Homemade Barbecue Sauce

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Homemade barbecue sauce with sweet notes and spicy flavor. It’s the perfect condiment for grilled meats and other summertime BBQ recipes. Plus, this thick tomato-based sauce is ready in just 30 minutes!

Homemade Barbecue Sauce

Making homemade barbecue sauce is easy! And controlling the ingredients allows you to use natural sweeteners like pure maple syrup, instead of high fructose corn syrup. This grilling season, why not impress family and friends with a jar of your own concoction.

Once all of the ingredients are combined and simmered for 20 minutes, you get a sweet and tangy barbecue sauce with a little spiciness to elevate your food from good to gourmet. This sauce can be prepared ahead of time and used on chicken, beef, pulled pork, and seafood.

How to make homemade bbq sauce

  • Saute onion in a saucepan until softened.
  • Add jalapenos and garlic, saute until fragrant.
  • Whisk in apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, maple syrup, paprika, salt, chipotle chili powder, tomato paste, and orange juice.
  • Bring to a simmer until thickened, about 20 minutes.
  • Strain the sauce and cool.

Ingredients portioned in small jars and placed on a marble surface

What are the key ingredients?

A good bbq sauce recipe typically contains a tomato base, acid, sweetness, and spice. Depending on the style you like, you can make adjustments as you go. For this concoction, I tried to shoot for a Western South Carolina style sauce that is sweet, tangy, and infused with some hotter elements to give a little lingering kick!

The sauce base

A lot of recipes I see use ketchup. However, I’ve done a little reverse engineering so you can skip those products loaded with high fructose syrup. All you need is a good ole’ fashioned tomato paste to give a thick consistency. Orange juice dilutes the paste for a pourable consistency while adding natural sweetness and acidity. I prefer fresh squeezed or a store-bought variety that doesn’t contain added sugar.

Aromatics

Sauteed onions, garlic, and earthy paprika provide depth while the dry-heat cooking process creates new flavor compounds from Maillard Browning versus just simmering alone.

Natural sweetener

Using pure maple syrup naturally sweetens the sauce, and adds a nice caramel flavor. Brown sugar is a popular sweetener that has molasses and can be used instead. Coconut sugar is another alternative but will give a slightly different taste.

A spoonful of homemade barbecue sauce out of a stovetop pot

Balance flavor with acidity

To give a bit of tangy-ness I use apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, and Dijon mustard. The acidity helps to balance the sweetness of the sauce. The acid also naturally enhances the flavors.

Add some heat

Whether you can handle fire-breathing dragon heat or just a mild lingering kick, the spice from capsaicin can be adjusted to your liking. I add fresh jalapenos and dried chipotle pepper powder. The peppers provide and upfront stinging spice, while the chipotle gives a smoky flavor and longer-lasting heat. Chili powder, cayenne pepper powder, or freshly cracked black pepper are also tasty add-ins. My recipe is mild, so add more if your taste buds can handle it!

Make it smokey

Generally, grilled meat will already have a nice char flavor. However, to enhance the smokiness, paprika and chipotle are used. I provide the option for sweet or smoked paprika, so play around. Just a small amount of liquid smoke can also be stirred in, but be careful, a little goes a long way.

How long will the sauce last?

This sauce is so versatile and tastes even better the next day as the flavors infuse together. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Ways to use barbecue sauce

I’ve been adding this condiment to my barbecue pork ribs and served on the side with my Santa Maria-Style tri-tip. It’s been a big hit around the house! It’s a classic combination to add to pulled pork, brushed on grilled chicken, or drizzle onto a BBQ chicken pizza.

Sweet and spicy barbecue sauce

Don’t forget to taste as you cook

Taste every 5 minutes to see how the flavor changes as the acids cook-off and the texture of the sauce thickens. Acids like vinegar and lemon juice are natural flavor enhancers but are very volatile (evaporates with high heat) and aromatic. As the sauce reduces, you’ll retain the tangy flavor without the aroma. A sweetener like sugar, maple syrup, honey, or jam helps reduce that bitterness.

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Homemade Barbecue Sauce

Homemade barbecue sauce with sweet notes and spicy flavor. It's the perfect condiment for grilled meats and other summertime BBQ recipes.
Pin Print Review
4.45 from 25 votes
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time30 mins
Total Time40 mins
Servings 16 servings
Course Condiment
Cuisine American

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • ½ cup onion, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon jalapeño, minced
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 cup pure maple syrup, or dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon paprika, or smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon chipotle pepper powder
  • ¾ cup tomato paste
  • ¾ cup orange juice

Instructions 

  • Heat oil in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and sauté, occasionally stirring, until softened for 5 minutes.
  • Stir in minced jalapeños and cook for 30 seconds. Stir in minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Turn heat down to medium low.
  • Whisk in vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, maple syrup, paprika, salt, and chipotle powder, tomato paste, and orange juice.
  • Bring sauce to a simmer, then cook over low heat until thickened and acidity of the sauce has reduced. Stir occasionally, about 20 minutes.
  • Strain the barbecue sauce through a fine mesh strainer. Allow to cool to room temperature, and then serve with your favorite meat.
  • Transfer to an airtight container or jar if not using immediately. Good for up to 5 days and keep refrigerated.

Notes

  • Increase chipotle powder if you would like a spicier sauce or omit for a mild sauce.
  • Cayenne pepper powder or chili powder can be substituted for the chipotle powder.
  • Smoked paprika can be used for a more smoky sauce flavor.
  • Recipe Yield: about 1 cup.
  • Serving Size: 1 tablespoon.

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Nutrition Facts
Homemade Barbecue Sauce
Amount Per Serving
Calories 85 Calories from Fat 9
% Daily Value*
Fat 1g2%
Saturated Fat 1g5%
Sodium 443mg18%
Potassium 247mg7%
Carbohydrates 19g6%
Fiber 1g4%
Sugar 15g17%
Protein 1g2%
Vitamin A 430IU9%
Vitamin C 9.4mg11%
Calcium 34mg3%
Iron 0.7mg4%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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Reader Interactions

26 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Marcus says

    This weekend I spent some time in the barbecue lab working on my rib game and decided to try making my own sauce for the first time, and Oh. My. Goodness. How nice to find a recipe that’s more involved than ketchup + spices, as I was looking for more than a beginner-level challenge. Cooking with fresh vegetables was a ton of fun, I even got to use a few peppers we grew ourselves, and the sauce came out tasting like Accomplishment (hint: accomplishment tastes delicious!).

    • Jessica Gavin says

      I love that you incorporated peppers from your garden to truly make the sauce farm to fork! I like to reverse engineer ketchup recipes to have more control over the amount of sugar and seasonings.

  2. Shari says

    Thank you for creating a sauce that didn’t start with ketchup (😊)! You gave me a way that I could leapfrog into a sauce for my dietary restrictions (no jalapeños, no chipotles). And that I could adjust the sweetness (half the syrup in my case). I also appreciated your substitute suggestions in your notes. I did add a tiny bit of cayenne, just a smidge. It was spicy to me, not at all for my husband. Thanks again, very helpful recipe!

  3. William E Griffith says

    Love this sauce. I did add some peach jelly and more pepper powder. My wife absolutely loved the flavor.

  4. Danielle Wachter says

    Delicious! A little sweet for my taste, so I’d cut it back to a 3/4 cup or even a half cup next time. Didn’t have OJ on hand, so I subbed with white vinegar (because I thought it was too sweet when I tasted it). Great base recipe to expand upon!

  5. Diane says

    HiJessica,
    We made this barbecue sauce and really liked it. Now we are wondering if we can use the recipe as-is and can it. Thanks so much.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Diane- I haven’t tried canning the barbecue sauce. However, if you did, I might still keep it refrigerated because it has bits of fresh onion and jalapeno. You could also strain the sauce before canning. Let me know how it goes!

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