Original Article see in the December 2014 Evansville Courier & Press
Author: Aimee Blume: Bonus BBQ with Cleon Michel 12/17/14

Here’s another great Christmas foodie stocking stuffer — locally made Bonus BBQ, an all-purpose sauce by Evansville native Cleon Michel.

“I learned to barbecue with my uncle and his friend who worked at the old Baugh’s BBQ on old Heim Road,” Michel said. “My uncle got some small hogs, and we cut them up, and he made an old throw-together grill to cook them on. I’d never been around anyone who made real barbecue, but the next week I dug myself a barbecue pit and lined it with concrete blocks and put a piece of tin on top of it and used it until it fell apart.”

The recipe for Bonus sauce, appropriately enough, originated with the first large grill Michel bought.

“Years later, I bought a big charcoal-fired grill from someone who wasn’t using it any more, and she sent a barbecue sauce recipe with it for me to try,” Michel said. “So we made the sauce, and it was pretty good, and that’s how I made it for about a year. But I adjusted it a little. I made it thinner, because when the meat cooks it really opens up, and a thinner sauce will soak right in.

“Then one time I accidentally got one of the ingredients wrong when I went to the store. My wife tasted the sauce and asked if I’d tasted it yet. I said, ‘No, do I need to throw it away?’ And she said she didn’t think so, ‘Just taste it.’ It was the best batch of sauce I’d ever made, so we kept doing it that way.”

Michel often provides barbecue for his co-workers at Wayne Supply, where he’s an agricultural field service technician for Caterpillar equipment. He’d let them sample the sauce as he was tweaking the recipe, and many encouraged him to bottle the product and make it commercially available.

So Michel took it to Farm Boy and Big B, and after some work they came up with a commercial recipe that replicated his homemade sauce exactly.

“That was in 2009,” Michel said. “We got it in Schnucks stores in 2012 and have it in Dewig’s in Haubstadt and Posey’s Supermarket in Boonville.”

The great thing about local products is that there are so many stories attached to how they came to be. As always, even the name of Bonus BBQ sauce has a story, this time originating with a friend of Michel’s who appreciates the good things that happen in day-to-day life.

“A guy I work with named Roger Darnell — and he’ll love to read this — would always throw his hands in the air and say ‘Bonus!’ if something good would happen,” said Michel. “I thought it was funny. So when the kids asked me what I was going to call it, I threw my hands up and said ‘Bonus!’ Roger was happy to have me name it that.”

Fans of Bonus sauce often tell Michel how they use it, which is, surprisingly often, not with meat.

“I have people that put it on salad, just put it on there like a salad dressing and love it,” he said. “I know a half-dozen people who do that. I have one guy who has kids, and his wife has to lock it up or they’ll drink it like water. My wife uses a cup of sauce when she makes baked beans, and it’s really good. People put it in their beanie weenies and use it on french fries. It’s really good on french fries if you cook it down to thicken it up a little bit. One thing, if you’re using it with white meat like a chicken breast, you’ll want to use it sparingly because it can overwhelm a chicken breast, and all you’ll taste is the sauce. You have to watch it.”

Because it is a thinner, tangy sauce heavy on the Worcestershire sauce and vinegar, Bonus makes a good marinade on its own or in combination with other ingredients. It’s especially wonderful as a soak for chicken wings before baking into delicious hot wings.

“In March, we’re gonna send the sauce to National Barbecue Association Conference in Nashville for the sauce judging,” Michel said.

The next product in the Bonus line, which should be in stores by the beginning of the year, is a marinade, which will contain no oil and be based on red wine vinegar, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce and powdered mustard.
Bonus BBQ Sauce can be found in all Schnucks Markets, at Posey’s Supermarket in Boonville, Old Fashioned Butcher Shoppe and Dewig’s Meats in Haubstadt.