Growing up lower middle class, I don’t remember us eating out an awful lot. On occasion, we’d hit the local Acapulco after church, or splurge and order McNuggets or KFC when my dad was out of town on business. One place I do remember going, though, is a barbeque restaurant, a local Seattle legend, really, called The Wild Boar.
The Wild Boar was owned and run by a retired naval cook named James Beal who occasionally got the itch to return to the sea, and so would close and reopen his restaurant, renaming it a few times over the years, according to whether he was shipping out or returning home. Or so the Internet tells me. This was the early 80s, and I was too young to remember much at that point, aside from a vague mental collage consisting of a tiny room with dingy mint green walls (perhaps the result of overhead fluorescent lights?), located in a slightly rundown neighborhood and filled with aged tables ringing a giant brick barbeque pit (and chimney) in the center of the tiny space. I have one fuzzy mental snapshot of a big, friendly African American man dressed in chef’s whites doling out melt-off-the-bone meats, steaming and smokey baked beans, and thick slices of white bread with which to soak up the most glorious barbecue sauce known to man.
Oh that sauce! Don’t quote me on any of the above description of the place or the man; as I have said, it’s been a while, and time may have wreaked havoc with my memories. But that sauce? I will never, ever forget it. I have heard it said that smell is the most powerful of the five commonly accepted senses (did you know that we actually have more than twenty of them?). When we pick up a scent, it sticks with us. We may not remember what a person or place looked like thirty years down the road, but wave a whiff of their perfume or a certain odor of closed-up mustiness under our noses, and we are instantly transported back. James Beal’s Wild Boar barbeque sauce is one of those smells for me. The second you set foot across the threshold of his restaurant, you were hit with a wave of tangy smokiness that got in your nostrils and your hair and your clothes, even your very soul, and it wouldn’t let you go. Long after you’d taken that final bite of soggy bread and washed down the last drops with a Coke, the sweet aroma lingered. To this day, I would know it anywhere.
The recipe for the sauce was apparently a closely guarded secret, and The Wild Boar (and its later incarnations) were the only place you could get anything like it. My family moved all over up and down the West Coast over the years, and had never managed to find its equal. So when Mr. Beal, sadly, passed away in the early 90s, we assumed the end of a tasty era had drawn to a close. Then, in early 2003, Bro (who was living in another state at the time) emailed me. He had been reading a barbequing forum, and had stumbled across a recipe claiming to be for authentic Wild Boar sauce!
The story goes that years back there was a married couple so intent on figuring out how the barbeque sauce was made that they would throw together test batch after test batch at home, and then would take the results to the master, Mr. Beal himself, for his stamp of approval. They never did manage to get it quite right, but after a time, Beal took pity on them, and gave them a copy of the recipe. Years later the poster, a friend of this couple by the name of Mike Flaherty, was having dinner at their home, when he recognized the sauce from his own visits to the The Wild Boar. He asked for their permission to share the recipe online, and it has spread across the internet and the barbequing forums since.
I eagerly made my first batch in the summer of 2003. The minute all of the ingredients came together, I knew that this was the real deal. I had Wild Boar Barbeque sauce bubbling happily on my stovetop, and a personal tradition was born. Every year around spring or summer, I make a giant batch of the stuff and put it away to be used gradually over the next twelve or so months, and every year I somehow manage to run out early. I keep doubling and tripling my batches, but it’s never quite enough to get me through the entire year. Small wonder when, just as James Beal did, I use it as the base for my own home made baked beans. I also put it on salads, sandwiches, grilled meats, nuggets, burgers, you name it. I even take a bottle of the stuff with me to picnics and other outdoorsy parties! This year, I multiplied the recipe by five. It took two pots and an entire afternoon, but the result was intoxicating. I’m writing this five days later, and my apartment *still* has the faint odors of sugar, vinegar, and that glorious smoke. You know, I’m really quite alright with that.
The recipe, should you want it (and you really, really do) is as follows, with my notes in italics:
Wild Boar Barbeque Sauce
Mix in big pot over low heat
- 1/6 cup salt
- 2 cups sugar
- 1/2 heaping cup packed brown sugar
- 1 cup beef boullion strong I use Better Than Bouillon, and for the first time this year, homemade broth that I had on hand
- 6 Cups H20
When sugars dissolve, add
- 1 cup yellow mustard
- 1/2 cup white vinegar
- 1/2 cup Wrights liquid smoke. Yes, that’s right.
- 1 Cup Worcestershire
- 2 cups (16oz) tomato paste
I find that the mustard and the tomato paste don’t like to play well with others…,
…so I used to take a whisk to the concoction to make sure it was mixed well. Recently, though, I purchased a new immersion blender, which does the trick even better.
- Kitchen Bouquet to darken (Optional, don’t worry if you don’t have this) (I don’t use this)
- Chili Powder (the real thing), cayenne, Daves, whatever to add heat. (I add a few dashes of chili powder, but not a lot.)
Simmer bubbling slowly for 2 hours…. (add more time if doubling/tripling/etc. recipe) will reduce by 1/3 and darken.
Yes, it gets messy, but it’s totally worth it!
Just be careful to wear an apron or something you don’t mind being stained. Whatever you do, don’t wear your last pristinely white tank top, shrugging and thinking, “Eh, I’m sure it’ll be fine,” like I did this year.
Next non-garden blog, I’ll talk about my adventures trying my hand at canning for the first time. Fun!