We happened to be sitting on the patio at Corti Bros. Market the other day, munching on Italian mortadella sandwiches and watching Dan Johnson, Jr., grill chicken breasts. He had brushed them with his dad's barbecue sauce and was handing out cut-up pieces to passers-by. Pretty soon, there was a line.
We tasted samples of the sauce trio he was marketing, and then tasted them some more. They're from Diamond J Ranch in Yuba City -- Gourmet Barbecue Sauce and Marinade (with cranberries; $6.99 at Corti's), Smokey Chipotle Dipping Sauce ($6.99) and Jalepeno Hot Sauce ($3.29). In a word: Wow!
I called Dan Sr. -- Dan "Boots" Johnson - at his home, where he put the phone down for a minute to take a venison roast out of the oven.
"This all started with a crazy idea I had, so I put it out to the public and they went for it," he said.
Boots explained he'd been "playing" at creating a barbecue sauce since 1959 because "I couldn't find any sauces in stores that didn't have liquid smoke in them, and I'm allergic to it." After he retired from CalTrans in 2000, he discovered that everyone who tasted the sauce (at home barbecues and the like) went wild for it.
One thing led to another, and he started packaging and selling the bottled sauce. In the beginning, he sold 48 cases ("Jar by jar, and each case has 12 bottles") at a home show in Yuba City. "I was thrilled, and it just took off from there," he said.
The barbecue sauce is now sold at more than 100 places - supermarkets, specialty stores, delis, mom-and-pops - and is used in a few restaurants.
The success of the barbecue sauce led to the creations of the chipotle dipping sauce and the jalapeno sauce. They're designed to be compatible, so feel free to experiment and mix them together.
Here's a tip from Boots: If you want the barbecue sauce a bit hotter, add to it one tablespoon of jalepeno sauce. Hotter still: Add two tablespoons.
For recipes and more information: www.diamondjbbq.com, (530) 300-3738.
Cort Bros. Market is at 5810 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento, (916) 736-3800.