The Fascinating History Of Stubb's Barbecue Sauce Begins At A Texas Restaurant

Stubb's sauce bottles
Stubb's sauce bottles - The Image Party/Shutterstock

Google around a bit for reigning bottled barbecue sauces, and you'll notice that Stubb's Original Bar-B-Que sauce consistently lands near the top of most lists. With sugar, tomato paste, and vinegar as key ingredients, Stubb's appeals to nearly all barbecue sauce lovers, whether team vinegar or team tomato. For many Southerners, Stubb's is to barbecue sauce as Duke's is to mayonnaise. But the now-iconic sauce didn't start on grocery shelves. More than 50 years ago, Korean war veteran Christopher B. "Stubb" Stubblefield took his culinary skills as a mess sergeant to civilian life when he opened a small restaurant called Stubb's Bar-B-Que in Lubbock, Texas.

With traditional Texas barbecue on the tables and music on the jukebox, Stubb's began drawing nightly crowds looking for good eats and tunes. From 1968 to 1975, the small roadhouse became home to emerging musical artists including Johnny Cash, Muddy Waters, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Joe Ely, and Willie Nelson. It was Ely who first realized that, while Stubb thrived on barbecue and blues, he wasn't the best businessman. In a conversation with NPR, Ely says that Stubb was often so broke that Ely and some fellow musicians would encourage him to make extra barbecue sauce and take it out to sell for him. "We had an organization we called the IRS: Idiots Rescuing Stubb." Eventually, Stubb's repeated run-ins with the real IRS resulted in his being forced to close the doors to Stubb's Bar-B-Que and move from Lubbock to Austin.

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From Austin To Late Night With David Letterman To Grocery Store Shelves

Stubb's Austin
Stubb's Austin -

Stubblefield reopened his barbecue joint in 1985 in Austin, and the music scene followed him. He was still working on his sauce for distribution on the side, and good friend Joe Ely was still there to help promote it. In an appearance on "Late Night with David Letterman," Ely happened to tote along a bottle of Stubb's sauce and introduce it to Letterman, who enjoyed it so much he later brought Stubb himself onto the show.

In the meantime, Stubb was cooking all of his sauce by hand, but with certain unorthodox methods that weren't necessarily conducive to mass production. Stubb employed a 60-gallon cooker and characteristically used a paddleboat oar to stir it. He also utilized empty Jack Daniel's bottles (sans labels) for his sauce, complete with jalapenos for corking. It's also said that bottles would come with a complimentary cassette tape in the early days of the sauce production. As the popularity and demand for Stubb's sauce grew, he eventually expanded his operation to include more help, and in 1992, Stubb's Original and Stubb's Spicy sauces were on grocery store shelves. In the three years following, Stubb enjoyed much-earned success with his barbecue sauce while traveling the country cooking. Stubb passed away in 1995 and was posthumously inducted into the Kansas City-based American Royal Barbecue Hall of Fame in 2019, an award befitting of the true pitmaster and early blues and barbecue legend he was.

Read the original article on Tasting Table