by Bailey White
Any connoisseur will tell you that for barbecue to be truly delicious it has to satisfy a complex list of criteria.
“It’s about taste, texture and tenderness,” said Cole Pepper. “I call them the three Big Ts.”
Pepper, sports director for AM-690, probably knows more about the subject than the average barbecue lover. After months of work and hours of tasting, he’s just launched his own barbecue sauce, Cole Pepper’s Blackjack Barbecue Sauce.
His partner in the project, Rich Goldfarb, is the owner of Blackjack’s Best BBQ, a barbecue joint located on the Westside in an old Skinner’s Dairy, where diners sit at picnic tables and drink sweet iced tea out of huge styrofoam cups.
It was two years ago that Pepper had his first taste of Blackjack’s, and knew he’d found a treasure.
“A lot of people know I’m a barbecue fan,” he said, “but I’m also a skeptic.”
When Goldfarb’s partner called Pepper to invite him to have a taste, he let some time go by before taking him up on the offer.
“It was probably six months later that I finally went by,” said Pepper. “But the first bite I took I thought, ‘Wait a minute, oh yes, they’ve got it.”
Quite a triumph for Goldfarb, a New York native who had grown up in the dry cleaning business. He’d gone to work for his father’s cleaning company at the age of 14, and moved to Jacksonville in the late 1980s to run his own dry cleaning business.
But cooking and grilling excited him more than starching and pressing.
“I started with making rubs; I was always tinkering around in the kitchen,” he said.
Goldfarb decided it was time to turn his passion into a living, and he opened Blackjack’s, with a trio of homemade sauces and a recipe for very tender meat.
It was enough to convince Pepper that he’d found himself a sauce partner.
“I know enough about barbecue to know that you can’t do it well by accident,” he said. “You have to try it, to work hard and to have a love for it. Rich really does have a love for it.
“And Rich is an American Dream type of guy,” Pepper added. “There was no doubt in my mind that it would be high quality, that he wouldn’t cut corners at all.”
The two went to work developing a sauce that suited both the Florida heat and Pepper’s native tastes; he comes from Kansas City, where the barbecue sauce is tomato based, thick and sweet.
After months of work and dozens of test batches (they ran up against one problem when their perfected recipe changed dramatically when heated to the required temperature for bottling), they came up with a sauce that’s tomato based, sweet, but with a tangy, spicy kick and slightly thinner than the Kansas City variety.
“I describe it as a sweet/hot Southern barbecue sauce with some Kansas City roots,” said Pepper. “It’s a nice middle ground between the Kansas City sauce and a sauce from North Carolina, which is thin and vinegar based.”
Pepper and Goldfarb launched the sauce recently and it’s now available at a number of locations around town, including Hot Pans on Southside Boulevard, In the Kitchen in San Marco and Riverside Liquors.
You can also buy it at Blackjack’s, 4701 Shirley Ave., which is open Wednesday through Saturday (starting June 8, it will also be open on Tuesday) from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Catering and delivery are available.