Straw's Midtown Recreation in Holcomb, Missouri, is the home of good pool, snooker, music, foosball, dominoes, video games, great food and the Mississippi Delta's finest bar-b-que. Over a period of years, owner Jerry "Straw" Holsten labored to refine a bar-b-que sauce recipe that dates back to the days of slavery. In fact, at one time only one person to have full knowledge of the ingredients to this delicious delta wet sauce was the grandson of slaves. Here, Straw recounts his efforts to convert this ancient southern wet sauce into a quick and easy dry sauce suitable for today's modern cooking methods. When I worked in a factory in the early 1970's, I would come home and cook the supper meals for my wife and two children. With the help of my mother by telephone, I became a pretty darn good cook! I started barbecuing not long afterwards. I was like most backyard barbecuers and used a wet sauce consisting of half Wickers and Kraft, with a stick of butter, some salt, pepper, hot sauce and a splash of beer to help with digestion. All of this was heated on the stove and though it didn't taste too bad, it was very messy!
In the early 1980's the surrounding towns began having bar-b-que contests. A few of us, who at the time thought we were the best cooks around, entered the Show-Me State Bar-B-Que contest in Kennett, Missouri. We entered all three categories: whole hog, shoulder and ribs. In this tournament we used my basic backyard wet sauce. We came in last in all three categories! We all went home mad and pledged to never compete again! But after a week of fuming, I realized those other people couldn't out-cook me - all I needed was a better sauce!
I began to research sauce recipes and contacted Bruce French of Gideon, Missouri. Bruce was a gourmet cook and used to compete in bar-b-que contests. I needed his input. Bruce told me about a recipe that had been around for generations and had been given to him by an elderly black gentleman from nearby Portageville. I took this vinegar-based recipe and began experimenting. I wanted to keep the strong, vibrant taste of this old southern sauce but eliminate the messiness.
My first third place trophy is one of my proudest possessions. There are no words to describe a victory in the fiercely competitive world of contest cooking. I was still not satisfied with the wet sauce that I got on myself as much as I got on the meat. I know that any meat has its own juices or moisture in it, so why not try to trap that flavor with a dry shake-on bar-b-que seasoning? I had a mission! In the late 1980's I took a long look at my wet sauce and wondered what would happen if I took just the eight dry seasonings and cooked only with them. I then added four more, a little at a time. My dry sauce surprised even me! Its easy application is a godsend to every cook. By 1989, wet sauce no longer existed in my barbecuing. In 1994, I won Grand Champion in the Show-Me State Bar-B-Que contest in Kennett. I will compete this year in the World Championship Bar-B-Que Contest in Memphis, Tennessee. It is the top honor in competition cooking.
My proudest moment in my quest for the ultimate dry recipe was yet to come. Some time before that elderly black man passed away, Bruce French and I had the pleasure of visiting with him again. I also took my dry sauce with us. Wetting his finger, he jabbed it into the dry shake and then into his mouth. Looking off into the distance he spoke out loud to no one in particular, "That's the same sauce I ate when I was a boy." I am proud of my shake-on bar-b-que seasoning and its heritage.