In the South, if you get invited to a barbecue, there’s only one question you ask: Who’s making the sauce?”

Norka Davis wants there to be only one answer: Big Papa.

Big Papa is her husband, Glenn. At 6 feet 5 inches tall, he certainly is big, and is the perfect model for the bottles of Big Papa’s Southern Sauce.

But Big Papa is only the face of the Yakima-based barbecue sauce company. The real answer to who’s making the sauce is Norka herself.

“Everybody thinks that Big Papa is the great barbecuer and all that,” she says with a laugh. “He’s just the face on the label. ... My husband can make a salad, but that’s where his talents drop off.”

Originally from Tennessee and Indiana, the Southern couple put down roots in the Yakima Valley in 1994 after Glenn retired from the military. Norka has been making her own barbecue sauce for close to 15 years, she says, but it was her daughter-in-law who suggested she begin marketing it.

“My daughter-in-law told me, ‘If you put this in a jar, I bet somebody would buy it.’ I did my market sampling at my dinner table,” Norka says.

She launched Big Papa’s Southern Sauce in 2009. Since then, the business has taken off. The sauce is available in 18 locations around the Valley, including Wray’s, and is sold at Ellensburg, Yakima, Roslyn and Puyallup farmers markets in the summers. During the winter months, the Davises market the sauce at area holiday bazaars. The line has expanded to three barbecue sauces, two meat rubs, seven jams (sold under the name Two Sisters), one apricot syrup and two chow-chows — which is a blend of pickled green tomatoes, onions, bell peppers and cabbage. They also sell a variety of seasonal products, including bread and butter pickles and spicy asparagus spears.

The “Southern” part of Big Papa’s sauce is that it’s a sweet barbecue, Norka says, made sweeter with the addition of fresh fruit from the Yakima Valley. The basis for all of the sauces is the apricot syrup, made with fruit from Wapato. In fact, the only part of the sauce that doesn’t come from the Yakima Valley is the jar — those Norka has to get from Seattle.

“Even my labels are from Yakima,” she says. “I didn’t feel the need to go over to Seattle to do something when I could do it here.”

The sauce itself is canned in Gold Bar, where they can produce 35 to 60 cases in several hours. But Norka has hopes to bring the business back to the Valley: She’s working on getting certified through the state to produce the sauce herself and convert part of their house in to a commercial kitchen.

“My hope is to hire local women who have a desire to learn and a desire to make some money,” she says. “This is a grass-roots effort to be an entrepreneur — to get something off the ground. It’s been a real learning experience.”

Most of Norka’s recipes for using the sauces are very simple. The secret to Southern cooking, she says, is “low and slow.”

“You can put a roast or chicken in the crock pot and put a jar of my sauce on it and you have a meal,” she says. “Just add a salad.”

The chow-chow is good with beans and corn bread, but can also be used on burgers or hot dogs.

“People here use it on just about anything,” she says.

Cooks are limited only by their imagination: “I’ll take my dry rub, mix it with flour and fry my chicken. That’s great. I’ll take my meat rub and put it in bread crumbs and a pork chop, and then we have shake and bake.”

Apricot Salmon

Take one salmon filet per person, place it on aluminum foil and poke holes in it with a fork. Pour 1 cup of Big Papa’s Apricot Syrup over the filet. Fold ends of foil over fish and let marinate for about an hour.

Place the salmon filet in a 350-degree oven for 30-45 minutes, or grill it to add a smokey flavor.

Meat Loaf to Remember

1 pound of ground beef

1 teaspoon of salt

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

½ cup of chopped onion

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 cup of Big Papa’s Hot Damn sauce

¾ to 1 cup of quick-cooking oats

2 slices of cheese

½ cup of Hot Damn sauce

Mix all ingredients together and form in loaf pan. Rub the Hot Damn on the top of the meat loaf.

Bake for one hour at 375 degrees. Ten minutes before baking is complete, cut the cheese in half and place on top of meat loaf and finish baking.

Cook’s note: The reason that this is called Meat Loaf to Remember is that after you eat it, there will be a small burn on your tongue.

Fried Chicken

Mix together 1/3 cup of Big Papa’s meat rub and 2 cups of flour in a bowl or bag. Add chicken pieces and turn or shake to cover. Fry in a skillet.

Shake-and-Bake Style Pork Chops

Mix together 1/3 cup Memphis Meat Rub and 1 cup of bread crumbs. Shake on the pork chops. Bake and enjoy.

Add flavor by spreading Cranberry Pepper Jam on top of pork chop after it is done cooking.

• Savannah Tranchell can be reached at 509-577-7752 or stranchell@yakimaherald.com.