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IDEA ALLEY: More readers’ imitations of Shack sauce recipes

by Kelly Brant | May 4, 2022 at 1:57 a.m.
(Illustration by Kelly Brant)

Recipes that appear in Idea Alley have not been tested by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

The Shack and its famed barbecue sauce evoke very strong feelings in Arkansans. Many of you shared your opinions about the recipe we published April 20, your own recipes and memories of the Shack in its many incarnations. My thanks to Ed Bush, Greg Simmons, Joe Marchese, Robert deBin Sr., Debra Roberts, Patti Julian, Hal Matthews, Joy Carter, Eric Fraser, Sue Meyer, Jeff Short and those wishing to remain anonymous.

I was a teenager when the Shack closed, and to be honest, I don't remember ever eating barbecue from the Shack. Growing up in North Little Rock, Jo-Jos in Levy was where we got barbecue most often. And of course, we stopped at McClard's every time we were in Hot Springs. All of that is to say, I have no reference for judging, which, if any, is even remotely close to the real thing.

It should be noted that all of these recipes include ketchup and chili powder, which vary widely in flavor from brand to brand. Vinegar is another ingredient consistent in each version and it too can taste different depending on type — distilled, cider, red wine, and so on. There is a difference between chile powder and chili powder. Chile powder is pure ground chile pepper, usually a single variety. Chili powder is a blend of spices, including ground chiles.

My co-worker, Eric E. Harrison, who reported extensively on the attempts to revive the Shack a few years ago, provided a bit of insight into one version of the sauce, which was bottled and sold for a time during the mid 2010s by Tim Chappell. The ingredients list on the bottle of that sauce in Eric's possession reads: ketchup, vinegar, water, black pepper, chili powder, salt and sugar.

Note, there is no Coca-Cola or Grapette soda. Grapette was invented in 1939, five years after the Slaughters opened their original location at Seventh and Bishop streets, so it is highly unlikely Grapette was part of the original Shack recipe, but that doesn't rule out the possibility that it was added later. Coca-Cola, of course has a much longer history and it was served at the Shack, so, maybe.

In total I received eight different recipes. First up is this one from Ed Bush.

"I received this recipe from a close friend while the Shack was still in business," Bush writes. "He told me he got the recipe from a friend at the Shack himself. I've made this sauce for over 30 years and everyone I share it with enjoys it."

The Shack BBQ Sauce

  • 2 (32-ounce) bottles ketchup
  • 2 (32-ounce) ketchup bottles of water
  • 1 cup vinegar
  • 1 small (size not given) bottle mustard
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 ounces garlic salt
  • 4 ounces chili powder
  • 2 to 3 ounces coarse ground black pepper
  • ½ (size not given) bottle liquid smoke
  • Tabasco, to taste

Mix ketchup, water, vinegar and mustard in a saucepan. Bring to a light boil.

Mix together the sugar, garlic salt, chili powder and black pepper; add to ketchup mixture. Stir in liquid smoke and Tabasco. Simmer 30 minutes. Bottle in (pint) sealable bottles.

■  ■  ■

Greg Simmons and Jeff Short shared nearly identical copies of this recipe.

Simmons writes:

"I have made it several times and it is a good imitation if not the real deal. I think Walmart owns Grapette now and I was able to find it there. I ate at the Third and Victory location many times when I was a kid (7 or 8 years old) with my parents. My dad's favorite meal was two sandwiches with a small box of buttermilk. We always used 'curb service' where the waitress hooked those nifty trays on your car window."

Short writes:

"I had been raised on McClard's and Stubby's in Hot Springs, so I know good 'Q'! I worked as a cook at the Shack restaurant in Fayetteville while attending graduate school in 1972-73. I enjoyed the work — and the meats, especially the 'Shack-a-Link.'... A few years ago I followed the recipe and produced a tasty sauce to what I remember about the Shack's."

Shack BarBQ Sauce

  • 3 (24-ounce) bottles ketchup (save the bottles)
  • 6 (12-ounce) cans of Grapette Soda, optional
  • 1 pint plain cheap vinegar
  • 1 (4-ounce) can chili powder
  • 1 (4-ounce) can black pepper
  • 1 (4-ounce) can/bottle garlic salt (don't use garlic powder)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 to 4 ounces Tabasco
  • 1 small jar plain yellow mustard (size not given, size of an apple)

In a large bowl, combine the ketchup, Grapette (if using) and vinegar. If not using Grapette, rinse the ketchup bottles with hot water, swishing to get all the bits of ketchup stuck to the sides and add the water to the bowl with the ketchup and vinegar. Mix well. Transfer to a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat.

Meanwhile, in the same bowl used to mix the ketchup and Grapette, combine the chili powder, black pepper, garlic salt, sugar, 1 ounce of Tabasco (you can add more later if it isn't hot enough) and the mustard. Mix well.

Once the ketchup mixture is approaching a simmer, add the spice mixture and stir to combine. Once boiling, immediately reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer, stirring frequently to prevent sticking (during which the vinegar will bring sweat to your forehead, and tears to your eyes ... think ventilation here) for 30 minutes.

That is it.

Remove from heat, pour back into bottles you saved, unfortunately, you will have an excess of sauce. Improvise, all life has dry rot.


◼️ Banana bread like Trio's in Little Rock for Joy Carter.

◼️ Rolls like those served at Venesian Inn in the late 1960s for Ron Henderson. "I started going there in 1968. In the parking lot you could smell the yeast. The rolls had brown specks and taste was delicious. Rolls today taste like Martha White rolls from Harps," Henderson writes.

◼️ Sauteed mushrooms like those served at "Sir Loin's Inn" in North Little Rock for Lu Young. "The restaurant has been closed for several years, but I still remember how good they were. Any help on this would be appreciated."

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