A Treatise on Grilling, part 6: Mops and Sauces
If you are going to be barbequing soon, you might want to think about the difference between a barbeque sauce and a mop. There is no real school for this topic; no one ever teaches the right way to baste, mop, or sauce a barbequed chicken breast.
If you are using a mop, it is generally a very thin liquid used to baste and braise the meat while cooking. BBQ Pit Masters are often seen with a miniature mop bucket and a hand-sized mop, brushing ribs or brisket with a reddish-brown mixture that resembles a thin barbeque sauce.
There is a point to a mop, and it is scientific. The point of a mop is to keep the outside of the meat juicy with a small amount of moisture, and at the same time impart the meat with whatever flavors are in the mop. In the culinary world, this process is called braising.
Braising is a process by which food is cooked at a lower temperature for a longer period of time with a small amount of liquid. Usually the food is covered in a container. In BBQ, the low, slow moist cooking method is tenderizes the meat by slowly breaking down the tougher tendon and fibers.
Now on to the BBQ Sauce. This is a source of contention in the barbeque world as well as a source of a bit of ignorance. In Texas, the school of thought is that good barbeque doesn't need sauce. Not all folks think that way, but in my experience, there is some brisket out there that I wouldn't even think of defiling with sauce, namely Rudy's Country Store and BBQ AND Louis Mueller's in Taylor.
The issue with barbeque sauce has to do with the sauce itself, its makeup, and when it should be applied to the meat. You see, most barbeque sauces have a lot of sugar and other solids in them. If you brush the meat with barbeque sauce near the beginning of the cooking, the end product will be this blackened, charred mess. On the other hand, if you are direct grilling, the heat could melt that sauce, creating a potentially molten experience.
So, if you have decided that barbeque sauce is the way to go, then take the time to cook the meat first. Then, in the final moments of it's trip over the fire, brush on a light coating of sauce. Provide a bottle of sauce at the table for everyone to dip or pour over their meat as they wish.