The Untold Truth Of KC Masterpiece Barbecue Sauce

Barbecue sauce can be a very personal, polarizing condiment. Do you prefer yours sweet and tangy? Spicy and tart? Tomato or mustard-based? Eater explains the flavor profile of a barbecue sauce is inextricably linked to its geographical place of origin. They say styles of American barbecue sauce fall into six categories: Eastern North Carolina, Piedmont, South Carolina, Texas, Kansas City, and Alabama. If your mouth waters for the sweet, thick Kansas City-style sauce similar to the kind served up with McDonald's Chicken McNuggets, there's a good chance one well-known brand has something to please your palate.

With nine different variations on the theme of Kansas City-style barbecue sauce, KC Masterpiece has become a staple on grocery store shelves over the past 40 years and counting (per The Kansas City Star). Not only does this brand know the path to its customers' hearts is paved with bourbon and vine-ripened tomatoes (via the company website); it has an interesting history, beginning in 1978 with a child psychiatrist named Rich Davis and his station wagon.

KC Masterpiece barbecue sauce was voted best sauce on the planet

The Kansas City Star reports KC Masterpiece barbecue sauce was the brainchild of entrepreneur Rich Davis who, in his professional life, was a child psychiatrist. When Davis first developed his now-famous sauce, it was originally called K.C. Soul Style BBQ Sauce. But, before bringing the sauce to market, Davis changed the name to KC Masterpiece and adopted a clean, classic-looking logo that he thought would stand out among the competition. Davis founded Masterpiece Products, Inc. and began delivering his special sauce to grocery stores, in person, using his own station wagon.

In 1980, KC Masterpiece's homespun recipe earned Davis the title of "Best Sauce on the Planet" at the American Royal Barbecue Sauce Contest. Make no mistake – that's a pretty significant honor. The American Royal is a non-profit, Kansas City-based organization founded in 1899. It's well-known for its World Series of Barbecue and its Barbecue Hall of Fame boasts celebrity chefs Guy Fieri and Adam Perry Lang among its other inductees.

Not everyone is a fan of KC Masterpiece barbecue sauce

Despite its accolades, not everyone on the globe agrees that this Kansas City-born barbecue sauce is an actual masterpiece. In January of 2021, an NFL match-up, of all things, prompted some to share what they really think of Rich Davis's award-winning concoction. According to The Kansas City Star, when the Buffalo Bills were set to play the Kansas City Chiefs in an AFC Championship game, the host of Buffalo's "Morning Bull" radio show put out a call for all grocery stores in the area to pull KC Masterpiece from their shelves until the Bills secured a victory against the Chiefs. Dash's Markets, a local chain of stores, complied, but the reaction from some on social media was basically, "Meh."

User @h8rproof82 tweeted in response to the news, "Joke's on you ... No one in KC eats KC Masterpiece." @JohnFrancis58 added, "KC Masterpiece is an abomination that has besmirched the good name of Kansas City barbecue for far too long." Ouch. Although these critics seem to be calling out KC Masterpiece for its lack of authenticity, Country Living still lists it as number two on their round-up of "The 8 Best Barbecue Sauces You Can Buy from All Around the Country," pointing out that its flavor seems to equal quintessential barbecue in a lot of diners' minds.

The KC Masterpiece barbecue sauce recipe combines regional ingredients

Even though not everyone is a fan, and some might find KC Masterpiece barbecue sauce too sweet or even slightly chemical-tasting, Davis did put a lot of thought into his award-winning recipe. In fact, it's a combination of flavors from the country's most famous barbecue regions. Barbecue Bible says Davis started out by taking a cue from a tried and true American favorite, ketchup, and gave his sauce a tomato base. Then, he incorporated vinegar from North Carolina's tradition, Georgia and South Carolina's preference for mustard, spices like chili powder and cumin inspired by Texas barbecue, plus molasses and liquid smoke. Detractors notwithstanding, the sauce was clearly a hit commercially.

A mere eight years after its launch, KC Masterpiece barbecue sauce was pulling in more than $5 million in revenue, and Davis, who passed away in 2015, sold the company in 1986 to Kingsford Product Company (known for Kingsford charcoal), which is owned by the Clorox Company (via The Kansas City Star). Today, the brand is home to a wide variety of barbecue sauces, including Sweet Roasted Chipotle and Kentucky Bourbon versions of Davis' original formula.