Before we get to the review, let me just say that I'm sorry for being so scarce here over the last month. A battery of viruses, flus, and infections have had me in a perpetual state of funk for the last few weeks. But I'm better now - back among the living - and ready to eat something besides chicken noodle soup and Jell-O.
Also, a big "thank you" to Patrick, Sarah & Jack Gilliam, with whom I had a great time spending New Year's Eve/Day - they gave me this sauce.
It comes from North Carolina, which is always a nice change of pace. Smithfield's is North Carolina's largest barbecue chain, with over 30 locations in the eastern and central part of the state. They've been around for over 40 years, and bill themselves as "Eastern N.C. style BBQ", but they are also known for their fried chicken.
This particular sauce is not actually their barbecue sauce, but rather a "Grilling & Dipping Sauce", intended to be a complement for things like chicken and seafood. But it has all of the properties of a Western Carolina barbecue sauce - vinegar-based, but sweetened with ketchup and brown sugar. It's super-thin - only slightly thicker than water - and bright red. The aroma is sharp and heady, warning you that this sauce will have some zing. And it certainly does, but the sour power of the vinegar is immediately met by the sweet, earthy taste of tomato, and shortly followed by the tingle of red pepper.
It's a rare and appreciated thing to find a sauce with such simplicity of flavor. While there is certainly something to be said for extensive combinations of spices and flavors, I am reminded by this sauce that sometimes letting a few choice ingredients shine unfettered yields the best results.