What's In Season

Spring Strawberries

Fresh berries brighten up a tangy barbecue sauce

Photo: John Burgoyne

Sara Bradley knew better than to ask for her mom’s strawberry pie before spring. “It was my favorite, but I had to wait because it had to be made with fresh strawberries,” says the chef and proprietor of the restaurant Freight House in her hometown, Paducah, Kentucky. “That was one of my earliest lessons in learning to cook.” In the 1930s and early ’40s, Paducah proclaimed itself the “strawberry capital of the world”—an annual festival crowned a strawberry queen, kids skipped school to help pick berries from the more than four thousand acres of fields, and some seasons the town was shipping out as much as 850 freight cars full. While Paducah hasn’t had a strawberry queen in more than seventy years, Bradley still treats the berries like royalty when they’re at their peak. Of course, she loves to make her mother’s pie, but one of her favorite ways to use the fruit is in a barbecue sauce (see recipe). “When we buy strawberries for the restaurant, we’re buying thirty pounds at a time, they’re picked right off the farm, and the ones on the bottom of the bucket are always a little squished,” she says. “So we reserve them for sauce.” In addition to using the tangy sauce to glaze ribs and lacquer chicken, she likes to drizzle it over grilled carrots on a bed of arugula, sprinkled with sliced strawberries. To keep strawberries fresh at home, put off washing until you’re ready to use them, and tuck a folded paper towel into the container they’re stored in. And when selecting them at the u-pick or farmers’ market, grab dark, fragrant berries (they don’t continue ripening once picked, so what you pick is what you get flavor-wise). If you’re unsure, ask if you can have a taste…though it will be hard to stop at one. “It would be impossible to be in a field of fresh strawberries,” Bradley says, “and not enjoy a few straight off the vine.” 


  • Strawberry Barbecue Sauce (Yield: 3–4 cups)

    • 2 tbsp. butter

    • 4 cups fresh strawberries, stemmed

    • 1 shallot, sliced thin

    • 1 can fire-roasted diced tomatoes

    • ½ cup red wine vinegar

    • 2 tbsp. tomato paste

    • ¼ cup maple syrup

    • 2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

    • ½ tsp. garlic powder

    • ½ tsp. ground fennel

    • ½ tsp. onion powder

    • 1 tsp. Aleppo pepper (or sub in a pinch of red chile flakes)

    • 1 tbsp. kosher salt

    • ½ tsp. fresh-cracked black pepper


  1. Melt butter in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add strawberries and shallots, and cook until shallots are tender and strawberries have broken down, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes. Let cool slightly, then pour into a blender and blend until smooth. If the consistency is thicker than you’d like, add water 1 tablespoon at a time until it feels right.

  2. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.