Aunt Mildred’s #10 brings a sixty-year-old barbecue legacy—and top secret sauce—to KC

Photo by Zach Bauman

Aunt Mildred’s #10 has been open only a couple months, but Earstin Sanders’ barbecue story started more than sixty years ago.

“Our story goes back to 1944,” he says. “My grandpa, MacArthur Williams, had a restaurant called Mac’s Barbecue for forty years in Portland, Arkansas. He came up with the sauce and he passed it onto my mother, Mildred, and she gave me the recipe about thirty years ago.”

During the Great Migration, Mildred Williams moved her family to Rockford, Illinois, a couple hours from Chicago. After years of preparing barbecue for church dinners and selling it hot off her portable grill in parking lots around town (often with her ten children helping her), she opened her own restaurant called The Rib Cage in 1996. There, she served up the smoked ribs she’d become famous for—along with her dad’s barbecue sauce. Sanders, who had relocated to Kansas City in 1985, moved back to Rockford to help his mother with the restaurant.

“She worked at the restaurant until about 2000,” Sanders says. “She had lupus and became too sick to work, so she had to shut the restaurant down, and she moved to St. Louis to be with her sisters. But I’ve always wanted to continue her legacy.”

Sanders came back to Kansas City in 2004, and last year, he began bottling the family barbecue sauce. Mildred had two recipes: classic and sweet and spicy, the latter of which Sanders has tweaked only slightly from the original.

“I think people’s palates have changed over the years, and now people are liking spicy food quite a bit more,” Sanders says. “She did have a spicy version, but hers wasn’t as noticeable as mine.”

Both sauces are Southern-style, which is tomato-based and noticeably sweeter and thinner than the thick and tangy sauces traditional to Kansas City. There are several different types of sugar and seven different spices used in Mildred’s classic sauce. (Good luck getting any further details about the recipe.)

You can watch Sanders prepare the ribs in his smoker on the edge of Truman Road in Independence. In a nod to his mother’s early days, Sanders has continued the family barbecue legacy with a food truck bearing the name Aunt Mildred’s #10.

“Growing up, we had a big, busy household,” Sanders says. “My mom had ten kids, and her sisters and brothers lived with us and they had kids as well, and they would be saying, ‘Aunt Mildred, can you make this, can you make that.’ That name stuck. And the number ten is an ode to all her kids.”

Sanders and his wife, Penelope, opened the truck in August. They run it together, serving up brisket sandwiches, ribs, pulled pork tacos and Chicago-style hot dogs.

The pulled pork sandwiches are a best-seller, and it’s no wonder with the way those tender, juicy mouthfuls get a sleek coating of that sticky-sweet sauce. Sanders’ ribs follow what he calls the “three-two-one process”—three hours in the smoker, then a spritz of vinegar and spice mix, then two more hours in the smoker and one hour of resting before a slab is smothered in sauce and sent off to a happy customer.

The sides get a saucy treatment, too. Sanders’ baked beans are cooked in the classic sauce, and his barbecue fries are crinkle-cut and covered with a generous drizzle of sweet and spicy sauce.“I’m mixing three different regions, with the Southern history, the Chicago influence and of course the Midwest,” Sanders says, “and just trying to build on that family legacy.”

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