Garlic's pungent character adds rich, savory flavor to a remarkable range of dishes. The taste becomes especially notable in full-flavored meats such as spare ribs and chicken wings. Sticky sauces help garlic adhere to these finger-friendly foods, and honey -- with its thick texture and robust flavor -- makes an especially good glue for the garlic. Honey-garlic sauces typically fall into two broad styles, either the Asian type used for honey-garlic ribs or a Western-style barbecue sauce.
Things You'll Need
Water or other liquids
Asian-Style Honey-Garlic Sauce
Place a heavy-bottomed, medium-sized saucepan on your stovetop. Thin pots are risky when making sweet sauces, because they tend to heat unevenly and create "hot spots" in which the sauce can stick and scorch.
Measure 1 part soy sauce and 2 parts each of honey and brown, palm or turbinado sugar into the saucepan, to provide the base of your sauce. Add 6 to 8 parts of additional liquid to dilute the first group of ingredients. Water or chicken broth should account for most of that volume, but a splash of hoisin sauce, rice wine or dry sherry helps form a better-rounded flavor.
Crush or mince fresh garlic, allowing 2 to 4 cloves -- or more, if you wish -- per cup of sauce. Add a smaller quantity of sliced, slivered or grated ginger to taste, allowing at least a teaspoon per cup of sauce.
Heat the pot, bringing the sauce gently to a low boil. Stir frequently with a silicon spatula, to keep the sauce from sticking to the pot and scorching.
Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, until the flavors are well-infused and the sauce has thickened slightly. For a thicker sauce, whisk cornstarch into cold water and then stir that mixture into your sauce. Sauce continues to thicken as it cools, so add the starch a little at a time until it just reaches a suitable texture.
Honey-Garlic Barbecue Sauce
Set a heavy-bottomed, medium-sized saucepan on your stovetop. Measure in 1 part honey, 2 parts water and 4 parts ketchup or crushed tomatoes to serve as the base of your sauce. Use 2 to 4 cloves of crushed or minced garlic for every 1/2 cup of honey, to provide a suitable balance of the signature ingredients.
Add sweet, savory, spicy and aromatic ingredients to taste to round out those base flavors. Barbecue enthusiasts typically use varying combinations of molasses, prepared or dry mustard, hot sauce, granulated or dehydrated onion, soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce.
Complete your sauce's flavor profile by adding spices to the base mixture. These might include sweet or smoked paprika, black pepper, white pepper, cayenne, crushed red chilies, and other ground chilies such as anchos. These flavors complement the base notes of honey and garlic, rather than compete with them.
Bring the pot to a gentle simmer, stirring frequently to minimize the risk of sticking and scorching. When you're not stirring, cover the pot with a lid or spatter screen to prevent sticky, scalding-hot spatters from soiling your cooking area or burning your hand. Cook for a total of 20 to 30 minutes, until the flavors are well-infused.
Taste the sauce and assess its balance of flavors. Add salt, honey, garlic or additional spices as needed to bring the varying flavors into harmony.
Use the sauce immediately, or cool it and package it in a food-safe container for later.
Citrus, sesame, five-spice powder, sambal oelek, sweet chili sauce and other Asian flavors work well in a basic honey-garlic sauce, but use them sparingly. The sauce's focus should remain on the two primary ingredients.
For traditional honey-garlic ribs, don't thicken your sauce on the stovetop. Instead, chill the mixture after it simmers; then slow-cook the ribs in their sauce until fork-tender. When the ribs are ready, transfer them to a baking sheet and brown them at 450 degrees Fahrenheit until they're lightly caramelized at the corners and edges. This step is optional, but it adds dramatically to their flavor. Skim any excess fat from the sauce and serve it with the ribs, thickening it with cornstarch if necessary.
Brush honey-garlic barbecue sauce onto wings or ribs before baking them, or use it as a liquid for braising individual portions of ribs. On the grill, it should be brushed on when the ribs or wings are nearly done. If you apply the sauce too soon, its high sugar content makes it likely to scorch and burn over the hot flames.
For a "quick and dirty" sauce, purchase a garlic-flavored barbecue sauce and enhance it with your own honey, spices and hot sauce. Microwaving the honey for 20 to 30 seconds will make it runnier and easier to mix with the sauce.