Bluegrass Gourmet BBQ was first conceived in 2004 when barbecue and meat smoker enthusiast, Jim Gilbert, couldn’t find a BBQ sauce matching the taste and quality of his smoked meats, which were, as Jim put it, “smoked to perfection.” As an avid BBQ vendor at numerous fairs and festivals, it was important to Jim to provide his customers with a sauce of the finest quality that would enhance the flavor of his meats. But after trying almost every sauce on the market without satisfaction, Jim decided to venture out and make his own – not from a family recipe, but something new and original.

Over a two-year period, through trial and error, Jim blended the finest ingredients to capture the four major BBQ tastes from around the country - smoky (Memphis); spicy (Texas); sweet (Kansas City); and vinegar (North Carolina). This had never been done before!  Jim made everything from scratch and formed a “control taste group”, which included a number of hungry and experienced “smoked-meat connoisseurs”, like Jim. “More of this and less of that,” they cried in the beginning, but soon the critiques stopped and Jim knew he had a sauce he could finally use.

Fairground participants and customers raved about Jim’s new sauce encouraging him to enter the 2008 West Virginia State Fair Recipe Challenge, which he did. During the challenge, one of the judges asked Jim what made his sauce stand out from the thousands of sauces already on the market. Jim explained his sauce combined the four major BBQ tastes from around the country, and therefore it had a unique taste appealing to a broader range of consumers. “There is nothing else like it!” Jim told the judge. And if you’ve tasted Jim’s “Original Sauce”, then you would understand why he won 1stplace!

Taking the judge’s advice that it was hard to market just one product, Jim was unsure which additional flavors to develop.  His personal experience, in tasting the many sauces his brother had acquired during his business travel throughout the country, revealed a common market theme with most brands having spicy and sweet flavors.  He had found the categories to expand his flavors.  However, many times he found that the spicy was so hot he couldn’t enjoy the meat – sometimes even having his eyes water before he took a bite – while the sweet often had an overpowering flavor taking away from his enjoyment of the meat as well.    The only thing left to do was make a sauce in each category matching his “there is nothing else like it” reputation of unique taste and quality – not an easy task – while still appealing to the range of customers who were already enjoying his original sauce.

Since the industry had come to accept that spicy was synonymous for hot, Jim knew he didn’t want his spicy to fit the industry norm.  The challenge was to develop a sauce with a kick without it taking away from the enjoyment of the meat.  After several unsuccessful attempts developing a spicy sauce, he found himself thinking of how to get the kick with his ‘Original’ sauce.  By making adjustments to the ingredients in his original sauce, in a short period of time, he had found just the kick he was hoping for – one where you could taste the sauce, then the meat and then have the spice “kick in on the after bite” – without burning the mouth, watering the eyes or upsetting the stomach.

In developing his sweet sauce, Jim knew he wasn’t going to make an overpoweringly fruit flavored sauce that was sweetened with flavored sugar water. His plan was to keep to his “there is nothing else like it” approach, and after many starts and stops, Jim was at a loss.  One day, though, after thinking that he might have to settle for only the two flavors, he was eating a blueberry muffin and thought, “I wonder what blueberry would taste like” even though every other fruit had lead to disastrous results.  With renewed energy, he retraced some of his more favorable preliminary efforts and substituted blueberries for the other fruits he had tried.  As he refined the ingredient levels, he had developed a sweet flavor from the natural sugars of the blueberries without it having any blueberry taste. Success!    

The Original, Spicy and Blueberry are the Bluegrass Gourmet BBQ flavors that you can find on your food retailer shelves throughout the country. And truly, there is “Nothing Else” like them! They are indeed, “America’s taste for Barbeque Sauce.”

Sauce Story

Bluegrass BBQ Inc.