Homemade barbecue sauce can add a delicious zest to your favorite dishes and make everyday ordinary food stand out. With just a handful of ingredients, you can skip the grocery store-bought sauces and make your own delicious homemade barbecue sauce with a great smoky flavor.
Creating your own barbecue sauce is not only satisfying and delicious, but it's also surprisingly easy and fun. I've got all the key elements of great barbecue sauce, how to make the perfect balance of sweet, savory, smoky, and spice, plus a foolproof recipe that you can use to make homemade barbecue sauce in minutes.
The perfect homemade barbecue sauce can easily take your picnic, cookout, or backyard barbecue to the next level. So here's how to make a delicious and unique sauce that's all your own.
Why This Recipe Works
I grew up in a home where barbecue sauce was generally not in the pantry or refrigerator and for the few dishes that required barbecue sauce, mom made her own. It was a 4 ingredient no-cook sauce that was quick to make and was also super economical. To me, it was the best barbecue sauce ever. It was both sweet and tangy and the perfect sauce for pork ribs and meatloaf.
As the years have passed I still make basically the same sauce and add additional ingredients, when needed, to better suit a dish. But I always return to that basic easy recipe that mom made.
In the world of American barbecue and grilling there are three types of barbecue sauces, tomato-based, mustard-based, and vinegar-based. This homemade sauce is a Kansas City-style sauce meaning it has a tomato base.
Dark brown sugar makes the sauce sweet with caramel overtones, while acidity in the form of prepared mustard and apple cider vinegar balances the sauce with tartness.
This was the heart my my mom's sauce and I still love it. But now, I also add some savory elements like onion and garlic powder. Plus smoked paprika which makes the sauce smoky but not like it caught fire. Last but not least, Worcestershire sauce is all about umami and I can't resist adding its complex savory goodness.
When cooked for just 10 to 15 minutes this is the best bbq sauce ever and a great way to make anything from your next cookout to a plain meatloaf or even simple chicken nuggets taste amazing.
So, let's cook!
Here's what you need to make Homemade Barbecue Sauce:
- Ketchup - This is a Kansas City-style sauce meaning it has a tomato base and ketchup provides a great back-drop for all the other flavors you will add.
- Dark Brown Sugar - This adds rich deep caramel sweetness to the sauce that makes it super delicious.
- Dijon Mustard - To balance the sweetness you need a bit of spicy to balance this sweet sauce. You can add more Dijon mustard if you like a spicy bbq sauce.
- Worcestershire Sauce - Worcestershire is a great flavor enhancer of soups and sauces. It contains many flavors that are savory.
- Apple Cider Vinegar - Acid is another ingredient that balances the sweetness of the sauce. Apple cider vinegar has a touch of sweetness and I also like using white vinegar which is more sharp.
- Smoked Paprika - This will make a smoky bbq sauce without adding liquid smoke which can be overpowering if you use too much.
- Onion Powder and Garlic Powder - These pantry staples will give nice hints of onion and garlic without peeling and chopping.
Please see the recipe card for the exact quantities.
Whisk Together. In a medium saucepan, whisk together all the ingredients.
Simmer. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, reduce heat to a very slow simmer, and cook for 10 minutes to 15 minutes.
Use or Cool and Store. Use immediately or cool to room temperature and store in a glass jar in the refrigerator until needed.
Ways to Use Homemade Barbecue Sauce
To glaze meats with barbecue sauce, spoon and brush the sauce over the surface of the meat, return it to the oven, and let it cook another 15 to 20 minutes for the glaze to set.
Use as a condiment or dipping sauce for:
- Chicken Nuggets.
- Hot Dogs.
My Top Tips
♡ I prefer to make barbecue sauce a day ahead of needing it. This gives the ingredients in the sauce time to marry and time makes the flavor richer.
Substitutions & Variations
When adjusting this sauce by making additions to suit your own taste, make the recipe as written, then add a small specific amount of the ingredient you want to try to a small amount of the sauce. This lets you dabble with the flavors without fear of changing the entire batch of sauce to a taste you don't like.
These quantity suggestions are for an entire batch of sauce:
- Substitute Yellow Mustard. Instead of Dijon mustard, you can use yellow mustard for a sweeter flavor. This is a straight 1 for 1 substitution.
- Add Chili Powder. Add a couple of teaspoons of your favorite chili powder to make a spicier sauce.
- Add Dark Molasses. Dark molasses is a complex flavor. It is sweet, smoky, and tangy, with overtones of sweet baking spices. This ingredient will change the sweet/sour balance of the sauce. Add 2 tablespoons of molasses.
- Substitute Maple Syrup. Substitute up to ¼ cup of maple syrup for the same amount of dark brown sugar to add maple flavoring to the sauce. Let the sauce cook for about another 5 minutes to let it thicken more.
- Substitute Liquid Smoke. Instead of smoked paprika you can use plain paprika and add 1 or 2 drops of liquid smoke. Be careful with liquid smoke, it is very powerful and can overwhelm the sauce if you add too much.
If you like a spicy barbecue sauce you can add a small amount of any one or more of the following ingredients:
- Cayenne Pepper.
- Black Pepper.
- Prepared or Cream Style Horseradish.
- Tabasco Sauce or Your Favorite Hot Sauce.
Make-Ahead & Storage
After it has cooled from cooking you can store homemade barbecue sauce in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week. I like to use a mason jar or a plain glass jar, but you can use any refrigerator-safe, non-metallic container you have on hand.
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Homemade Barbecue Sauce
- 1 Cup Ketchup
- ½ Cup + 1 Tablespoon Dark Brown Sugar
- 2 Tablespoons Dijon Mustard
- 2 Tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
- 2 Tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar
- 1 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
- 1 Teaspoon Onion Powder
- ½ Teaspoon Garlic Powder
- Whisk Together. In a medium saucepan, whisk together all the ingredients.1 Cup Ketchup, ½ Cup + 1 Tablespoon Dark Brown Sugar, 2 Tablespoons Dijon Mustard, 2 Tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce, 2 Tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar, 1 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika, 1 Teaspoon Onion Powder, ½ Teaspoon Garlic Powder
- Simmer. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, reduce heat to a very slow simmer, and cook for 10 minutes to 15 minutes.
- Use or Cool and Store. Use immediately or cool to room temperature and store in a glass jar in the refrigerator until needed.
Encharted Cook Notes
Nutrition Per Serving
All nutritional information on this site is an estimate. Your results may vary.