Some people swear by the value of using bastes and mops when barbecuing and some people swear that it is unnecessary and a waste of time. I will try to review some of the pros and cons and the how-to’s and not-to’s here. Then the choice as always is up to you.
What Are Bastes and Mops
Traditionally barbecue bastes and mops have played a big role in barbecue cookery.
The barbecue baste is a thin liquid applied to the meat to add flavor and keep the meat moist. It is often applied with a small, or large, cotton string mop, like this found at Amazon.Com, hence the term “mop”.
Basting sauce is not the same as the BBQ sauce used at the end of the cook or as a dipping sauce. While the ingredients vary widely it often has water, vinegar or tomato paste as a base. Then for flavor try adding liquid smoke, chili, spices, mustard and black pepper and for sweeteners add sugar or molasses.
You want to keep the baste simple and thin.
To Both Rub and Baste?
Often a baste is used in addition to a rub. The purpose of the baste is both to add flavor and moisture, while a rub is to add flavor.
This is where the debate comes in:
- Smoke is attracted to wet surfaces, by adding the baste we create a wet surface for the smoke to stick.
- By basting the rub is being washed off.
- Basting with a thin baste of water, apple juice or wine is not adding much flavor, but is adding moisture and creating layers of spices.
- If you want a nice crust on the meat the added moisture will impede this from happening.
- You are only basting a few times, every 30 minutes or so. This allows the moisture plenty of time to evaporate, leaving the spices on the meat.
- You are letting heat out and lengthen the cooking time (probably true).
- Only baste when you are turning the meat or adding wood or fuel.
Basting is a technique frequently used for chicken, fish, turkey, pork and beef, pretty much any type of meat. Keep in mind with some of these meats a crispy outside, chicken, turkey and fish, are often desirable and have much more flavor than a moist rubbery skin.
Why Baste or Use a Sauce?
Barbecue sauce, basting and mopping sauce, dipping sauce go hand-in-hand with BBQ. It is a condiment but has many different regional variations around the country.
The roots of most BBQ sauces can be traced to North Carolina and South Carolina where pigs ran free in the early 1800’s, were caught and cooked in an in ground pit. Pigs were cheap and this was a time for community celebration.
The sauce used at the time was made of vinegar, black pepper and hot chili flakes with no sugar. The sauce penetrated the meat and helped breakdown the fat.
When shopping, cooking or looking for a BBQ place to eat you are likely to find barbecue differentiated by these regions: Kansas City, Memphis, Southern Carolina, Alabama and Texas. Following is a grief breakdown of what makes them different:
– Is a tomato or ketchup based sauce with sugars, vinegar and spices. This is the most common BBQ sauce in the United States, it is thick and reddish-brown. It doesn’t penetrate the meat much and because of the sugars is usually applied near the end of the cook or before serving. Most U.S. BBQ sauces use some variation of this recipe.
– Has basically the same ingredients as Kansas City but has more vinegar and uses molasses.
South Carolina Mustard Sauce
– This is popular in the area between Columbia and Charleston. This area was settled by many Germans who used yellow mustard, vinegar, sugar and spices.
Alabama White Sauce
– This sauce is made of eggs and oil, mayonnaise, and apple cider vinegar, sugar, salt, black pepper. It is used on chicken and pork.
– No list would be complete without Texas BBQ. These sauces are heavily seasoned with cumin, chili peppers, bell peppers, chili powder or ancho powder, lots of black pepper, fresh onion, a little tomato, little or no sugar, and they often add meat drippings and smoke flavor because meats are dipped into them. This sauce is thin, but not as thin as water, because of its consistency it is able to penetrate the meat.
When to Apply the Baste
The time to baste is after the crust forms giving the spices and rub time to penetrate the meat and stick to the outside. If your meat is going to be flipped baste it right after flipping so the baste can mix with the meat juices and sit on the meat while the moisture evaporates, otherwise your baste and spices will end up in the fire.
When cooking above 265 degrees Fahrenheit, the burning point for sugar, don’t use sugar. If you are cooking low and slow, around 225 sugar shouldn’t be a problem
How to Use a Baste or Mop
If you want something simple use water and add spices. If you want a baste to help tenderize the meat use vinegar with spices.
To add flavor to your mop try using apple juice, beer, wine, Worcestershire sauce, teriyaki sauce, fruit juices or any combination of these. When making a baste try to stay with your basic flavor. If you used a rub, add it to your baste, if you used a marinade or BBQ sauce add it to you baste.
When using the marinade you used for the meat add some water to it and bring it to a boil for safety reasons. When using a baste or mop keep it on grill so it is not cooling the meat when applied and it will reduce bacteria.
The best advice when using bastes and mops is to keep it simple. Use it to add extra layers of flavor after the meat is at least half done cooking so the other flavors can do their job. Also, move quickly, the grill is hot so you don;t want to linger over it. I found this set of heat resistant Silicone kitchen utensils at Amazon which included BBQ Gloves Black, Stainless steel Food Tongs with tips and a Basting Brush which looked like a good deal.
Start basting about half way through the meat cook time and then continue 4 or 5 time during the remainder of the cook. If you are combining rubs, bastes, mops and finishing sauces the flavors should complement each other not fight with each other.
Use the barbecue sauce is a finishing sauce. Add it after the meat is cooked or very close to the end. The BBQ sauce is thicker and often times has sugar in it, since you are done cooking it won’t burn.