Sunlite Kentucky Black Barbecue Sauce & Dip For Lamb And Mutton

August 28, 2013

The United States is full of secrets and surprising twists when it comes to BBQ.  Meathead digs up a little known regional favorite, Kentucky black barbecue sauce

Black barbecue sauce from Kentucky for lamb

Black Lamb Barbecue Sauce from Kentucky

“Mary Had a Little Lamb. Won’t You Have Some, Too?” Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn

The most obscure of the regional American barbecue sauces is the Kentucky Black Barbecue Sauce & Dip because it can be found in only a small area of Western Kentucky just east of Louisville around Owensboro. This fascinating blend is mostly vinegar and Worcestershire sauce and it is designed to go with the specialty of the region, slow smoked mutton.

The first sheep came over with Columbus on his second voyage and were grown more for their fleece than their meat. Demand for wool kept the US herd up near 60 million head through WWII, and it has been on a steady decline since then, down to about 6 million head today. Tender young lamb is still a popular meat, but far less popular than beef, pork, and chicken.

When a lamb is no longer producing enough wool, more than 1 year old, it is slaughtered for food and the meat is called mutton. It has a distinctive and gamier taste than younger, more succulent lamb. As with so many other barbecue meats such as pork ribs and beef brisket, mutton found its way to the low slow smoker because it is tough, full of connective tissue, and less desirable than lamb.

And why Western Kentucky? Once upon a time, in the 1800s, Kentucky was the largest lamb producing state. It has now fallen to number 34. But the tradition of barbecue mutton lives on in dozens of barbecue joints and church socials. The cuts of choice are shoulder and rear leg.

Black Barbecue Sauce sounds weird, but it is remarkably effective. I was pretty skeptical, but once I tasted it, I understood. Sweet sauce would be all wrong. This thin tart sauce cuts the rich fat, which is more intensely flavored than beef, pork, and chicken by far. The sauce is used as a baste, called a dip, because it is thin and penetrates. It is also used as a finishing sauce.

The meat is prepared in a similar fashion to pulled pork, but it is usually not shredded, it is sliced. It is then doused with the thin sauce that enters all its pores.

Some places, like the Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn, the most famous of all the Western Kentucky barbecue joints, have two slightly different barbecue sauce recipes, one for basting, and one for serving. Moonlite published some of their recipes in a cookbook, Family Favorites from Moonlite, which I tried, and frankly, wasn’t impressed. So I studied their published recipes, ordered a bottle from their website, set about trying to reverse engineer it, and then I amped it up a notch. In head to head blind tasting, everyone liked mine better. So I called it Sunlite just to make sure there is no confusion.

Makes. 3 cups 
Preparation time. 25 minutes.


2 cups water

1/2 cup Lea & Perrins Worcestershire

1/2 cup distilled vinegar

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

7 tablespoons brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon allspice

1/4 teaspoon onion powder

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1 1/4 teaspoons table salt

1 1/4 teaspoons lemon juice


1) Mix all the ingredients in a pot and simmer for 10 minutes.

2) Prepare a leg or shoulder of mutton or lamb by removing all the surface fat and the tough silverskin hiding under it.

3) Coat it with a generous layer of Dolly’s Lamb Rub And Paste.

4) Preheat your smoker to about 225°F. If you are using a grill, set it up for 2-zone cooking and get the indirect zone to 225°F. Smoke it low and slow as you would a pork shoulder for pulled pork bringing it up to 203°F. Beware of the stall. Start early and have a faux cambro on hand. How long will it take? Depends on how thick your meat is, and whether or not you use the Texas Crutch.

5) Cut the meat off the bone in 1/8 to 1/4″ thick slices and douse with warm sauce just before serving.




Related Topics: Barbecue Sauce | Barbecue Sauce Recipe | Barbeque Sauce Recipe | Bbq Sauce Recipe | Black Barbecue Sauce | Editor's Picks | Kentucky | Lamb | Meathead | Mutton | Regional Flavors | Regions | Sauce | Sheep | Vinegar | Worcestershire Sauce

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