Whip Up a Northern Michigan Tart Cherry BBQ

Check the roadside stands in Leelalanau County, on Old Mission and on Up North’s fruit row (U.S. 31 North between Traverse City and Charlevoix) in late July, where, in addition to fresh sweet cherries, many farmers set aside delicate tarts for people bent on making fresh cherry pie in season. Another succulent use for these tart cherries right off the tree: this summery, fruity, earthy barbecue sauce that puts an authentic Northern Michigan touch on butterflied lamb, chicken drumsticks or pork tenderloin on the grill. As for the chore of pitting all those red rubies, try this farmers’ secret: if using for jam, jelly or a sauce like this one, where keeping the fruit whole isn’t of the essence, just pinch the pits out of the cherries with your thumb and forefinger. If you can’t get fresh tart cherries, flashfrozen tart cherries work just as well in this sauce.

Cherry Barbecue Sauce

1 cup fresh or frozen tart cherries, pitted3⁄4 cup sweet onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1⁄3 cup water
1⁄3 cup apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons ketchup
1⁄4 cup cherry preserves
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons molasses
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1⁄2 teaspoon cumin
1⁄2 teaspoon ground ginger1⁄8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Mix all ingredients in a heavy saucepan. Simmer, uncovered, over medium-low heat for 30 minutes. Working in batches, purée mixture in blender or use an immersion blender. Reserve two containers of sauce, one to use for basting on grill, one to pass with your grilled meat at the table.

Spice-rubbed Pork Tenderloin

3 tablespoons chili powder1 tablespoon cumin
1⁄8 teaspoon ground ancho chile pepper
OR dash cayenne pepper
Pinch salt
Olive oil2 medium pork tenderloins, excess fat and silver skin removed

Combine first four ingredients in a small bowl. Rub tenderloins with olive oil, and lightly press on rub to coat. (May apply rub up to several hours before cooking, just cover tenderloins and refrigerate.) Prepare grill. Grill tenderloins over direct heat, turning occasionally, for 6 to 8 minutes. Continue cooking over indirect heat, with grill covered, for 8 minutes. Baste all sides of tenderloin and continue to cook for 3 or 4 minutes longer, or until internal temperature is 150°F to 160°F. Allow meat to rest for a few minutes before slicing. Serve with additional warm barbecue sauce.

More Northern Michigan Cherry Recipes

Quick Links to Keep the Food Road Trip Going

Plan Your Vacation in Cherry Country

Vacation Guides for Traverse City, Leelanau, Charlevoix/Boyne City

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