‘Mama Jay’s’ sauce brings the heat to your grill

Secret family recipe has been evolving over the last
30 years


The smells of summer have arrived. Freshly cut grass. Sunscreen. The neighbor’s rhododendron coming into bloom.

Perhaps the most distinctive smell of the season, though, can be found wafting across backyards throughout Western Washington: barbecues.

Summertime is grilling time for Bellingham personal chef Jay Johnson, creator of Mama Jay’s Lip Smackin’ Good Hot and Spicy BBQ sauce.

As a personal chef, Johnson grills for people who are hosting events and in her time off she always brings home-grilled entrees to family gatherings.

“If we have any kind of family gathering, I bring ribs,” she said, adding that she fires up the grill anytime of year, rain or shine.

No matter the occasion, Johnson always brings her sauce.

Sauce is an important part of grilling, she said. It shouldn’t be used to cover up the burnt mistakes of a forgetful griller.

Rather, a careful griller uses sauce to enhance the taste of the meat and the experience of cooking over a flame.

Johnson, 62, has developed her sauce over 30 years of cooking for family, friends and customers who visited her breakfast and lunch stand years ago back in Mississippi. Since barbecuing is a very personal endeavor — the debate between coals and propane is just as fierce as the battle between Coke and Pepsi — Johnson’s sauce is a reflection of her own tastes.

“This (sauce) has taken me a long time to put together,” she said. “People always ask ‘Is your sauce a Memphis, North Carolina or a Texas-style sauce?’ It’s just Mama Jay’s — it’s what I like.”

And Mama Jay likes things a bit on the spicy side. She uses a variety of peppers to achieve three levels of spicy hotness: mildly warm, tip of the flame, and face-meltin’ hot.

“The last one has everything I can throw in,” she said.

Besides taste, the texture of a sauce is also important.

Johnson said she prefers thicker sauces because they tend to stay on the meat while marinating and thinner sauces tend to slide off the meat.

For the best flavor, Johnson recommends seasoning meat the day before you plan to cook it.

The marinade can be a wet sauce or a dry rub — Johnson also makes a Special Blend dry rub — and you should always wrap it and then let it sit, she said.

Seasoning the meat will help tenderize it and give the meat a richer taste.

Other methods of tenderizing can sometimes detract from the taste: “Do not boil your meat. It takes all the flavor out of it,” Johnson said.

In the end, the aim of good grilling and tasty sauces is not just to make the neighbors salivate from the smell, but to please those who will be dining in your own backyard.

“When someone bites into a rib and says, ‘This is so good,’ that makes me feel good,” Johnson said.

Related Stories