Is Calhoun’s the best barbecue sauce ever?

Early days

 I am making no attempt whatsoever to be objective.  From the moment I discovered Calhoun’s (probably at Murphy’s) I have never purchased another brand. I’ve tried barbeque sauces all over the Carolinas and Florida, and in St. Louis, and even the mustard sauce peculiar to South Carolina, which most Californians can’t stand.

But my go-to sauce, which I always keep on hand, is Calhoun’s Original Southside Bar-B-Cue Sauce. It’s light and slightly spicy, not sticky-sweet like the Memphis style.  As Mike Ross, its creator, explains it, there is no real “Chicago Style” sauce; he had to invent it himself.

Talking to Mike Ross is a treat, especially if you love Chicago as I do. Mike grew up in what is now known as the “Historic Pullman District”. Historic it is, and you can sign up for tours which will guide you through the first model, planned industrial community in the United States, built by George Pullman as a place to produce the famous Pullman sleeping car. It was a company town, sort of like Scotia on steroids, and the scene of a violent strike in 1894.  Mike grew up grilling for family get-togethers (oh, those Chicago summer evenings!) and his sauce recipe had its beginnings there. The name “Calhoun’s” , incidentally, derives from the neighborhood’s Calhoun Street. 

Mike  worked as a correctional officer for 12 years before deciding that Chicago had become too small and a change was in order. He came to Arcata to visit his grandparents who had moved there earlier. Once he hit the tarmac and saw the green hills around, he never looked back.

Mike’s bottling machine

The business is clearly poised for expansion. Mike is travelling to Georgia to pick up a catering-size grill and smoker and looks forward to opening his own place.  Meanwhile, a distribution deal is pending with a partner in, of all places, Montreal, which has a long barbecue tradition of its own, especially with chicken.  He currently has seventeen outlets including Murphy’s Markets and Eureka Natural Foods but if the Canadian connection works out, watch for explosive growth. With all-natural ingredients, Calhoun’s may become the Redwood Coast’s next big export. Visit their website here. 

Have you tried Calhoun’s?  How do you think it stacks up next to Smokin’ Moses or whatever they use at Porter Street? Have you worked with the SBDC or AEDC? Let us hear from you!