Ask OMC: What's the secret to Secret Stadium Sauce?
Here at OnMilwaukee.com, we pride ourselves in being Milwaukee experts. Since it's literally our job to eat, sleep and breathe all things Brew City, we get lots of questions from our readers.
This is where we answer them.
In the "Ask OMC" series, we take your questions, big or small, and track down the answers. Send your query to firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to include your name and location, and we'll consider it for our next installment.
Our question this time comes from Mark in Greenfield, who asks:
What's the secret to the Secret Stadium Sauce at Miller Park?
At first, our panel of experts wondered if this question was rhetorical. Most Milwaukeeans -- be they diehard baseball fans or folks who think that a hit and run is what happens in the shopping mall parking lot -- have sampled Secret Stadium Sauce at a baseball game or barbecue at some point.
But, we're here to help the uninitiated, as well.
Secret Stadium Sauce is a condiment developed by Sportservice, the vendor at Miller Park and its predecessor, County Stadium. It is served on bratwurst, hot dogs and other sausages and became so popular that it was packaged in 18-oz. bottles and sold at the Brewers FanZone store and in regional grocery stores.
The origin of the Secret Stadium Sauce is murky, which is why it's a secret.
Rick Abramson, who worked his way up from County Stadium vendor to the president of Delaware North Companies Sportservice, is credited with inventing the sauce during the 1970s.
Abramson recently told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he and a group of co-workers wanted to "come up with something" and started mixing barbecue sauce, ketchup and mustard.
"It just sprung up and people walked up and started using it," Abramson told the newspaper. (NBC announcer) Bob Costas became a fan of it, and started talking about it. We began to bottle it, package it and sell it in grocery stores. It has been a cult treat since."
In an interview last fall, Tom Olson, the general manager of Sportservice operations at Miller Park, offered a slightly different version.
"Back in the '70s, when Rick Abramson was around, we ordered ketchup from our vendor," Olson said. "When they went to that palette to send some ketchup up to the concession stands, they discovered that it wasn't ketchup but barbecue sauce.
"There was nothing anyone could do. It was either that or nothing. Somebody said 'Put it on the grill and warm it up.' That's what they did. The next thing you know, Rick is asking, 'How about getting it bottled?'"
A legend was born."It's gone over very well," Olson said. "It's more of a regional thing, a Milwaukee thing. We've got one of our vendors that puts it in stores. If you ask people in Madison, they might not know about it."
Costas helped fuel the sauce's popularity by talking about the sauce during "Game of the Week" broadcasts and other appearances during the 1980s. He talked about the phenomenon in Curt Smith's book "Storied Stadiums: Baseball's History Through Its Ballparks."
"The secret sauce has a formula that's in a vault that makes it taste like another planet," Costas told Smith. "Put beer on the grill and steep it in sauerkraut. On camera, I'd say it's now an official game because have the bratwurst.
"We'd (Costas and partner Tony Kubek) have to alternate play-by-play because one of us would have a mouthful. This became semi-legendary, especially in Wisconsin, to where the concessionaire at County Stadium sent vats of bratwurst to my home in giant industrial size. I'd get jars of the secret sauce, but also letters form Cub fans who where insulted that I didn't say Wrigley Field had better hot dogs."
The story took on another dimension when Costas told a tale of his communication with Ma Pesh, a brat lover from Stevens Point.
"Ma wants to challenge me to a bratwurst eating contest," Costas said in Smith's book. "He enclosed a Polaroid and the guy had to tip the Toledos at about 430. Ma wears bib overalls, he's got a big head, looks like Junior Samples and claims he holds the record for County bratwurst consumption. Says he consumed the most brats in a game between the Brewers and Orioles in August 1972 -- and that this was even more surprising because before then he'd never eaten well against Baltimore. You know, what do ya' say? I wrote back and he wrote back to me and now we're pen pals."
Thousands of bottles of sauce later, the legend lives on.
Here are the ingredients listed on the bottle for Secret Stadium Sauce: Water, tomato paste, corn syrup, vinegar, high fructose corn syrup, salt, modified food starch, spice blend (salt, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, spices and spices extractives), BHA and BHT (preservatives, less than 2 percent triacaicium phosphate added to prevent caking, sodium benzoate (preservatives), capsicum.
R abramson was just vendor and why would management take some concoction a 15 year old vendor made up. Think about it. Rick is known for his tall tails. Tom Olsen the manager at the park tells a different story. The truth is it was a BBQ sauce made by the purveyor Nifda and they sold it as their own. I worked at the ball park at that time.don't believe what he says.
Just reading this article gave me that tingle... you know the one... "It gets ya here. It gets ya right here."
The foot long Polish at The Bradley Center is awesome with that sauce. Probably the best sausage in any stadium in wisconsin. Da Polish! I always eat at least two.
Do you like secret stadium sauce? CUZ I KNOW I DO!!
Bernie | April 15, 2008 at 2:25 p.m. (report)
The only "secrets" to this sauce are its name and that it doesn't tell you how much of each ingredient is used. It is, though, mighty tasty.
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