Bone Doctors’ sauce is the best way to slather up

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Is necessity the father of invention? Orthopedic surgeons David Heilbronner (pictured) and Bruce Wilhelmsen started Bone Doctors Barbeque Sauce after Heilbronner’s hobby helped raise funds to send his daughter’s soccer team to Italy. Photo: Elli Wiliams Is necessity the father of invention? Orthopedic surgeons David Heilbronner (pictured) and Bruce Wilhelmsen started Bone Doctors Barbeque Sauce after Heilbronner’s hobby helped raise funds to send his daughter’s soccer team to Italy. Photo: Elli Wiliams

The best embellishments add to—not detract from—whatever it is they’re embellishing. No one knows this better than David Heilbronner and Bruce Wilhelmsen, whose Bone Doctors’ Barbeque Sauce took more than two years to fully develop.

Like most good stories, this one has humble beginnings. Seven years ago, Heilbronner’s daughter’s soccer team was raising money for a trip to Italy to play in a tournament. Since Heilbronner’s hobby had always been cooking, he thought, why not bring the barbeque and homemade sauce to the park? Rumors quickly spread that his sauce was the real thing.

That fundraiser was the confirmation: They had something special. Finding a name was the easiest part—both business partners are orthopedic surgeons.

“We literally spent two and a half to three years playing in our kitchen,” Heilbronner said. “Almost like running a little laboratory, adding this and taking out that, torturing our family and friends, and we came up with our first sauces, our Original Sauce and our Carolina Bold sauce.”

The Carolina takes inspiration from early Scottish settlers in Eastern North Carolina, who used vinegar to cut through some of the grease and fat from the hogs.

In the world of barbeque, differences are seen regionally: the Memphis-style barbeque sauce has hints of paprika; yellow mustard is the base for the South Carolina variation; the smoky red sauce belongs to Texas; the sweet sauce to Kansas City; the mutton dip to Kentucky; and the vinegar-based original to North Carolina.

Keeping the company based in Charlottes-ville was a conscious decision. Since the earliest barbeque traditions really began in Virginia, said Heilbronner, “we thought it was important to continue that tradition.”

According to Heilbronner, at last count, there were more than 700 barbeque sauces on the market in the United States. Perfecting the product in such an environment became paramount.

“When we first started developing our product, we were using the typical ingredients of ketchup, high-fructose corn syrup and the like,” said Heilbronner. “But we started thinking about what we wanted to produce. We wanted to do something that was going to be different from what’s currently on the market.”

Today, the company offers four different varieties of barbeque sauces with no high-fructose corn syrup, no additives, no preservatives, and all are gluten-free. The team is clearly doing something right, earning a spot in the Top 10 Best BBQ Sauces by About.com and a 2011 Silver Finalist spot in the Outstanding Food category for the sofi Awards, the highest honor in specialty foods from the Specialty Food Association.

The team’s attention to detail extends to its packaging, too. In the retail world, a label needs to catch the consumer’s eye within three seconds. With the help of a marketing company, they came up with a brilliant idea: Put real people on the label.

“Faces tend to draw the eye much more than a cartoon character or just plain words,” said Heilbronner. “We wanted something that was going to really stand out.” Each bottle depicts someone different: a surgeon general in the U.S. Army from 1862 to 1864; a French Greco-Roman wrestler in the late 1890s; and a female fire-eater.

If you want to try one or all of Bone Doctors’ Barbeque Sauces, you can find them at retailers across 27 different states and Canada. Locally, Bellair Market has a signature sandwich that features one of the sauces, and you can stock up at Whole Foods Market, Market Street Wineshops, C’ville Market, Feast!, The Happy Cook, and Greenwood Gourmet Grocery, to name a few.

When it comes to sauce, are you for sweet or spicy? Leave a comment below! 

  • Spicy-Like

    Spicy. The Cozy Corner in Memphis makes this hallucinogenically hot BBQ sauce. Dang I miss that stuff.

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