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How to Make Homemade Barbecue Sauce

Chicken with Barbecue sauce on a baking sheet

Barbecue sauce is ketchup's cooler, older sibling. Most recipes start with a cup or two of ketchup, followed by splashes of cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, a drizzle of honey, and a few teaspoons of your favorite barbecue spices. It all simmers on the stove to marry the flavors before you begin to baste and smother everything over the grill. With grilling and barbecue season hitting its stride, we wanted to share our recipe notes with you.

What Is Barbecue Sauce Made Of?

Most barbecue sauces in the United States are sweet and tomato-based. Their recipes begin with a foundation of ketchup or tomato paste before they are balanced with sweet and sour ingredients like sugar and vinegar. Spices offer their signature accents and expressions, and we’ll get to those in the next section.

For the most part, you’re trying to make ketchup more interesting, while elevating the flavors of your grilled and smoked meats. Common barbecue sauce ingredients are as follows: Ketchup, tomato paste, apple cider vinegar, white vinegar, minced onion, minced garlic, butter, prepared mustard, honey, agave nectar, maple syrup, cane sugar, brown sugar, molasses, tamarind, fruit juice, pureed fruit, hot sauce, vanilla extract, liquor, beer, and Worcestershire sauce.

Spices For Barbecue Sauce

A simple way to season your sauce is to add a couple spoonfuls of your favorite barbecue spice blend. Our most popular blends for homemade barbecue sauce are World’s Fair Barbecue Rub, Brisket of Love Barbecue Rub, Kansas City Barbecue Rub, Old Virginia Smokehouse Barbecue Blend, and Gateway to the North Maple Garlic Seasoning.


If you’re serious about barbecue spices, you probably like to mix your own. Popular spices and herbs to use for barbecue are; allspice, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, clove, coriander, cumin, granulated garlic, granulated onion, Mexican oregano, mustard powder, nutmeg, paprika, sage, and thyme leaves.


Adding Smoky Flavors to Barbecue Sauce

Barbecue’s smoky flavor comes from cooking over smoldering hardwood coals. Not everyone has a wood fired grill or smoker, so adding smoky flavors to your barbecue sauce is a delicious workaround. This is where smoked spices, smoked salts, and smoky spice blends are helpful. A few of our favorites for adding smoke flavors are chipotle chiles, smoked Spanish paprika, Hawaiian smoked sea salt, and our Milwaukee Avenue Smokehouse Rub.


Making Barbecue Sauce at Home

With the formative flavors of barbecue sauce in mind, it’s time to bring them together. The only equipment you need is a saucepan, stove, and whisk. Preparation is simple. Combine your ingredients, and simmer them for 15 minutes while stirring intermittently.

Our featured recipe below is a jumping off point. You can modify and manipulate the ratios of contrasting flavors of sweet, sour, and spice to suit your tastes. We simmered together the regional barbecue flavors we liked most. Tangy and subtly sweet, it is a perfect condiment for pulled pork, baby back ribs, or smoked chicken legs. It is also pretty good on a bacon cheeseburger too...

World's Fair Barbecue Sauce


More Barbecue Sauce Recipes

Chef Clay’s Homemade BBQ Sauce


Maple Garlic BBQ Sauce


Cherry Chipotle BBQ Sauce




Article by Geoff Marshall, Staff Writer




Robert Nelson on June 21th, 2021

• 1 tbsp bacon grease
• ½ medium onion, diced
• 3 cloves garlic, chopped
• 1 (15 oz) can tomato sauce
• 3 tbsp tomato paste
• ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
• ¼ cup molasses
• ¼ cup brown sugar
• 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
• 1 tbsp liquid smoke
• 1 tbsp yellow mustard
• 1 tsp Spice House Ground Chipotle Chilies
• ½ tsp freshly cracked Spice House Tellicherry pepper corns
1. In a medium saucepan, heat oil over low heat. Add 1 tbsp tomato paste, the garlic and onion and cook, stirring, until softened.
2. Add remaining ingredients and simmer on low about 5 minutes, stirring.
3. Remove from heat and use an immersion blender to blend sauce until smooth, or let sauce cool to room temperature then pour into a blender and blend until smooth.
4. Return to pan and turn heat back on low. Let simmer until thickened.

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