hoisin barbecue sauce

If there are any structural flaws to the standard backyard barbecue event (or as we do it in NYC, the standard rooftop barbecue event) it is that plates, forks and standing don’t go well together, especially if you are carrying a beer, or say, a Pimm’s cup, and let’s be honest–when am I not?

Sure, we’ve overcome this issue with various bunnage, from hotdogs to burgers and kielbasa, but outside the meat, veggie burger and salads-that-can-be-scooped departments, you’re still SOOL if you crave vegetables while standing.

pink garlic cloveshalf-cup hoisin sauceone tablespoon of ketchupsimmering hoisin barbecue sauce

Alex and I have been getting around it this summer with the not-exactly-revolutionary use of skewers, but this doesn’t mean they have to be boring. We’ve done kielbasa slices with peppers and onions, smothered in spicy mustard and mixed vegetables with my mom’s balsamic/soy/garlic marinade. Should the summer ingratiate itself to us for a little longer, I’ve been dreaming of a speared version of this salad, replete with cubed pork and mango, wound with mint and basil, rolled in that glorious sauce. Or paper-thin chicken cutlets woven back-and-forth through a kebob with a blanched scallion and a balsamic reduction. Off the heat entirely, I’ve been wanting to make watermelon, feta and mint skewers with lime juice, but hey, there is always next summer, right?

The advantages of the skewered approach are ten-fold: the smallest amount of food can make half a dozen skewers and the amount you would otherwise choose for a few people extends itself to one for everyone. As long as you take into consideration needly issues such as grouping foods that cook at the same speeds (pearl onions, sadly, take way long than all the vegetables I once skewered them with), you simply cannot go wrong with any variation you can dream of. [Well, except some pre-made ones we bought at Whole Foods a few weeks ago, urgently overpriced and under-flavored.]

manhattan sunsetmm, pimms cupavocado at sunsetsunflower against east river

Yesterday afternoon, we grilled skewers of chicken, Asian eggplant, zucchini and white peppers from the Greenmarket, sopped with hoisin barbecue sauce on my friend Jocelyn’s roof under the fourth day of some of the most gorgeous weather I’ve seen in longer than I can remember. This is summer’s equivalent of your hair finally looking awesome on the day you are finally scheduled to lop it off, I think. Or of learning to love your unemployed, idle time the day once you finally land a job. Either way, summer has picked a fine time to turn on the charm, being all sweet and coy as it walks out the door, confident that we’ll be waxing nostalgic about in two months, our memories of the hideous 99 degree ick long obliterated. Yeah summer, I’m onto your game. Hell, I invented that game and I won’t be fool…

Aw, shucks: Please don’t go!

brush, hoisin barbecue saucehoisin charred chicken skewers

One year ago: Silky Cauliflower Soup, Deb’s Caesar Dressing, Tuna Salad with Pepperoncini and Dill

Hoisin Barbecue Sauce
Adapted from Food & Wine June, 2001

2 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
3 tablespoons sake or dry sherry
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Asian sesame oil (I used the hot stuff)

Heat the vegetable oil in a small saucepan and cook the garlic over moderately low heat until fragrant, about two minutes. Add the hoisin sauce, soy sauce, sake, ketchup and rice vinegar and simmer over moderately low heat, stirring, until thickened, about three minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the sesame oil. Let cool and serve.

Do ahead: The hoisin barbecue sauce can be refrigerated for 2 days, frozen for a month.

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31 comments on hoisin barbecue sauce

  1. Summer’s still happily hanging on here in MN with temps in the 90’s. It’s the equivalent of the weather sticking its tongue out at all the kids heading back to school.

    Your kay-bobs look wonderful! That’s one of my favs for on the grill. I could totally get into that kielbasa/pepper/onion deal. Whoa!! Anything on a stick, as they say in Minnesota. Next time you’re firing up that grill and have an avocado nearby, drizzle it with a little honey and sear it on the grill. You may fall over and drop your Pimms from sheer pleasure.

  2. You owe me a new keyboard because I just drooled all over mine. I’m a huge food-on-a-stick kinda girl. It’s a great way to grill and making sure everything is uniform. (Yeah, I’m an admitted OCD.)

    Oh by the way, you’re prediction of my recent predicament…you called it. I’m the huntee and I don’t mind at all. :)

  3. Cris

    In the first grouping of four pictures together – what is the picture of the black and red stuff in the pot? I’ve looked and looked and can’t figure it out. Beans with hot sauce? A very blackened tomato salsa? Hot coals into which you have inexplicably stuck a spatula? I must know!

  4. I’m not sure we ever even got summer this year in Seattle – I drooling with envy of your rooftop dinner! I’m also in love with that photo of the city. So beautiful!

  5. oooh! I have been wishing for a tried-and-true hoisin barbeque sauce! I did a half-hearted search a while ago and everything was “lots of ketchup + hoisin = voila” and I gave up. But now, a recipe! From Deb! I know it will be awesome. Mmmm. My and my husband’s taste buds thank you already.

  6. RA

    This weekend was lovely, indeed. It’s too bad that I was laid up with a cold (that’s me sneezing, over here), or else we would have indulged in steaks on the grill. I’m sure we’ll get a warm weekend this fall, though. It’s not quite time to hang up the tongs yet.

  7. Oooh those look so good. This post reminds me of summer, and that summer is soon to be over! Good to enjoy the bbq while it lasts.

    Also, I must urge you to slide some lemon slices on the skewer next time you grill. Let them get all warm and grill-marked up – they’re heavenly squeezed over any kabob, or even over a fresh salad.

  8. It thrills me to find another Pimm’s lover. Bartenders are usually shocked when I order a Pimm’s Cup, but nothing is better in the summer…except maybe a Pimm’s Float. A local restaurant here in Kansas City serves a Pimm’s Float on their dessert menu, it is a cool glass of Pimm’s with a big dollop of lemon sorbet and a few mint sprigs. I haven’t tried it at home yet, but there’s no reason it wouldn’t be just as divine.

  9. For one of my college fund-raising initiatives, we would sell kabobs but called them “meats on sticks” – for some reason it became so wildly popular, we would sell out every time.

  10. kim

    I moved to Kansas City from the northeast a few years ago, and I was floored at how serious barbeque is out here. They have competitive barbeque competitions. It’s insane.

    I will have to try making your sauce and seeing how the locals take to it!

  11. Larry

    Michael Chiarello has one that would work if you like Caesar Salad – use full smaller size romaine leaves, toss in a bowl and dress them and then stand them up in a dixie cup or plastic glass. Use garlic breadsticks as croutons- eat with your fingers!
    Could be done in advance- maybe cut down a wine case with dividers as a “serving tray” up on the roof.
    I did this just at a regular sit down dinner and used water glasses – went over pretty well.

  12. You mentioned your mum’s balsamic/soy/garlic marinade — have you in the past or can you pass on the recipe for that? It’s early spring here and we’re firing up the bbq for my son’s birthday this weekend. I thought marinated chicken and vegetable kebabs followed by the lemon layer cake would be perfect.

  13. Julia S

    I made this the other weekend to use on courgette, bell pepper and chicken skewers and it was fab! I only marinated it for a few hours before grilling, so next time I might try overnight. Thanks for the recipe!

  14. ChelseaaHi

    So my sister was helping to make a sauce for her friend’s bbq. She came across this site and we already had all the ingredients on hand [thankfully] so it was quite easy to make. Boy..can i say it was finger lick’n good! She basted it on grilled chicken..yummy!! Thanks for this simple but delicious recipe <3

  15. Hi! Two things, one dumb, one less so.

    First, the less so: I’m with blithe, above, in interest in your mom’s balsamic/soy/garlic marinade. If you have posted it, can you backlink it? And if you haven’t, please think about it…it sounds good but I can throw off ratios in to “yecch” faster than anyone I know.

    Second, this recipe sounds sugar heavy and ergo I’m wondering if it can be used as a marinade, or whether it’s better left as a brushed-on-at-the-last-five-minutes sauce due to overcharring. Sorry, I am a major beginner here and am still struggling to figure out grilling techniques that produces food people are willing to eat.


    1. deb

      Meme — We don’t use a recipe. Just mix the soy and balsamic and garlic (with honey) to taste. Oh, and we usually add toasted sesame oil, too. I’ve only made this recipe as you see here, but I don’t see why you can’t adapt or marinate it as you see fit. Charring can be tasty!

  16. Sally

    The simplest beef marinade is also one of the best I’ve gotten from a friend. Thin slices of beef round that get laid flat on a cookie sheet and covered with this stuff: to quote “take a jar of apricot-pineapple preserves and dump out half of it. Add a dash of garlic powder and fill up the jar with equal parts sherry and soy sauce. Stir it around with your finger and pour over the strips of beef.” Let it sit at room temperature for up to an hour. Skewer acordion fashion and grill very quickly over very hot coals. Don’t overcook them.

  17. jeanne

    This has become my go-to BBQ sauce! It’s so tasty with the sweet & sour and then the little touch of heat. I use a dry rub on the chicken or ribs (overnight) then cook in the oven til close to done. Then I apply this sauce and cook on the grill until the sauce has caramelized nicely….we like charred bits on our barbeque. My family gobbles this stuff up! Thank you.

    (I’ve yet to try it on the vegetable skewers. Hmmmm. Maybe tonight…….

  18. I love this! I was looking for a good skewer recipe for exactly this (an upcoming BBQ) and this is perfect! I’ve been missing the tasty yet manageable skewers from street kiosks in Thailand and Bali, and this homemade Hoison bbq sauce was perfect for the nostalgia and satisfaction.

    This recipe is great…just don’t forget to soak the skewers in water before grilling!

    I did alter the section half of the batch by adding a dab of fish sauce (at the recommendation of a Thai friend who grills amazingly) for a more authenticly Asian flavor. I loved it and it gave it that last bit of pop to make it feel like I was back in Thailand…but the first batch was amazing too. I highly recommend this recipe!