A BBQ Sauce Recipe That’s Designed Not to Steal the Show

Pat Martin's Jack’s Creek Sauce offers a taste of West Tennessee flavor

Pat Martin's Jack’s Creek Sauce.
Pat loves using his vinegar-based sauce on pulled pork.
Andrew Thomas Lee

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An unincorporated community in Chester County at the nexus of Highway 100E and Highway 22A, Jacks Creek is the approximate halfway point between the West Tennessee whole-hog BBQ hubs of Henderson and Lexington. It’s also the name (with an added apostrophe) that Memphis-born BBQ pitmaster Pat Martin, who has namesake restaurants in Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky and South Carolina and is the star of Outdoor Channel‘s new 10-part series Life of Fire, chose for the vinegar-based sauce he uses on his ribs, pulled pork and chicken thighs.

Martin, who is the proprietor of Hugh-Baby’s BBQ & Burger Shop as well as SweetMilk Breakfast & Lunch and also knows his way around a wine list, takes his sauce seriously, but not nearly as seriously as he regards his BBQ.

“Let me tell you what sauce is and what barbecue is not. Barbecue is something that’s just a vehicle to get some freaking sauce in your mouth, but I feel, unfortunately, that’s what a lot of people think,” Martin says. “You seem to find it more with folks who get wrapped up in a secret rub or a secret sauce. I’m not a secrets person and sauce should be nothing other than a complement to what you’re cooking. It should enhance it and that’s it.”

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As Martin explains, when it comes to enhancing the fatty pieces of pork West Tennessee-style whole-hog BBQ produces, which are pulled out whole from different parts of the animal and never chopped or mixed the way they would be in the Carolinas, only a vinegar-based sauce will do.

“Whole hog, pulled pork, brisket, ribs and anything that’s really rich will have a lot of intermuscular fat. It will also have a lot of collagen in the muscle fibers that breaks down and becomes gelatinous,” Martin says. “It can give people that sticky feeling in their mouth that they think is fat on their palate. It’s not. It’s the collagen that’s turned gelatinous. The acid from the vinegar is important to balance that out because you’re building up a layer between your taste buds and what you’re trying to taste. If I have a super sugary, thick, competition-style BBQ sauce on top of sticky, collagen that’s turned to gelatin on top of real flavorful fat, it tastes like I’m putting Play-Doh in my mouth. That’s not what I want. You want to be able to eat fatty foods, but eat them clean. Acid promotes those flavors and it also balances them. That’s why I use an acidic sauce like Jack’s Creek with pork. Acid’s very important with BBQ.”

Made with just five ingredients, Jack’s Creek is emblematic of Martin’s previously stated belief that sauce should be a supporting actor as opposed to a star. But, according to him, it’s even bigger than that.

Pat Martin and his signature sauce.
Pat Martin believes in the subtlety of his BBQ sauce.
Andrew Thomas Lee

“It reflects my approach to food in general. I think you’d struggle to find a scenario where simple isn’t better,” he says. “People have a natural tendency to overthink everything. It’s just our nature as humans. Some things ain’t broken. Some things can just be let alone. Go somewhere somebody is cooking exceptional brisket and ask them for a little flake salt and lightly squeeze a little lemon juice over it. Eat that, think about it and then tell me what’s wrong with that wheel. Nothing. You know what I’m saying? Simple is usually the best way to go about eating.”

Doing it with secret sauce, Martin is adamant, is not.

“As I said before, I’m not a secrets guy. I internally smirk whenever I hear somebody’s got a secret sauce recipe or secret rub because it’s just BS at the end of the day. There are really no secrets out there,” he says. “I’m not saying sauce is worthless. I’m saying people overthink it and try to get it to compete with, or even surpass, the meat. That’s insane, stupid and ludicrous. It’s a lot of games and gimmicks. Just keep it simple. Sauce is important, okay? But it’s not the winner of the show here. So I share and what I do. Maybe you’ll like it, add some nuances and make something even better.”

Maybe you will…

(For the Big Hoss Rub mentioned below, buy here or follow the recipe here — but don’t make too much.)

Pat Martin’s Jack’s Creek Sauce

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 2 minutes

Total Time: 7 minutes

Servings: 4 cups

  • 1 ¾ cups apple cider vinegar
  • 1 ¾ cups distilled white vinegar
  • 1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
  • ½ cup Big Hoss Rub
  • 3 tbsp. red pepper flakes
    1. In a blender, combine all the ingredients and blend until smooth, about 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate sauce for up to one month.


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