Get lost in the sauce: Bringing a ‘Big Easy’ flavor to Pittsburgh

Courtesy of Uncle Jammy’s Sauces. Jamal Etienne-Harrigan’s all-natural and preservative-free sauces can be found in stores around Pittsburgh.

Emily Ambery | Staff Writer


When looking for the perfect complement to a meal, some people might get lost in the sauce. Uncle Jammy’s Sauces, owned by Jamal Etienne-Harrigan, can offer some flavorful assistance.

Uncle Jammy’s Sauces creates small-batch, all-natural and preservative-free sauces, seasonings and dry rubs in Pittsburgh.

“Pittsburgh is a food culture kind of city; definitely food-positive,” Harrigan said. “Pittsburgh is starting to be pro small business and trying to help people grow.”

Harrigan began making wing sauces and dry rubs 14 years ago when a coworker asked him to come up with sauces for a Monday night football party. Harrigan accepted the challenge and came up with his first sauce: “Area 51,” a neon green, avocado, jalapeno and tequila concoction that wowed the football crowd.

“Getting asked to do something creative was the catalyst for everything, and that’s why I jumped on the opportunity,” Harrigan said. “Searching for recipes, techniques and other things kept my creative drive really alive.”

Harrigan’s love for flavor and cooking stems from his home family kitchen. His influence comes from his father’s Caribbean background and mother’s Louisiana roots. Harrigan also incorporates a New England cooking style into his food, as he grew up in Connecticut.

Each sauce, seasoning and rub comes with a creative name, unique flavors and a story detailing its conception and creative process. Along with the story, Harrigan details the best pairings for each sauce and rub, whether it is best on wings, pulled pork or homemade chips.

Some names of sauces include “Funkalicious,” “The Gods Must Be Cajun BBQ” and “Your Arrogance Amuses Me!”

“I really do like to be different — not contrarian, just going out on my own tangent,” Harrigan said. “My process is a little different. Usually what happens is I get enamored with a name or idea and it starts from there, and then I make the recipe to fit the idea. I just let the process happen.”

While Harrigan comes up with a lot of the sauces on his own, he occasionally gets requests from fans of Uncle Jammy’s.

“My favorite part is definitely the end user stage when you can react and interact with people who are using your product,” Harrigan said. “Interacting with people who go to the grocery store to buy your product and the love for your product is surreal.”

Uncle Jammy’s sauces can be found in stores all around Pittsburgh, such as Giant Eagle and Love, Pittsburgh. Harrigan has also branched out into other locations in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey.

Harrigan explained the advantages to starting a business in Pittsburgh. The mid-sized city provides a way to create a name for products or services rather quickly. Harrigan also expressed Pittsburgh’s positive movement toward supporting small businesses.

“The most important thing to do to get into the Pittsburgh food industry space is to research programs. There is a lot of funding for small businesses,” Harrigan said.

Harrigan touched on the importance of networking and awareness as a small business, and especially as a minority-owned small business.

“People don’t know what they don’t know,” Harrigan said. “So networking — overload on the networking events — sometimes other people just don’t know your segment of the population is there. Get in front of people and educate them.”

Harrigan is optimistic about the direction small businesses are taking in Pittsburgh as he continues to grow his own. He encourages everyone with a passion for something to stay with it even when it seems like the bad days are overwhelming.

“Use your passion,” Harrigan said. “Passion is going to get you through. When you get up without having someone to push you, that is what passion feels like.”