What We’re Cooking This Week: Pork Shoulder With Alabama White Sauce

The beauty of the sauce—basically mayo thinned with vinegar—is that it can stand up to direct heat and it forms a golden crust as it cooks.

Jim Dixon wrote about food for WW for more than 20 years, but these days most of his time is spent at his olive oil-focused specialty food business Wellspent Market. Jim’s always loved to eat, and he encourages his customers to cook by sending them recipes every week through his newsletter. We’re happy to have him back creating some special dishes just for WW readers.

While a century of barbecue smoke clouds the origin story of Alabama white sauce, pitmaster Big Bob Gibson usually gets credit for creating the mayonnaise-based sauce at his restaurant in Decatur in 1925. Those close to Gibson say he used the sauce to keep whole chickens from getting too dry during the three hours of pit smoking.

The beauty of Alabama white sauce comes from its lack of sugar. Any backyard barbecuer who’s brushed a tomato-based sauce onto ribs or chicken while they’re cooking knows that it quickly burns. The white sauce—basically mayo thinned with vinegar—can stand up to the direct heat and it forms a golden crust as it cooks. It also tastes great, and I use it even if I can’t fire up the grill.

Big Bob only slathered chickens with his white sauce, but I like it on my favorite cheap cut, pork shoulder. Long and slow is the standard approach for the tough but flavorful shoulder. But cut into thinner pieces it cooks quickly, and the sauce adds even more flavor.

Ask the butcher to cut boneless pork shoulder into steaks or cutlets, about a half inch thick. Or buy what are often labeled “country-style ribs,” which are strips of shoulder typically about an inch thick. Put them in the freezer for approximately 20 minutes to firm up, then cut them in half lengthwise. Give the meat a nice sprinkling of salt and let them sit for at least 20 minutes.

For a couple of pounds of pork, mix about a cup of mayo with 3-4 tablespoons of vinegar, preferably apple cider but any vinegar will work. Add some black pepper, and, if you’re feeling adventurous, another flavor booster or two. I’ve mixed in garlic powder, soy or Worcestershire sauce, mustard, and ginger.

Heat your oven to 400 degrees and brush both sides of the pork with the sauce. Set a rack over a skillet or sheet pan and arrange the pork so the pieces aren’t touching. Cook for 15 minutes, then brush each piece of pork with more sauce, flip them over, and brush the other side. Pop it back in the oven, reduce the heat to 250 degrees, and cook for another 15 minutes.