A Southern Legend Goes Kosher!
Since 1924, Johnny Harris has been a legendary name in Southern Barbecue. From its beginning as a tiny BBQ “joint”, Johnny Harris Restaurant has grown to be one of the largest and most popular full service restaurants in Savannah, GA. Johnny Harris, the founder, died in April, 1942, but co-owner Kermit "Red" Donaldson continued on and eventually became a full owner. (No, the restaurant is NOT kosher).
Much of the restaurant’s growing reputation, however, was due to the now famous sauce which, like most Southern sauces, achieved its distinction through trial and error over a period of years. In addition to the original flavor, six additional varieties have been added, all offspring of the original sauce. The origin of the sauces can be traced back to a restaurant cook named John Moore, originally from Virginia, who generally kept all of the ingredients relegated to memory. Johnny Harris copied down the recipes and passed them on to his descendants and employees, one of whom was Red Donaldson.
As the years went by, loyal fans of the sauce requested samples to purchase for home use. Being produced by hand in the back kitchen of the restaurant, the first sauces sold were bottled in empty soda bottles. Demand soon surpassed the production capabilities of the busy restaurant's kitchen and, in 1950, the official Johnny Harris Famous Bar-B-Que Sauce Company was born. Red Donaldson died in 1969 at the age of 59, but at the helm he left his wife Maude Donaldson and family members, including his son Phil Donaldson and Phil’s daughter and son-in-law, Julie and BJ Lowenthal. Phil Donaldson is the current CEO and his son-in-law, company president BJ Lowenthal, runs the company.
Why did the Johnny Harris Barbecue Sauce Company decide to go forward with kosher certification? It was due to the help and encouragement (or should we say nudging) of Lowenthal’s friend, Savannah Jewish community leader David Garfunkel.
How did the kashering process proceed? No ingredient changes were necessary, but there were two major challenges — re-formulating the non-stick coating on the sauce vats (it was dairy) and boiling and cleaning every piece of equipment. Both were accomplished and completed in March 2010 by the dedicated, hard-working company staff!
Johnny Harris sauces are distributed nationally and shipped worldwide in gift packs. Gifts of sauce have been sent to servicemen overseas, “northern” friends and relatives, and to all points in between. They have been featured in Bon Appétit, Food & Wine, and on The Food Network. The sauce is still manufactured on site and the heavy aroma of bar-b-que fills the air on "Sauce Makin' Days".
There are currently seven sauce varieties: Original BBQ, Hickory BBQ, Carolina Mustard BBQ, Beef BBQ, Spicey Honey BBQ, Hot Wing Sauce and Steak Sauce.
KosherEye, based in Georgia, is delighted to welcome these authentic, legendary, Georgia made Southern style sauces to the kosher certified community. They are now officially under kosher certification of SAV-K (Savannah Kosher) and bear the SAV-K kosher certification label. We have sampled Hickory BBQ and Original, and look forward to trying the rest.
Now, to the taste test. We followed the Johnny Harris recipe for BBQ Chicken. We placed the chicken on a pre-heated grill. Then, using our long handled silicone brush, we basted our chicken several times with vegetable oil, turning it frequently and continued grilling until it was almost “done”. We warmed about a cup of Johnny Harris original flavored sauce and slathered it all over the chicken pieces. Then we left the chicken on the grill for about 8 minutes more, turning it once. We kept the chicken warm in an oven and served it for dinner, with some warm sauce on the side. In the words of one of our dinner guests Shira, age 9, "This was the best BBQ sauce I have ever tasted!" We also “topped” our brisket with a warmed pour of Johnny Harris Hickory BBQ sauce. Delicious! We look forward to trying all 7 sauce varieties along with the Johnny Harris signature recipe, Mouthwatering Meatloaf, and follow up with you our KosherEye friends!
The seven sauce varieties are available online and at many local supermarkets including Publix, Kroger and Wal-Mart By the way, the most popular flavor is still the original!
For recipes, or to order in gift packs: www.johnnyharris.com. Be sure to request the bottles that bear the SAV-K kosher certification label…and tell them "Hi y’all from KosherEye!" If you try the sauce, let us know how you liked it, how you used it, and send us your recipe!