Truth be told, the origins of this sauce lie outside my family.
Folks who lived in Little Rock, Arkansas in the 1950s and 60s will well remember The Shack. There have been various BBQ smokehouses with that name since then, and a plethora of recipes have popped up on the internet and elsewhere (one I remember in the warehouse district in Minneapolis), all claiming to be the original "Shack" recipe. But those of us who cruised up and down Markham in Little Rock in those days developed taste buds that know the difference: it has to be lip-puckeringly tart from vinegar and heavy on the black pepper. This is a savory sauce: salty, tart, spicy.
Back then, my mother's brother drove a bread truck and delivered the buns daily to The Shack. Uncle Bobby somehow got the recipe, and it became my family's sauce of choice from that point forward. But as those things go, a family of cooks and foodlovers played with it, adding this thing there and taking away this other thing, and now--except for a few Must Haves--there are nuanced versions scribbled down in each of our recipe drawers and binders.
I love this evolution of recipes. Like languages and dialects, recipes and their variants move and shift with the friends and guests and loved ones that taste them and want to recreate the experience.
I made this sauce for a BBQ today here in Seattle. It graced pork shoulder, coaxed and coddled and pulled into hickory-smoked glory by my friend, Larry, who had made another equally delicious version of apple-smoked pork.
I hope the friends who try this will inflect it with their own voice.
Serve on smoked, pulled pork shoulder. Be sure to make a creamy, tart coleslaw for the bun, too!
2 c. Heinz ketchup
1 c. water
1/2 c. apple cider vinegar
1 oz. salt
1 oz. black pepper (medium grind or finer)
1 oz. sugar or sorghum or cane molasses
1 oz. chile powder*
Mix all ingredients and bring to a boil, stirring often. Reduce heat and simmer 5-6 minutes. Bottle and refrigerate, preferably several days before its use. To serve, re-heat. This is ideal on pork, but does a fine job on chicken, too.
*You can use commercial chile powder, but I prefer to make my own:
1 c. crushed, dried chile pods, stems and caps removed (I used chile from Chimayo, NM--a fruity, medium-hot pepper)
2 T. sweet ground chile
1 t. whole cumin seeds
1-2 t. ground chipotle
1 t. garlic powder
1 t. oregano powder
Place crushed chile pods and cumin in a skillet. Toast until just giving off fragrance. Remove from heat and cool. Grind in a coffee grinder in batches. Stir in remaining ingredients. Keep in an airtight jar.