I cannot tell you how many times over my lifetime I've heard people talk about barbecue, what's great, what works, where to get it, and say one way or another "It's all about the sauce".
I grew up thinking this. My parents both still talk about the best barbecue they'd eaten in the past; this one particular day at my grandparents home. The sauce was AWESOME. You could drink it straight. Looking back, thank goodness it was thick and STRONG, because the meat was AWEFUL, but you couldn't tell it with this sauce. You could've been eating a hubcap from a '64 Falcon and wouldn't know it from the taste. The sauce that day was consuming. The flavors were bold, and strong, and GREAT together. Seriously, people were putting it on buns and eating that straight up. It was a good day for barbecue (in their eyes).
My father cooked great ribs and he knew it. He'd take those 1/2 frozen racks of pork spare ribs and slather both sides real good with sauce, then put the sauced ribs on the very hot grill for 10 minutes on each side, whether it needed it or not. When he'd flip them he'd re-slather on more sauce. 20 minutes was all it would take to sufficiently get a nice black color on the sauce. These were awesome!!!
Ok, not. I hated them. Made me want to puke. Growing up I though I despised ribs. I was in my late 20's when I had my first set of babybacks cooked worth a flip.
Sometime, probably towards my mid 30's I learned that barbecue, done correctly, doesn't need sauce at all. The meat and the spices by themselves can be awesome!!! What a revelation! Suddenly the conventional wisdom of "It's all about the sauce" was in question. How can this be?!?!? Barbecue, without sauce? It was then that I began my personal journey; finding "what IS barbecue". Also, along this journey I discovered that it IS a journey, not a destination. There's something to learn every single day. It's fun that way.
So, we (I) know that barbecue, purely, doesn't need nor require sauce. So where does sauce fit in?!?! I'd made some GREAT sauces along the way and over the years. Many you'd want to just eat with a spoon. Now I realize that these sauces covered and masked the great flavors of the meats. If using these sauces, why bother cooking meat at all? That's a helluva expensive venture just to cover it up (IMHO). For me, enlightenment came in 2005. Having eaten at just about every barbecue joint within a few hundred miles and known for it, I was asked/invited to judge a contest and become a certified barbecue judge. It was at my very first contest, judging ribs as it happened to be, that I came to understand that there can be a symbiotic relationship between sauce and meat.
The sauce can actually compliment the flavor of the meat without masking it. The flavor of the meat can actually be enhanced by the sauce and bring out flavors in the sauce that you couldn't taste otherwise. What an epiphany! It was a watershed moment for me. I never knew that the light wasn't on, but now that it WAS ON, oh how brightly it shined. I GOT IT!! I understand!!!!
It's NOT all about the sauce. However, the right sauce, married with the meat and spices, can enhance the flavors to produce a product that will literally make your eyes roll in the back of your head and beg the question "is this actually better than sex?".
It can happen. However, it doesn't happen by accident. You cannot take a bottled over-the-counter barbecue sauce and have this happen (not from my experience). Most recipes (like 99.9%) you'll find produce similar results. You'll have a great sauce that you can/could eat all by itself, BUT darned if it doesn't cover the meat flavors altogether.
Find it you can (said in that stupid Yoda voice).
For us (the team), I think we found ours. Notice, I didn't say "THE SAUCE". We found "A SAUCE" that works for us. Why, you ask? Because the sauce must go with the meat, the smoke, the injection, AND the rub. All of these play in. Otherwise "find it you will not". No more channeling Yoda, I promise.
We found ours almost by accident. It was an afterthought really as we added in two of the 3 sauces used at the last minute. However, we were trying to find it. It happened one day a few years ago. Preparing for a few upcoming competitions we decided to have a sauce tasting party. Literally. I made up a bunch of barbecue; 1/2 using one injection with our rub, the other 1/2 using a different injection with our rub. We made/used 16 base sauces. The tasting began. There were 12 of us (I didnt want just one or two opinions). Long story short, one combination of a sauce with an injection took 11 first places (of the 12). That same injection took the top 10, so we knew we had the right injection combination, but even of the 11 first place votes on sauce, we all though it was still missing something. Mind you, it was VERY VERY good, but with some of the other sauces they had other characteristics, good characteristics, that were missing in this combination. And so the combinations began. An hour later we ended up with what all 12 individuals thought was nirvana. Needing a little extra sweet and zip we'd added in a little Blues Hog. Still needing something, we brought in a little Tennessee Red. Son of a gun; there it was.
And that was our journey. Mind you, as I said above, it's what works for us, on our barbecue. I've published the sauce(s) recipes. However, I highly suggest that you not just make it and decide. Cook using multiple sauces. Try them all. Make the determination for yourself, on YOUR barbecue.
Honestly, if you're making burned meat, you're not going to like my sauce on the meat, because it wont cover the burned flavor. If your meat has no smoke flavor on it, you're probably not going to like this sauce again, because it has no smoke flavorings. Our sauces tend to be a little on the sweet side. Not that I love sweet, but I use absolutely no sugars in my rub. I/we cook in the 245-265 range and I dont want to accidentally end up with burned sugars... As a result we bring in a little sweetness with the sauce(s). This may or may not work for you.
One of the things we learned/found, for us mind you, is that 100% of the sauces that had smoke flavorings in them didn't go with our meat at all. Not even a little bit. Some combinations clashed. Others didnt clash, but the smoke flavors combined to an overwhelming amount.
Back to my point: to find that symbiotic relationship that works will take work. You must do it with your smoker, using your meat, and your injections, and only THEN will you find the sauce that works for you.
For me/us, we found that a sauce that tastes great straight up doesn't necessarily make a great sauce on barbecue.