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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Homemade Barbecue Sauce
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) vegetable oil
- ½ cup (70 g) onion, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon (2 g) jalapeño, minced
- 2 teaspoons (6 g) minced garlic
- ¼ cup (60 ml) apple cider vinegar
- ¼ cup (60 ml) Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) Dijon mustard
- 1 cup (240 ml) pure maple syrup, or dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon (6 g) paprika, or smoked paprika
- 2 teaspoons (8 g) kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon chipotle pepper powder
- ¾ cup (200 g) tomato paste
- ¾ cup (177 ounces) orange juice
- 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.
- 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.