbled chile pequins. Mix together the dried mustard with 2 teaspoons of water to form a paste, mixing until smooth. Stir the mustard into the pot.

Bring the pot to a boil, then turn the heat down to low, cover the pot and simmer for 10 minutes. Take off the lid and stir. Place the lid back on and cook for another 10 minutes. Taste and add salt.

After an hour and a half, take the ribs out of the oven, open up the foil, and spread both sides of each slab with the sauce. Place back in the oven, meat-side up, and cook uncovered for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, take out the ribs and spread more sauce over them, and cook for 30 more minutes or until ribs are desired tenderness. 

At this point, place the ribs under the broiler and cook for 4 minutes or until the sauce is caramelized.

Yield: 4 servings

Note: I made these with chile pequins because I reckoned that’s what would have been available to Sam Houston back in the day, but feel free to substitute a 1 tablespoon of chili powder if you prefer.

The barbecue sauce recipe was adapted from one found on Sam Houston State University’s web site that was first published in The Early American Cookbook by Dr. Kristie Lynn & Robert W. Pelton.

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Janus said...

What other peppers would be suitable substitutes for the pequins?

Jeannette said...

you went much more in depth with this recipe than i did, i commend you as one fellow texan to the next :)

i'm thinking some bbq is in order over here tonight! thanks for sharing!

Carly @ Yummrs said...

I have to say, I must have read terquasquicentennial in my head about 15 times before moving on. What a doozy! It's fun to read about original recipes and adaptations made for different times. A couple weeks ago, NPR's This American Life did a story on the "original" (?) Coca-Cola recipe, and this very much reminded me of it.

Can't wait to give this recipe a whirl! Thanks for sharing!!

MerrieB said...

As a graduate from SHSU, I am now intrigued...I will definitely have to try this recipe. It never occurred to me that the school might have recipes.

Lis said...

YAY SHSU!! GO BearKats! (My dad teaches there...) I'm a Texas (Huntsville actually) transplant living in WV now... and when I go home I always bring back a TON of bbq sauce from the local joint (along with a brisket which generally causes some raised eyebrows at IAH security) but NOW I'm going to go home and make this sauce and hope that it tastes like McKenzie's because we just ran out!!

Heather Laurel said...

Your recipe sounds great! Hopefully I don't screw this up like the Dr. Pepper ribs recipe you had a couple of years ago. :(

This year I celebrated Texas Independence Day with a Pat Green concert and a Texas Exes event at Johnny Utah's... somehow I made NYC feel awesome. :)

Happy TID!!!

Linsey M. said...

We had some bbq brisket for lunch and I may just have a shiner bock with dinner tonight :)

Happy Texas Independence Day!!

Laura said...

I love the idea that it was really his sauce! Fun! And it sounds wonderful, the kind of sauce I like best.

Robert said...

I wholeheartedly applaud the notion of celebrating Texas's terquasquicentennial (thank goodness for cut & paste!) with barbecue, and that culinary art goes back even before Texas independence, arriving with the earliest American settlers from Tennessee and Kentucky. In 1840, for instance, the citizens of Austin invited Col. John H. Moore to a public barbecue to honor his role in leading volunteer troops in raids against Comanches.

However, the supposed Sam Houston barbecue recipe, I'm sad to say, is not at all authentic. Barbecue sauce in the 19th century--in Texas and also in the rest of the country--would likely have been little more than salt, pepper, vinegar, and perhaps some butter and/or hot pepper. (I've written about that here and in a book-length history of barbecue, too.) The list of ingredients in the recipe on the Sam Houston museum site pretty clearly suggest a 20th century recipe.

But, that doesn't mean it isn't a tasty sauce--the recipe looks delicious!

Melissa said...

Happy Texas Independence Day! I was in the 3rd grade during the sesquicentennial celebration. I remember I had to square dance for our program!

Frank M said...

I celebrated yesterday with a big plate of brisket & sausage at Franklin's BBQ, and some yummy Saint Arnold beer later!

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Janus--You could use anchos or chipotles.

Jeannette--You're welcome!

Carly--It is a doozy of a word!

MerrieB--Hope you enjoy it!

Lis--I don't know McKenzie's but will have to try it next time I pass through Huntsville!

Heather--That sounds like a perfect celebration.

Linsey--What a way to celebrate!

Laura--I'm a big fan of tomato and mustard sauces myself.

Robert--Thanks for the clarification. Apparently, public barbecues were all the rage with politicians back in the 1800s.

Melissa--I love square dancing--I need to start doing that again!.

Frank--I sure could go for a plate of Franklin's BBQ!

German said...

One of the problems of become organic is that you can buy any more sauces. Sam Houston’s barbecue sauce is one of my favorites, i didint know that yu can make by yourself, and the best of all that already i have all the ingredients!!

Biz said...

I love grilling and all types of bbq sauce - cannot wait to give this a try.

If you like a mustard sauce, try this sometime - its flavors are amazing - actually my mouth is watering just thinking about it:

I think my grill will be thawed out by this weekend, I may just have to light it up! :D

Kathie said...

Thanks for your research and for sharing this recipe! Can't wait to give it a shot as soon as it warms up here in Central NY! :)

Rocky Mountain Woman said...


you seriously rocked those ribs...

Tell Sam I said hi if you see him...

Katie said...

I am intrigued to try this BBQ sauce now!!
David Burnet was the first president of Texas though! :)

Hornsfan said...

From one Texan to another - Happy Independence Day!

Great looking Ribs, it would do Sam proud!

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

German--Food from scratch always tastes better.

Biz--Thanks for the tip.

Kathie--Hopefully, it should be warm soon!

Rocky Mountain Woman--Sure thing!

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Katie--Clearly, I need to take 7th grade history again!

Hornsfan--Happy Independence Day to you!

Moreplease said...

I'm not from Texas, or any of the other States for that matter. I'm Australian and we love BBQ any day of the year. I'll be trying the sauce recipe out on my family and friends and giving them a bit of an Texan history lesson in the process. Thanks for the recipe and happy Texas Independence Day to you.

Anonymous said...

I made this last night and it was sick (really great) It doesn't taste like anything I've had before.
Bye the way I've also had Migas four times in four weeks!


Joshua said...

Lisa, I just wanted to thank you for such as wonderful blog. At work we have a lunch bunch that takes turns making lunches for the group and so far I have made two of your recipes. The seven Chile chili was the inaugural meal of the group and today I made the carnitas both of which I received rave reviews.

Thank you for the blog and the great stories.

Rick said...

WOW...I have been reading & enjoying your blog for the last year or so,I come hear often for ideas,imagine my surprise when I read this entry since I live in Huntsville,Tx & attended Sam Houston State,I love ribs & will certainly try this recipe.Thanks

Bonnie said...


I have awarded you a Stylish Blogger Award! Should you choose to accept:

Thank you for all your inspiring posts!

commoncents said...

THANKS FOR POSTING THIS! I always enjoy visiting your page!

Common Cents

Missus Wookie said...

We love our bbq here and I wonder if the Texas Embassy Cantina here in London is doing anything to celebrate Texan Independance?

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Moreplease--I've heard that y'all love your barbecue!

Ron--I'm so pleased that y'all enjoyed it!

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Joshua--You're very welcome. I'm pleased to hear your lunch bunch enjoyed the chili and the carnitas. I may be biased, but I do believe they have very good taste!

Rick--What a coincidence! Enjoy!

Bonnie--Thank you, I'm honored!

Commoncents--Thank you so much!

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Missus Wookie--If they're not, they certainly should!

Anonymous said...

lol,..I've still got that same textbook too! ;-)

-HomeSick for CFSteak in CA

Anonymous said...

I know this isn't the current post but wanted to pass along what a hit this recipe was. The last of the snow finally melted from our Brooklyn patio this week and my wife had to work all Saturday, so we had a guys day. Watched the Big 12 Tournament and took down 30 lbs of ribs. The oven and grill were stuffed. Polished off the last of them with some pancakes this morning. Know that the BBQ sauce is just fine on pancakes.

Patty H. said...

This sounds wonderful, and I love the history behind the sauce!

Yanna said...

I am a homesick Texan in Australia, and I just found your website. I was desperate for BBQ sauce. I know Australia is famous for BBQ but their sauce is just ketchup with a bit of chilli. Thank you, you made my husband very happy - the best best BBQ he's had in months.

Morgan said...

I am yet ANOTHER homesick Texan, living in NM (although only 5 miles from the Texas border!) and I saw your cookbook was coming out, so I came to scroll through your delicious recipes again :) This one caught my eye...I was born in 1986, the sesquicentennial, so I was named after my great-great-great grandfather, who was a scout in the Texian army and who also served as a Texas representative for two terms. I love how you weave together the history of this great state along with such fabulous food.

Ron said...

I've made this a bunch of times, I was wondering if you have ever canned it? I'm going to give it a try this summer.


Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Ron--I have not tried canning it.

Kelly said...

Thanks for the great recipes! I live near San Antonio but your site has helped me cook at home the way we eat at restaurants. Tried this bbq sauce today - much better than our usual homemade sauce!
Can't wait until dinner - stuffed jalapenos, homemade potato salad and beef ribs with Sam Houston bbq sauce!

Anonymous said...

Here's the recipe for Sam Houston's White Cake from the folks at the Sam Houston Memorial Museum in Huntsville. Haven't made it but I understand it's delicious!

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