Easy homemade bbq sauce recipe 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!
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, impress family and friends with a jar of your own concoction.
Once all the ingredients are combined and simmered for 20 minutes, you get a sweet and tangy barbecue sauce with a 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 bbq sauce from scratch
- Saute onion in a saucepan until softened.
- Add jalapenos and garlic, and 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.
What are the key ingredients?
A good bbq sauce recipe typically contains a tomato base, acid, sweetness, and spice. Depending on your style, you can adjust as you go. For this concoction, I tried to shoot for a Western South Carolina-style sauce that is sweet, tangy, and infused with hotter elements to give a lingering kick!
The sauce base
A lot of recipes I see use ketchup. However, I’ve done a little reverse engineering so that 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.
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.
Pure maple syrup naturally sweetens the sauce and adds a nice caramel flavor. Brown sugar is a popular sweetener with molasses and can be used instead. Coconut sugar is another alternative but will give a slightly different taste.
Balance flavor with acidity
I use apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, and Dijon mustard to give a bit of tanginess. 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 an 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. A tiny 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 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 added this condiment to my barbecue pork ribs and served it 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.
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
- 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
- Saute the Aromatics – Heat oil in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions 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 the heat down to medium-low.
- Add Liquid and Spices – Whisk in vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, maple syrup, paprika, salt, chipotle powder, tomato paste, and orange juice.
- Reduce the Sauce – Bring sauce to a simmer, then cook over low heat until thickened and the acidity has reduced. Stir occasionally, about 20 minutes.
- Smooth the Consistency – Strain the barbecue sauce through a fine mesh strainer. 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 when refrigerated.
- Recipe Yield: about 1 cup.
- Serving Size: 1 tablespoon.
- Adjust the Spice Level: Increase chipotle powder or omit it for a mild sauce.
- Substitutions: Cayenne pepper powder or chili powder can be substituted for chipotle powder. Smoked paprika can be used for a smokier sauce flavor.
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30 Comments Leave a comment or review
William E Griffith says
Love this sauce. I did add some peach jelly and more pepper powder. My wife absolutely loved the flavor.
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!
Jessica Gavin says
Thanks for sharing your modifications for the sauce, Danielle!
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!
Dianne Koehler says
Used WAY less sweetener as we do not like super sweet BBQ sauce, doubled the paprika and pepper. Nice sauce. Using it tonight. Better to blend with Vitamix or food processor than strain.
Jessica Gavin says
Thanks for sharing your recipe modifications!
I was wondering if the bbq sauce could be canned safely as long as I use a pressure canner
Jessica Gavin says
I think if you sterilize the jars, cook the sauce throughly, and pressure can, that would work well for canning. You can refrigerate the sauce to be safe.
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