For Alabama barbecue sauce, reach for the mayo
When people think barbecue sauce, they usually think something tomato- or vinegar-based. But today, I want to convince you to consider another breed of barbecue — white.
White barbecue sauce is popular in northern Alabama. I was first introduced to it years ago by a friend who was surprised I didn't know what it was. She sent me home with a bottle and instructions to use it on chicken. I will admit that I thought it was an odd concoction until I tried it. It only took one bird and one bottle of that sauce to convert me.
At the heart of white barbecue sauce are four ingredients — mayonnaise, vinegar, salt and black pepper. The folks at Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur, Alabama, are credited with popularizing this sauce, dating back to 1925. The beauty of the sauce is that it enhances the flavor of chicken without overpowering or covering it up. The tangy cider vinegar and creamy mayonnaise dress a hot smoked or grilled chicken perfectly.
And if you think about what mayonnaise, salt, pepper and lemon juice does to chicken salad, it all makes good sense! My version is similar to an old fashioned coleslaw dressing, but with less sugar.
Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q is famous for this unusual white barbecue sauce. It's so different that folks who aren't from Alabama sometimes look askance when I mention it. But one taste is all you need to become a believer.
In the restaurant, freshly smoked chickens are dunked in this sauce before serving. Pulled chicken doused with this sauce also is very good.
Butterflied Barbecue Chicken with Alabama White Sauce
Start to finish: 1 hour 20 minutes (20 minutes active)
1 whole chicken (3 1/2 to 4 pounds)
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
Alabama white barbecue sauce (recipe below)
Prepare a grill for medium heat, indirect cooking. For a charcoal grill, this means banking the hot coals to one side of the grill and cooking on the other side. For a gas grill, this means turning off one or more burners to create a cooler side, then cooking on that side.
Use paper towels to pat the chicken dry. Flip it upside down so the breast is on the cutting board. Using kitchen shears, cut along both sides of the backbone so the bone can be removed. Gently but firmly open up the bird a little, then flip it to be breast side up. Break the breastbone by firmly applying pressure and pressing down.
Brush chicken all over with olive oil. Season lightly on both sides with salt and pepper. Place the chicken skin side up on the cooler side of the grill and grill for 20 to 30 minutes, or until beginning to brown.
Turn the chicken over and brush barbecue sauce on the back of the chicken. Grill for 10 minutes. Turn back over (breast side up) and brush sauce on skin. Grill for another 20 to 30 minutes, brushing it twice more with barbecue sauce, until the thigh registers 180 F.
Remove the chicken from grill. Using a clean pastry brush, brush the chicken one more time with sauce, then let it rest for 10 minutes. Cut the chicken into quarters and serve with extra sauce for dipping.
Nutrition information per quarter of a chicken and 1/4 cup of sauce: 920 calories; 690 calories from fat (75 percent of total calories); 77 g fat (17 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 225 mg cholesterol; 2 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 1 g sugar; 53 g protein; 630 mg sodium.
Alabama White Barbecue Sauce
Start to finish: 5 minutes
Makes: About 3 cups
2 cups mayonnaise
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon prepared horseradish
Juice of 1 lemon
In a medium stainless steel or glass bowl, whisk together all ingredients. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. The sauce can be made in advance and kept for 2 weeks in the refrigerator.
Nutrition information per 1/4 cup: 250 calories; 250 calories from fat (100 percent of total calories); 28 g fat (4.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 15 mg cholesterol; 2 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 1 g sugar; 0 g protein; 310 mg sodium.
— Elizabeth Karmel is a barbecue and Southern foods expert. She is the chef and pitmaster at online retailer CarolinaCueToGo.com and author of three books, including "Taming the Flame."