Life with more than a dab of barbecue sauce

Musician Ry Cooder can take some credit for Ardie Davis’ position as barbecue sauce royalty.

Ardie Davis, aka Remus Powers PhB, is a judge on the barbecue circuit.  / Photo courtesy of Ardie Davis

Ardie Davis, aka Remus Powers PhB, is a judge on the barbecue circuit. / Photo by Frank Boyer, courtesy of Jack Daniels BBQ

Davis was sitting in his Kansas City, Kan., home on a hot August day in 1984 reading about 80 barbecue joints across the country that he figured he’d never get to visit. Cooder’s “Paradise and Lunch” album was playing, and during the rendition of “Ditty Wah Ditty” Davis had an epiphany. Since he couldn’t get to all the barbecue places he was reading about, he would ask them to send him, prepaid, a sample of their sauce.

In October, he added local sauces to the collection he was building and invited friends and neighbors to a judging on his backyard patio. In honor of the song playing when inspiration hit, Davis called it the Diddy-Wa-Diddy National Barbecue Sauce Contest. They tried 100 sauces.

They held the contest every year after that, raising money for charitable causes. Then in 1987, the contest became part of the American Royal International Barbecue Sauce, Rub & Baste Contest which has become the largest sauce contest in the world.

A retired commissioner of outreach and marketing for the Kansas Department on Aging, the mild-mannered Davis becomes Remus Powers, PhB, a bow tie-and-bowler hat-wearing judge on the barbecue circuit. He is the founder of Greasehouse University, the institution from which he received his PhB, or doctor of barbecue philosophy. The program is now run by the Kansas City Barbeque Society, of which Davis is a charter member.

Davis also is the author of 11 books on barbecue, a lifelong passion since his Oklahoma childhood.

And he still wonders, as Ry Cooder does in song, what does Diddy Wah Diddy mean?

Makes 9 cups

African Groundnut Barbecue Sauce

Ardie Davis says this rich sauce was inspired by a friend from Kenya who makes a killer groundnut stew. Thick and slightly sweet with a surprise ingredient -- sweet potatoes -- Ardie recommends a liberal slather on grilled chicken.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon mashed smoke-roasted garlic, or 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 5 cups tomato sauce
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup crunchy or smooth peanut butter*
  • 2 cups baked mashed sweet potato, no skins
  • 2 tablespoons tamarind pulp or lime juice

Instructions

In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté until onion is tender.

Add remaining ingredients and stir well to combine. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low, and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon. Serve warm.

Refrigerate unused sauce up to 1 week.

*Davis prefers Parkers Farm Peanut Butter, a regional brand from Minnesota found in the supermarket's refrigerated section.

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