Having a great BBQ sauce in your arsenal is important. You can make it when it's time to bring out the big guns for a party or just because it's Sunday.
Everyone has their opinion about BBQ sauce, which often comes down to where you are from or what regional sauce you prefer. There are countless styles of sauce, from Kansas City (thick, sweet, tangy) to North Carolina (vinegar-based).
They can even be super regional like eastern North Carolina (no ketchup in the sauce) vs. western North Carolina (yes, ketchup) vs South Carolina (mustard not ketchup). Some places (like central Texas) don't fully believe in a sauce because the meat — usually beef — is so darn good on its own.
I will admit I have come late to making my own BBQ sauce. There are a lot of good ones commercially available, and the volume of ingredients needed can be a deterrent. That stops right now, and my opinion is forever changed. The benefits of customizing a BBQ sauce to your own taste far outweigh the hassle (which really is almost nothing).
To me, the perfect barbecue sauce is sweet, smoky and has a good amount of tang and a tiny bit of kick. It is balanced and not overpoweringly spicy; it's a wonderful equilibrium that complements the food but doesn't dominate it.
This recipe is more of a Kansas City style. The sweet, tangy Kansas City sauce has come to dominate the barbecue sauce scene, since it's tasty and more approachable than some of the other styles.
Barbecue sauces aren't just for dipping at the table; they are also great for finishing up a cook. Like for BBQ chicken, ribs, pulled pork, or even brisket as they are being finished on the grill. BBQ sauce can easily burn because of the sugar contents, so they are best applied at the end or over indirect or low heat.
5 Reasons to Make Your Own Barbecue Sauce
- You can customize it to your personal taste.
- It's cheaper and high-quality BBQ sauce can be quite expensive.
- It's healthier (slightly) because you control the ingredients.
- You can brag about it (or take the heat).
- You can control the thickness of the sauce, depending on how you will be using it.
The Ingredients List
Ketchup, dark brown sugar, honey or maple syrup, molasses, apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, ground cumin, garlic powder, dark chili powder, hot sauce, Diamond kosher salt, ground black pepper and liquid smoke.
Note: Since a number of the ingredients, including ketchup and hot sauce, are sauces themselves, the flavor profile of these will have an effect on the finished BBQ sauce. Generally speaking, feel free to experiment, leaving out flavors you don't like and even adding other ones you do, until you have fine-tuned the recipe to your personal taste. You may even have slightly different recipes for different dishes.
How to Make Homemade BBQ Sauce
- In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, whisk all the sauce ingredients — minus the ketchup — to completely dissolve and bring to a simmer.
- Lower the heat down to medium-low and whisk in the reserved ketchup. Simmer on low for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until it reaches the desired consistency.
- Cool the sauce to use later, or use it warm when basting onto meat.
How to Store
Store the BBQ sauce in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Glass Mason or Ball jars work great. If the jars are sterilized, and you jar the sauce while hot, the sealed jars will keep for a long time.
An open jar of the sauce will last up to a week in the refrigerator.
It is possible to freeze the sauce, but I wouldn't recommend it. Just jar enough for what you will need and make a fresh batch when you run out.
A Few Tips
- Add the ketchup after the other ingredients have come to a simmer to reduce the amount of splatter it can cause.
- Taste as you go so you can make adjustments to the flavor.
- Keep the sauce thinner if you plan on basting with it as you grill, smoke or add to pulled pork, as it will actually be cooked twice.
- Make the sauce thicker if it will be used as a condiment at the table.
- Don't marinate with BBQ sauce as it can easily burn on the grill. Apply the sauce after the initial sear, so it is only cooked with indirect heat.
- Homemade BBQ sauce makes for great gifts around the holidays. Just be sure it is properly jarred to stay fresh and safe.
Tools & Equipment
- Saucepan — I love a 3-quart saucier.
- Spatula to get every last drop.
- Mason Jar + lid for storage.
- Squeeze Bottles for the table.
- Hi-Temp Silicone Basting Brush for applying the sauce.
Recipes That Use BBQ Sauce
- BBQ Chicken Thighs
- Pulled Pork - Smoked, Slow Cooker or in the Oven
- Smoked Pork Ribs
- Baked beans
- Smoked Pork Shoulder
- Brisket Burnt Ends
Sweet & Tangy Barbecue Sauce
- ⅓ cup Dark Brown Sugar
- ½ tsp. Ground Cumin
- ½ tsp. Garlic Powder
- ½ tsp. Dark Chili Powder
- ¼ tsp. Cayenne Pepper (or to taste)
- ½ tsp. Diamond Kosher Salt (plus more as needed)
- ¼ tsp. Ground Black Pepper
- 2 Tbsp. Honey or Maple Syrup
- 2 Tbsp. Molasses
- ½ cup Apple Cider Vinegar
- 2 Tbsp. Worcestershire Sauce
- 1 tablespoon Dijon Mustard
- ½ tsp. Hot Sauce (or to taste)
- 2 tsp. Liquid Smoke
- 2 cups Ketchup
- Combine and whisk all ingredients except for the ketchup in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until it comes to a simmer but not a boil, whisking to dissolve.
- Reduce heat to medium-low and whisk in the ketchup. Stir frequently and continue to simmer over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the sauce has reached the desired thickness.
- Use it while warm or cool, bottle and refrigerate for up to 1 week or longer if sealed in a sterilized container.
- Recipe makes about 2 ½ cups of BBQ sauce.
- Easily scale up the recipe to make more.
- If you will be basting with the sauce, then you might want a thinner consistency as it will thicken when cooked again on the meat. If serving at the table, you might want it thicker. Just simmer for less time to keep it thinner and for longer to make it thicker.
- Monitor carefully when simmering and be ready to stir and reduce the heat if it starts to bubble and splatter.
Delicious, will never buy store bought sauce again. I did not add the liquid smoke as I planned to use on smoked pulled pork. A lot of tang and delicious!!
Fritz Renner says
I tried your BBQ Sauce recipe and we LOVED it! It was delicious on our BBQ'd chicken. We even had leftover for the next time.
When I first read your list of ingredients, I didn't think we'd have everything, but we did! We were only missing the Liquid Smoke. Can that be added now that it's made, or just wait until the next batch?
Thanks Justin for always having great recipes. We love your food photography too.
Mary Jona says
This sounds very good! Since I can control the amount of sugar I will try it! My one question is, can I can it in a water bath?
Yep, you definitely can. Pun intended.
I don't have instructions on how to do that, but it's a great idea for a post. 🙂
Terri Gallagher says
This was really very good! I tweaked quantities a bit and added onion powder and liquid smoke. Tangy, a tiny bit sweet, some heat. I have tried all the highly-rated recipes and this one is MUCH BETTER!
That is wonderful to hear, Terri! Thanks for letting me know you loved it.