Forget Barbecue Sauce and Try These Bottled Dressings for Your Grill Season Instead
We’ve got spicy chili oils and creamy avocado sauce on deck.
I love barbecue. I am a voracious carnivore and the hedonism of sitting in a sunny backyard and gnawing ribs off the bone at a barbecue -- while swatting at hungry hornets -- is what I consider one of life’s greatest pleasures. The term barbecue, however, can sometimes feel limiting. Do all barbecue sauces really need to have the same formula and flavor profile: warm brown sugar, tangy ketchup, splashes of vinegar? Absolutely not.
The definition of barbecue is slowly being redefined in America. It doesn’t just mean smoked brisket or flame-grilled chicken. Barbecue can be shredded jackfruit. It can be sheet pans of tofu. It can be meats marinated with lemongrass, fish sauce, and tons of garlic -- the same way barbecue functions in Vietnam.
With this in mind, I’ve decided to explore alternative sauces that pair well with this broad world of barbecue. I love the zip of tongue-tingling chili oils partnered with beef, the reimagined version of classic Worcestershire sauce topped on burgers, and a creamy avocado sauce with chicken. These sauces can function as marinades or be used to finish off your favorite cut of beef. Here are some jarred and bottled sauces you should pick up to reinvent your next backyard barbecue:
We’re bigfans of Fly By Jing’s Szechuan Chili Crisp here at Thrillist. What’s not to love? The chili oil is packed with tingly szechuan peppers and gets its deep savoriness thanks to mushroom powder, seaweed, and fermented black beans. Spoon it over pan-fried tofu, grilled veggies, or any protein that requires an extra kick. I’ve never had an experience where I’ve regretted adding a drizzle of this chili oil and I don’t think you will, either.
Put the Lea Perrins down and give Bulldog’s Worcestershire Sauce a try. This Japanese version of the English classic is thicker than the original and slightly sweeter thanks to its blend of fruits and veggies, including apple juice, prune and tomato paste, and plenty of garlic and onions. Squeeze some onto your hamburgers or use it as a sauce for your New York strips for a tangy steak sauce alternative.
Oo’mamē’s Mexican Chile Infusion takes what we know and love about chili oil -- generous spices, textural elements -- and puts a spin on it with chilies indigenous to Mexico. Sure, there’s traditional fermented black bean, a necessity in almost every chili oil. But there’s also ancho, guajillo, and smoky chipotles. For added crunch, the chili oil is studded with nutty pepitas. Inspired by Oaxaca, this spicy blend is perfect for topping on your carne asada, drizzling over barbecued wings, brushing onto corn, or even swirling into one of your favorite sides, like potato salad.
If you’ve never had the chance to try Nong’s Khao Man Gai -- a Thai-style chicken and rice empire in Portland, Oregon -- then you’ll be lucky to know that, at the very least, her signature sauce is available online. Made from ginger, soy sauce, garlic, chili, fermented soy beans, and palm sugar, the tangy and sweet dressing is the perfect complement to chicken, but also ideal for imbuing flavors into grilled tofu steaks. Use it as a dip or marinade and let Nong’s sauce do the work.
There are a couple of spicy contenders on this list, and Xilli’s Chipotles Adobados is a part of this subsection. These chipotle peppers -- stewed in an adobo sauce with five other types of chilies and a fragrant spice blend of allspice, coriander, cumin, and clovers -- is supremely hot and deliriously smoky. It’s ideal for those who crave that smoky, sweet barbecue flavor but are also looking for a burning, but pleasurable, heat. Use this as a marinade for your meats; the stewed peppers in this have been softened to the point that they are practically spreadable. Just be weary of using too much -- a simple spoonful packs a lot of sweat-inducing spice.
Japanese barbecue, or yakiniku, is known for its prime cuts of beef. To amplify the fatty flavors of those marbled meats, add Ohgon No Aji -- a Japanese yakiniku sauce brand that translates to “Golden Taste.” The Amakuchi one is on the sweeter side thanks to a generous blend of fruit puree, but functions as a perfect foil to the savory beef.
Kumana is an avocado-based sauce crafted from a family recipe of Venezuelan guasacaca, an herbaceous concoction made from avocados, onions, peppers, and jalapeño. This vibrant green sauce goes well with pretty much everything, including all of your favorite grilled meats. Add it to barbecued seafood, atop your medium-rare steaks, or give a generous squeeze into that side of egg salad you’re bringing to the cookout. You can’t go wrong with creamy avocado accompanied by the zip of jalapeños.
One of my favorite dips to pair with a steak is called “jaew” -- an herbaceous Thai medley of ground red peppers, lime juice, garlic, fish sauce, and plenty of chopped cilantro. It’s spicy, fishy, and garlicky and coaxes out the meaty flavors of steak. Similarly, Boon, a small-batch chili oil created in Los Angeles, is full of spicy, umami flavor. It’s comprised of fried garlic and shallots, chilies, spices, and anchovy all simmered in a sunflower oil blend. It’s not quite jaew because it doesn’t have that zip of lime, but it’s still what I reach for when I want something spicy with my burgers and steak.
You can find Bullhead Barbecue’s Shacha sauce at every Chinese hot pot table, but this salty and subtly spicy condiment also deserves a spot parked next to the grill. The deeply savory paste is made from a blend of brill fish, garlic, ginger, shallots, dried shrimp, and sesame combined with soybean oil that works well as a marinade for any type of meat. Feel free to also use a light spread for a barbecue brisket sandwich and take your barbecue to new and delicious heights.
Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, get Eatmail for more food coverage, and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.