by Edward Southerland and Gary Carter
In John Ford’s movie, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, a young reporter learns that the central truth of the legend that has earned Jimmy Stewart’s character fame and honor is not quite the way the story really happened. The reporter asks his editor what he should do. Without hesitation the editor replies, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” So let it be with PO Sam and his legendary spicy brown gravy barbecue sauce.
PO Sam’s Creation
The sign out front read PO Sam’s. His friends called him Po’ Sam, like the New Orleans sandwich called the po’ boy. Other folks called him just PO. As long as they went away happy after eating some barbecue with his legendary “spicy brown gravy” sauce, PO Sam was happy. And by that criterion, he was a happy man indeed.
Making brown gravy out of the drippings of beef is not new. Cooks have been doing that since cooks have been doing that, but putting brown gravy on barbecue is uncommon, and the spices and the this and that added by PO Sam to make his secret sauce makes the idea even more intriguing. The taste was something that stayed in one’s memory, a perfect marriage of fat and flavor with a smoky intensity. No three-star Michelin kitchen could have done it better.
Are you a brown gravy sauce fan, or do you think red is the only way to go? Leave a Comment and share your favorite sauce recipe or tell us about your choice for best BBQ Joint, Shack, or Stand in Texoma.
For five decades, barbecue lovers in Texoma took the Colbert exit off U.S. 69 and stopped by PO Sam’s place for a brown-gravy sauce fix. He may have had another type of sauce, but if so, no one but a stranger to these parts would ask for it. If a patron wanted sauce to take home, PO Sam would pour some into whatever container was available, from a bottle to a barrel, and figure out a price.
Over the years, PO Sam’s sauce became a link joining folks from this area with a common memory, a shared experience. Bump into someone from this part of the world in another part of the world, and if the conversation turned to food and recollections of home, someone would mention PO Sam and his wondrous brown gravy sauce.
For fifty years PO Sam retreated to a small brick-walled room behind his place in Colbert to call up whatever mystical incantations he added to the carefully guarded list of ingredients needed to make his sauce. When he died, sometime in the 1980s—he was in his eighties—the recipe for the sauce died with him. Or did it?
Several of the joints, shacks, and stands visited by Texoma Living! in our feature article “Texoma’s Favorite BBQ Joints, Stands & Shacks,” offered a spicy brown gravy sauce that they claim is a direct descendent of PO Sam’s elixir. There’s a nephew who said he learned the secrets at PO’s side, an old fellow who used to help PO Sam smoke his brisket and a cook who used to live in Colbert and said he knew the sauce by the taste on his tongue.
Unbiased, empirical testing (We tried all of them. Tough work, but someone has to sacrifice for science.) show that they cannot all be PO Sam’s famous sauce for no other reason than that all the sauces are different, sometimes not by much, but different just the same. They may be related, but they’re not blood kin.
But then who can really say what the real thing was? It has been three decades since PO Sam made his gravy, and it is hard to imagine a palate so sophisticated as to remember the nuances of his flavors today.
Love the spicy brown or hate it, it’s definitely a delicacy that one can appreciate if for no other reason than the time it takes to make. It starts with up to twenty-four hours of smoking the meat to produce the drippings; then come the flour, the water, the cayenne pepper, the black pepper, and the secret ingredients that make it special.
If you would like to make a batch of spicy brown gravy sauce the next time you barbecue, here is a recipe you could try. Is it the real true absolutely authentic thing? Who knows? You will have to channel the spirit of PO Sam to answer that question.
Spicy Brown Gravy Sauce
1 tbsp butter
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup warm water
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp ketchup
1 tsp mustard
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 quart of smoked brisket drippings
1 tbsp cayenne pepper
Salt and black pepper to taste
Add ingredients to the smoked brisket drippings while warm and whisk briskly over simmering heat.