Whether you’re looking to make BBQ pulled pork or a round of succulent ribs, a BBQ sauce is essential. Sadly, store bought isn’t always right—some are too sweet, others taste like ketchup. So the best way to ensure that your taste buds are pleased is by making a homemade BBQ sauce.
Today, I’ll share my favorite BBQ sauce recipe plus two of my go-to’s when we need something extra on the table. I’ll also give you a few tips and tricks on how to create your own.
Here’s a quick look at my barbecue sauce recipe guide:
- Styles of BBQ sauces.
- How to make barbecue sauce from scratch.
- What can you mix with barbecue sauce?
- Memphis-inspired BBQ sauce recipe.
- Southern barbecue sauce recipe.
Styles of BBQ Sauce
Barbecue sauces usually fall under different styles depending on their flavor. Here’s a primer of the principal forms we eat in the U.S.:
1. Piedmont or Lexington-Style Dip
The Piedmont or Lexington Dip originates from North Carolina and is a thin, tomato-based condiment. The style is generally paired with pork shoulder and red slaw. It was inspired by German immigrants who brought with them the idea of pairing meat, mostly pork, with tangy flavors.
2. Eastern North Carolina Vinegar BBQ Sauce
The vinegar sauce from Eastern North Carolina has an acidic, spicy African flavor profile. It’s often considered the mother of BBQ sauce and has a long history of use in North Carolina. We usually see it with traditional whole-hog BBQ.
What’s special about this recipe is that it doesn’t call for tomatoes. Instead, it relies entirely on a combination of cider vinegar and spices such as black pepper, cayenne, hot sauce and crushed red pepper.
It’s very thin and works well as a soak for pork while it cooks.
3. South Carolina-Style Mustard BBQ Sauce
South Carolina shares many of the same BBQ traditions as its Northern counterparts, except for one: mustard. Similarly to the Lexington Dip, South Carolina drew much of its inspiration from German immigrants to create a tangy condiment for smoked meat.
As the name suggests, this recipe is based on mustard and is then thinned using vinegar. Spices are added for a zingy taste that perfectly complements various pork cuts.
4. Kansas City Missouri-Style BBQ Sauce
Moving to Kansas City, Missouri, we’ll find that sweet, thick and sticky BBQ sauce is dominating the grill scene. This style is the essence of American BBQ traditions, and it’s widely seen slathered on ribs.
Molasses and ketchup are the main contributors to its thick, heavy consistency and sweet flavor. To give it that BBQ-friendly taste, it’s infused with liquid smoke. Other ingredients like brown sugar, soy sauce, vinegar and spices also find their way into the recipe.
Although, restaurants and home cooks frequently build on it by incorporating other flavor profiles. This includes anything from an emphasis on pepper and spiciness to extra acidity with vinegar.
5. Texas-Style Basting Sauce
With Texas, we couldn’t expect anything other than an original recipe. Texas-style basting BBQ sauce, or “mop sauce,” is a savory seasoning that’s often applied to cooking meat using a mop.
It’s quite thick and creates a glaze on the meat that moistens it while it smokes for hours. Recipes differ but mostly comprise beef stock, spices and vinegar.
6. Alabama White BBQ Sauce
An Alabama white sauce is perhaps more of a side dish than basting. It’s a creation of Bob Gibson, and we usually eat it with smoked chicken as opposed to most other recipes.
The texture differs, some make it thin and runny, others prefer it thick and sort of pasty. It consists of a combination of vinegar, mayonnaise and pepper. It’s quite simple, but barbecue-pureist often view it as an anomaly.
What Is the Best BBQ Sauce?
If you’re opting for store bought, you have a variety of tasty sauces to choose from. It all depends on what you’re looking for. However, always go for quality brands—otherwise, you may end up with something too artificial.
A favorite seems to be the classic Sweet Baby Ray’s Barbecue Sauce. It has a well-balanced flavor with some smokiness that perfectly complements various barbecued dishes. The texture isn’t too bad either, and it won’t overpower your food.
If you like a BBQ sauce with a stronger taste of vinegar, I highly recommend the Stubb’s Smokey Mesquite Bar-B-Q Sauce. It’s a great blend of acidity and sweetness, which works well with pulled pork or chicken.
How Do You Make BBQ Sauce From Scratch?
A signature BBQ sauce is a must-have for any grill master, and creating your own is surprisingly easy when you know the basics. Here are a few tips for starting your original recipe:
- Before anything, you must find out what you like. Take a look at the classic styles I’ve pointed out above. Consider whether you prefer something tangy and acidic or sweeter and thick.
- Once you’ve pinpointed your preferences, it’s time to build your base. Good ingredients include brown sugar, molasses, apple cider vinegar, butter or ketchup. Go with what you like, if it should be sweet or tart.
- Fruit is a great component to add to your homemade BBQ sauce. If you like a sticky, sweet recipe, consider guava paste instead of purely tomato. Try blackberries or blueberries for a jam-like sauce. Add a squeeze of lemon for a touch of zest.
- Spices help you customize your homemade BBQ sauce. You can include what you like—don’t feel confined to salt and black pepper. For instance, peanut butter or chipotle do well in a sweet and spicy marinade—hoisin is fantastic for an Asian-inspired sauce.
- Your BBQ sauce needs a liquid. Again, what you add depends on what flavor profile you’re going for. Bourbon, red wine, beer or brewed coffee are just some options you can add. A well-known pitmaster knack for a killer homemade BBQ sauce is to use soda, like cola or root beer.
What Can I Mix With Barbecue Sauce?
Sometimes, the flavor just isn’t there. This can happen whether your sauce is homemade or bottled. If this occurred to you, here are some of my top tips for correcting a mediocre recipe:
This is a common occurrence with bottled options. Manufacturers overload with fructose and sweeteners.
What I always do is add apple cider vinegar (you could use rice vinegar). Avoid regular white, which is probably ineffective.
Apple cider vinegar has that fruity, tart taste, which creates a sense of fullness and contrast, cutting the sweetness. Rice vinegar is mild, and a bit sweet but works well when you just need a bit of tang.
Begin by adding one or two teaspoons and, if needed, add more. But stop and taste before. Only use lemon juice if it’s overly sweet.
If the sauce is just too bland, add spices like onion, garlic, peppers or cumin. When incorporating a powder, 1 teaspoon increments is best—avoid eyeballing it as it can quickly turn bad.
For depth, use mustard or a fish-based flavoring such as Worcestershire sauce.
3. Add Some Fire
For a recipe with a punch, add hot sauce. My favorites that I use religiously in my homemade BBQ recipes are green and red Tabasco that I incorporate in half-teaspoon increments.
However, be careful—spicy ingredients can ruin the condiment.
4. For Tartness
A tart sauce is rare, especially if it’s from the grocery store. Nevertheless, to combat this, you need to amplify the sweet flavor. Utilize honey, molasses, brown sugar or agave—avoid wasting maple syrup as it’s too delicate to impact the tartness.
Sometimes, however, this is insufficient, and you’ll need to create depth and complexity. Try an ingredient that complements the sweetness, like garlic or onion powder, 1 teaspoon should do. A pinch of cumin or curry could also work beautifully.
5. Artificial Flavors
Artificial flavoring can ruin any recipe, and it requires some strategic ingredients to overshadow. Fresh juice is your best bet, citrus in particular like orange. You may want to try something sweeter, too, such as mango, pineapple or apple.
If the artificial flavor is severe, add an intricate component to balance it all out. This could be a dash of grated ginger, honey or Tabasco. Brown sugar and Sriacha can help too, but remember to add gradually and taste in between.
Ultimate Barbecue Sauce Recipe
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup ketchup
- ½ cup apple cider vinegar
- ½ cup water
- 1/4 cup pureed onion
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons molasses
- 1 tablespoon prepared mustard
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- ½ tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- ½ tablespoon paprika
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- ½ tablespoon mild chili powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Grab a saucepan and melt the butter over medium heat.
- Once melted, add the pureed onion and sauté it for approximately two to three minutes. Stir occasionally.
- Add the minced garlic and let it cook for another 15 to 20 seconds. When it becomes fragrant, it’s done. Don’t let the garlic burn—otherwise, it will create a bitter taste, and you have to start from scratch.
- When the garlic and onion are ready, combine the remaining ingredients. Add vinegar last. Reduce the heat and leave it to simmer for a total time of 12 to 15 minutes. Stir occasionally to combine the ingredients.
- Remove from the heat and allow it to cool for at least 20 minutes.
- Serve it with pork or chicken, or store in the fridge in an airtight container.
A homemade BBQ sauce is always better than store bought. Bottled options are often too sweet or artificial, and they aren’t easy to correct. When you make your own, you can combine the ingredients you and your family like to create a recipe that’s specifically for you.
I hope you enjoyed my BBQ sauce recipe. As you can see, it’s easy to make and may take you a total time of 30 minutes, including prep time.
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