Rubs and sauces can enhance any protein option.

CHICAGO — Consumers’ insatiable quest for flavor adventure knows no borders. This is driving processors to explore ingredients that enable them to put the “wow” back into meat and poultry offerings. Flavorful rubs and sauces (marinades and toppings) function as tools to differentiate in the retail channel, from heat-and-eat containers of pulled pork and meatballs to grill-ready chicken breasts and fajita beef strips to deli-sliced turkey breast and grab-and-go wings.

“More than any other previous generation, millennials and Gen X want to explore and travel with their food, then share with the world what they found,” said Dax Schaefer, chief executive chef of Asenzya. “Today’s developers are wise to take advantage of this consumer curiosity and explore the distinct American barbecue regions, as well as global regional cuisines.”

Regional specialties

As consumers and their palates become more sophisticated, the status quo is no longer good enough. Something as basic as barbecue and wing sauce has become anything but ordinary.

The ingredients in today's barbecue rubs and sauces include a variety of flavors, colors and textures.

“Barbecue sauce in America used to be the classic Kansas City style even if it wasn’t explicitly called out as such,” said Roger Lane, marketing manager of savory flavors for Sensient Flavors. “Regionality and provenance have become more important in all aspects of food, and barbecue sauce is no exception.”

Barbecue sauces typically include vinegar or another acidic viscous component, some sugar and often some heat. But that’s where the commonalities stop.

“It is with the other ingredients where the magic happens,” Mr. Schaefer said. “Take North Carolina, for example. The state is geographically split down the middle on which sauce preference they have. The sauces are as different as can be, and both are delicious.”

Eastern North Carolina serves up a spicy sauce known as a vinegar mop. When consumed alone, it is very acidic and makes the mouth pucker.

“When used with fatty chopped up whole hog, it’s more similar to a vinaigrette,” Mr. Schaefer said. “Western North Carolina uses what is called Carolina sweet, which is not sweet by most American standards. The Carolina sweet is a tomato and yellow mustard-based sauce with a slight kick. In that part of the state they shred their pork. The sauce plays very well on this style of meat.”

Most Americans do not know that barbecue sauce does not require tomatoes. White sauce is what you will find in the deep south of Alabama, and this style is gaining acceptance across the country as an alternative to traditional red barbecue sauce, especially on grilled chicken. It’s typically mayonnaise jazzed up with vinegar, horseradish and mustard.

Sauces and glazes are used to add layers of flavor to commercial barbecue offerings, taking a page from successful pitmasters on the competition circuit.

Barbecue sauces are to the United States like moles are to Mexico. There is great potential in developing authentic regional Mexican cuisine through the use of moles, which are deep, rich complex sauces made from a range of chiles, spices, seeds, nuts and often chocolate, all ingredients indigenous to their region of origin.

One such mole is dulce, also called poblano, which has its origins in Puebla. This popular mole is made with chocolate, and ancho and mulato chiles. It has a sweet aroma and rich taste that complements pork dishes.

Oaxaca mole is very flavorful and complex with its combination of pasilla, mulato, guajillo, cascabel, chipotle and mora chiles. It is traditionally used with chicken. Beef pairs well with ranchero mole, which is indigenous to the state of Morelos. The classic recipe includes ancho, pasilla and mora chiles, along with chocolate, and sesame and pumpkin seeds.

When it comes to wing sauces, anything goes. At the 18th Annual Chicago WingFest, which took place March 5, nearly 50 types of wings were served. Some of the more extraordinary sauces included a spicy, sweet, sour tamarind and a spicy stout barbecue. There was also sriracha lime and peanut butter and jelly sauce described as having a Thai influence.

When it comes to wing sauces, anything goes.

“It’s a little spicy and a little sweet,” said Kevin Killrakis, chef of McQ’s Bar & Grill in Bolingbrook, Ill.

Daniela Barreto, manager and chef of Estadio Grill in Chicago, served wings with two of her family’s secret sauces. Brazinha is made with three fruits – acai, passionfruit and guarana – indigenous to the Amazon rain forest of Brazil. The restaurant imports all three to make this authentic sauce. There was also scorpion sauce, which features seven peppers. One she kept secret. The other six are: arbol, ghost, Guajillo, habanero, Carolina Reaper and scorpion.