What to do with a pantry full of barbecue sauce and a refrigerator full of chicken? Conduct a barbecue-chicken taste test, of course. The other night, I came home to find Jan in the midst of executing long-considered plan. Over the course of a few shopping trips, he had gathered the “original” flavors of a handful of barbecue sauces, all the while considering what he would do with them. And after reading a recent Consumer Reports article on the best barbecue sauces, it was finally time for him to conduct a taste test of his own.
When I got home, Jan already had a few guy friends over mixing drinks and snacking on appetizers. He had laid out the barbecue sauces in a row, and poured a small amount of each into a bowl. The sauce lineup of original flavor in no particular order: Stubb’s, Jack Daniel’s, Famous Dave’s, KC Masterpiece, and Sweet Baby Ray’s. Without allowing us to see which sauce was which, he had us taste the sauces by themselves. With our plastic tasting spoons it wasn’t quite as classy as a wine tasting, but we took our task seriously, taking time to taste and consider each sauce. We offered our guesses on which sauce was which, but Jan kept quiet, saying nothing would be revealed until we tasted the sauces with the chicken that he was busy barbecuing on the grill.
The tasting medium of chicken was seasoned with salt and pepper, grilled, and “sauced” in the last 5 minutes of cooking. Again, Jan lined up the samples, 5 different bowls of chicken, each cooked with a different barbecue sauce. Jan instructed us in what order to take the samples, and to lay them out clockwise on our plates, with sample #1 at 12 o’clock.
It was quiet for a few minutes as the seven of us tasted each of the samples. And then suddenly, you couldn’t keep anyone quiet—everyone had an opinion on the best and worst barbecue sauces. After debating for a while, it took the scientist in the room—our friend Nevin—to determine the best way to judge. On a small scrap of cardboard, she laid out a table: columns one through five for each sauce, and rows for each of the seven tasters. She asked each of us, one by one, to list our choices, from favorite to least favorite.
In last place was Stubb’s with 30 points (each person’s last choice was 5 points, their first choice was 1 point). Next was Famous Dave’s with 25 points, followed by Jack Daniel’s with 19 points and KC Masterpiece with 18 points. In first place was Sweet Baby Ray’s with 13 points. Our choices for barbecue sauces didn’t exactly match up with Consumer Report’s top-rated Stubb’s. But, all of us agreed that some of the worst-rated (by us) sauces might be amazing on pork or beef. We all admitted that Sweet Baby Ray’s was the sweetest of the sauces, but it seemed to best compliment the chicken. We agreed that another taste test with the same sauces and different meats would need to be done in the near future. In the meantime, we contemplated the results and kept eating more chicken.