The Untold Truth Of KC Masterpiece Barbecue Sauce

Barbecue sauce is a very personal, polarizing condiment. 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 11 different variations on the theme of Kansas City-style barbecue sauce, KC Masterpiece has become a staple on grocery store shelves over 40 years. Not only does this brand know the path to its customers' hearts is paved with molasses and vine-ripened tomatoes, 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. That's a 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 their Barbecue Hall of Fame boasts celebrity chefs Guy Fieri and Adam Perry Lang among its other inductees.

KC Masterpiece barbecue sauce combines regional ingredients

So, what exactly makes KC Masterpiece so popular? Perhaps it's that Davis' recipe starts with a classic Kansas City-style tomato base but incorporates ingredients from other famous barbecue regions as well. Barbecue Bible says Davis studied what people all over the country like in their barbecue sauce and added elements to his own region's tomato base. 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, molasses, and liquid smoke. Every good barbecue needs a little smoke, right? While this recipe may strike some as too sweet or even slightly chemical-tasting, clearly, the award-winning sauce was a hit. 

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 Fiery Habanero and Kentucky Bourbon versions of Davis' original formula.