Recipes listed in Idea Alley have not been tested by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
The Shack and its famous barbecue sauce evoke very strong feelings in Arkansans. Many of you shared your thoughts on the recipe we published on April 20, your own recipes, and memories of the Shack in its many incarnations. My thanks to Ed Bush† Greg Simons† Joe Marchese† Robert de Bin Sr.† Debra Roberts† Patti Julian† Hal Matthews† Joy Carter† Eric Fraser† Sue Meyer† Jeff Short and those who wish 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 barbecue most often. And of course we stopped at McClard’s every time we were in Hot Springs. That is, I have no reference to judge, which, if any, is even close to the real thing.
It should be noted that all of these recipes contain ketchup and chili powder, which vary widely in flavor from brand to brand. Vinegar is another ingredient that is consistent in each version, and it can also taste different depending on the type — distilled, cider, red wine, and so on. There is a difference between chili powder and chili powder. Chili powder is pure ground chili pepper, usually a single variety. Chili powder is a mixture of spices, including ground chili peppers.
My colleague, Eric E. Harrison, who reported extensively on efforts to revive the Shack a few years ago, gave a little insight into a version of the sauce, which was bottled and sold by Tim Chappell for a while in the mid-2010s. The ingredients list on the bottle of that sauce in Eric’s possession reads: ketchup, vinegar, water, black pepper, chili powder, salt and sugar.
Please note, there is no Coca-Cola or Grapette soda. Grapette was invented in 1939, five years after the Slaughters opened their original Seventh and Bishop Street locations, so it’s highly unlikely that Grapette was part of the original Shack recipe, but that doesn’t rule out adding it 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. The first is this one from Ed Bush.
“I got this recipe from a good friend when the Shack was still in operation,” Bush writes. “He told me he got the recipe himself from a friend at the Shack. I’ve been making this sauce for over 30 years and everyone I share it with enjoys it.”
The Shack BBQ Sauce
- 2 (32-ounce) bottles of ketchup
- 2 (32-ounce) ketchup bottles of water
- 1 cup vinegar
- 1 small (size not specified) bottle of mustard
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 ounces garlic salt
- 4 ounces chili powder
- 2 to 3 ounces coarsely ground black pepper
- ½ (size not given) bottle of liquid smoke
- Tabasco, to taste
Mix ketchup, water, vinegar and mustard in a saucepan. Bring to boil.
Mix together the sugar, garlic salt, chili powder and black pepper; add to the ketchup mixture. Stir in liquid smoke and Tabasco. Simmer for 30 minutes. Bottle in (pint) sealable bottles.
Greg Simmons and Jeff Short shared nearly identical copies of this recipe.
“I’ve made it several times and it’s a good imitation if not the real deal. I think Walmart now owns Grapette and I’ve been able to find it there. I’ve eaten at the Third and Victory location many times when I was a kid (age 7 or 8) with my parents. My father’s favorite meal was two sandwiches with a small box of buttermilk. We used to use ‘sidewalk service’ where the waitress would hang those handy trays on your car window.”
“I had grown up at McClard’s and Stubby’s in Hot Springs, so I know good ‘Q’! I worked as a chef at the Shack restaurant in Fayetteville while attending graduate school in 1972-73. I enjoyed the work—and the meat, especially the ‘Shack-a-Link’…. A few years ago I followed the recipe and produced a tasty sauce similar to what I remember from the Shack’s.”
Shack BarBQ Sauce
- 3 (24-ounce) bottles of ketchup (keep the bottles)
- 6 (12-ounce) cans Grapette Soda, optional
- 1 pint of regular cheap vinegar
- 1 (4-ounce) can chili powder
- 1 (4-ounce) can black pepper
- 1 (4-ounce) can/bottle garlic salt (do not use garlic powder)
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 to 4 ounces Tabasco
- 1 small jar of plain yellow mustard (size not given, apple size)
In a large bowl, combine the ketchup, Grapette (if using), and vinegar. When not using Grapette, rinse the ketchup bottles with hot water, swishing to get all the ketchup bits 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’s not hot enough), and the mustard. Mix well.
Once the ketchup mixture is nearly boiling, add the spice mixture and stir to combine. Once it boils, immediately lower the heat. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent sticking (the vinegar will bring sweat to your forehead and tears to your eyes…think ventilation here).
That is it.
Remove from heat, pour back into bottles you’ve kept, unfortunately you’ll have too much sauce. Improvise, all life has dry rot.
◼️ Banana bread like Trios in Little Rock for Joy Carter†
◼️ Sandwiches like the ones served at the Venesian Inn in the late 1960s for Ron Henderson† “I started there in 1968. You could smell the yeast in the parking lot. The buns had brown specks and the taste was delicious. The buns now taste like Harps’ Martha White buns,” Henderson writes.
◼️ Fried mushrooms like the ones served at “Sir Loin’s Inn” in North Little Rock for Lu Young† “The restaurant has been closed for a number of years, but I still remember how good they were. Any help with this would be appreciated.”
Email recipe contributions, requests, and culinary questions to: [email protected]