I was compensated by Nielsen-Massey Vanillas for my time in developing this recipe and post. All opinions are my own.
Colorado’s weather continues its manic tug of war to see when spring will finally arrive. Between you and me, I have my money on spring. Our last snow storm a few weeks ago was cozy, but anything other than threatening. I applauded the effort but ignored it knowing it would melt within 48 hours.
The sun was out full throttle last weekend and the need to grill was in the air. My lifelong desire to master grilling kicked into high gear last year when I took a three-day intensive hands-on grilling course with grilling luminary Steven Raichlen, author of the Barbecue Bible (and many more books) and who also currently stars the in PBS series Project Smoke. I grilled every day last summer and realized I’m never happier than when I smell like a campfire from head to toe.
In this spirit I kicked off this grilling season by smoking a whole turkey, grilling shish kabobs and making a barbecue sauce that’s been dancing in my head since last summer: Blueberry Whiskey Barbecue Sauce. Who wouldn’t love a sauce that’s spicy, tangy, loaded with antioxidants and some whiskey to boot?
The sauce turned out fantastic! It has the strong tang I love in a BBQ sauce, mixed with the sweetness from the blueberries and some brown sugar, as well as the whiskey. The whiskey is added to deglaze the pan so the alcohol really burns off leaving its sweet flavor that’s perfect with this sauce.
I also added a secret ingredient not usually found in barbecue sauce but that I’ve been loving in my kitchen recently: Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract from Nielsen-Massey. It is a full bodied vanilla that’s creamy and mellow in flavor but delivers a pure vanilla flavor great both for sweet and savory dishes. If you thought all vanilla extract is created equal, it’s not. One taste of this and you’ll agree. I also love that their products are certified gluten-free, certified Kosher, allergen-free and GMO-free (and there is an expanding line of certified organic products too).
I’ve used Nielsen-Massey vanilla for years and it’s probably what is in your pantry right now too. To learn more about why Nielsen-Massey is the vanilla to choose and follow Nielsen-Massey on Instagram for more great recipe ideas too!
The barbecue sauce may be used on produce or meats when grilling, to finish the meat or as you’d use a tasty barbecue sauce not actually on the grill. To give it a test run I whipped up a rack of St. Louis style ribs. Normally ribs should be cooked for 3-4 hours, low and slow, but I used a quicker version inspired by Julia Child. The ribs are salt and peppered, slathered with the Blueberry Whiskey Barbecue Sauce and placed in a 375 degree oven for 20 minutes on each side. After another coating of the sauce, are then finished on a medium temperature grill (350 degrees), charcoal or gas, for about 15 minutes. They should be turned frequently and I grill mine with the lid on/closed. Watch for any flare ups but with the ribs having cooked first in the oven most of the fat will have rendered.
Blueberry Whiskey Barbecue Sauce
- 1 tablespoon Canola Oil
- ½ large Red Onion , peeled and chopped
- 3 large Garlic Cloves , peeled and diced
- 1 large Jalapeno Chile Pepper , stem and seeds removed, diced
- ½ cup Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey or Bourbon Whiskey
- ½ cup Ketchup , homemade or purchased
- 1/3 cup Worcestershire Sauce
- 1/3 cup Apple Cider Vinegar
- ½ teaspoon Hot Smoked Paprika
- ¼ Dark Brown Sugar
- 3 cups fresh Blueberries (frozen, thawed blueberries may be substituted)
- 1 teaspoon Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract
In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, add the canola oil. Warm until ripples are visible on the oil’s surface then add the onion. Sauté until the onion is softened and the color has lightened (about 3-4 minutes).
Add the garlic and jalapeno. Sauté for 2 minutes.
Carefully pour in the whiskey (it will splatter) and stir quickly to deglaze the pan. Add the remaining ingredients EXCEPT the vanilla extract. Stir to fully combine.
Lower the heat to medium or medium-low to allow a low simmer of the sauce. Simmer for 30 minutes, periodically pressing on the blueberries with the back of a heavy cooking spoon or potato masher to smash them.
Remove from heat and allow to sit 5 minutes. Stir in the vanilla extract. Process in batches through a blender or using an immersion (stick) blender, puree the sauce until smooth. Allow to cool slightly then place in a glass jar with lid and refrigerate until fully chilled. May be used for up to two weeks if kept sealed in the refrigerator.