Whip Up a Tart Cherry Barbecue This July in Northern Michigan

Check the roadside stands or U-Picks in Leelanau County, Old Mission Peninsula, and on Northern Michigan’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 cherry 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, flash-frozen tart cherries work just as well in this sauce.

Tart Cherry Barbecue Sauce
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen tart cherries, pitted
  • 3⁄4 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 ginger
  • 1⁄8 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 a blender or use an immersion blender. Reserve two containers of sauce, one to use for basting on grill and one to pass with your grilled meat at the table.

Spice-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1⁄8 teaspoon ground ancho chile pepper OR dash cayenne pepper
  • Pinch of salt
  • Olive oil
  • 2 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 cherry barbecue sauce.


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