How to Make BBQ Sauce: Homemade BBQ Sauce Recipe

BBQ sauce can help punch up any dish. Check out this guide to learn how to make the perfect homemade BBQ sauce.

Research shows that Americans are one of the top consumers of barbecue sauce in the world. Whether it’s Memphis style or Kansas City style, barbecue is a popular meal choice that continues to reign in many parts of the country. There’s something about homemade BBQ sauce that is just so great.

Knowing how to make it yourself takes your pulled meats, grilled ribs, and other dishes to a whole new level. And it’s pretty easy to do. Once you get the hang of the basic method, you can customize it to suit your tastes.

Ready to get started? Check out this guide on how to make BBQ sauce and you’ll be eating good in no time at all.

Basic Ingredients for Homemade BBQ Sauce

One of the most important things about making your own barbecue sauce is getting familiar with the basic ingredients. Most basic sauces contain a base of ketchup, which is beefed up to create the flavor you’re familiar with by adding Worcestershire sauce, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar and honey.

It’s as easy as combining the ingredients in a saucepan and allowing them to simmer to develop the flavors for 10 to 15 minutes. Stir the sauce occasionally to help the flavors meld and be sure it doesn’t get too hot or it will burn.

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Seasoning Your Barbecue Sauce

One of the best things about developing your own barbecue recipes is that you can play around with the seasonings to create the precise flavor you want to pair with the meat you’re cooking.

When you create your BBQ sauce recipes, consider some of the most popular seasonings to start with, then mix and match your own. Try paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, black pepper, dry mustard, salt, cayenne pepper and seasoning salt.

Once you’ve mastered the basic technique of making your barbecue sauce recipe, you can experiment with tastes to create new and different flavors.

Tips for Making Regional Barbecue Sauce

You might be used to the traditional dark red colored barbecue sauce. It’s a common choice when choosing bottled sauces at the supermarket as well as being the most popular option on restaurant menus. However, depending on the region, it’s definitely not the only kind of BBQ sauce there is.

Learning to make regional classics will take your barbecue menu to brand new heights. Here are some regional variations:

  • Some barbecue sauces omit the ketchup for the base and use a tomato sauce combined with chipotle peppers instead
  • Carolina barbecue sauce is heavy on the vinegar and light on the ketchup
  • South Carolina sauce is sweet and spicy with the addition of hot sauce
  • Traditional Virginia sauce contains apple butter
  • Central Virginia sauce has peanut butter in it
  • Tennessee sauce contains whiskey
  • St. Louis sauce has mustard mixed in
  • Georgia BBQ sauce is distinct for its hint of celery salt
  • Kansas City barbecue has both honey and molasses
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In the southern United States, white barbecue sauce is common and is made with a mixture of mayonnaise, horseradish, garlic, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, and various spices to give it flavor.

Deciding which region is your favorite should play a big role in the type of sauce you learn how to make.

Basic Recipe for Homemade Barbecue Sauce

There are virtually limitless recipes for homemade barbecue sauce, but the best way to get started is to use a very simple recipe. This enables you to learn the techniques so that you can customize the sauce to your own specifications. Here is a basic three-ingredient recipe from Frugal Living.


  • 1 cup ketchup
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce


  1. Combine all the ingredients.
  2. Heat the sauce before using or store cold until ready to use.

This easy recipe shows you which ingredients are most commonly used in barbecue sauce you make at home and before long you’ll be ready to try your hand at jazzing things up with extra add-ins.

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Ways to Add Flair to Your BBQ Sauce

Now that you’ve got it down, you can get wild and create your own signature barbecue sauce. Here are some easy ways to add flair to your sauce and make it something you’ll look forward to making and eating all the time.

  • Give is a smoky flavor with a dash of cumin
  • Make it really spicy with some pickled jalapeno juice or Tabasco sauce
  • Create a sweet and spicy taste with maple syrup and hot sauce
  • Make it a little citrusy with orange or lemon juice 
  • Give it some fruity flair with figs, prunes, apples or mangoes
  • Sweeten your sauce with molasses or brown sugar
  • Mix and match seasonings like chili powder, crushed red pepper, smoky paprika, celery salt, or dried parsley
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The best way to do this is to make small batches of the barbecue sauce base and then try out your different seasonings and blend ins to create the combination that you love best. Once you’ve found it, be sure you write it down so you can recreate it the next time you plan to make barbecue.

Using your BBQ Sauce

You’ve made your barbecue masterpiece so now what? Knowing the best way to use your sauce means creating delicious meals that your friends and family will go crazy for.

  • Thinner, tomato-based sauces are ideal for pairing with a dry rub when you make pork or beef ribs, steaks or burgers
  • Tomato sauces combined with tangy vinegar are best for wet grilling your meats
  • Sweet, smoky and spicy BBQ sauces are tasty on pulled meats, including pork, chicken and beef
  • Vinegar based sauces are a good option for marinating
  • Thicker sauces make better condiments after cooking is complete or for brushing on meat while it’s cooking
  • If you’re up for trying out mustard-based sauces, they pair wonderfully with smoked and grilled sausages
  • The Alabama white-based sauces are better suited for pouring on pulled meats before making them into a sandwich

Sometimes the right meat is exactly what it takes to bring out the flavors of your homemade barbecue sauce. For that reason, learning which meats work best with which sauces is a great skill to have under your belt.

  • Ribs are best served with Kansas City or St. Louis kinds of barbecue sauce
  • Thick tomato sauce is never better than when it’s on pulled pork for a sandwich
  • If you’re serving barbecue burgers, you’ll want a thick tomato sauce as well because it won’t drip out of the bun and mimics the flavors of beef mixed with ketchup
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Again, experimenting is key here so don’t be afraid to try different things and flavors.

Cooking Tips for Using Your Barbecue Sauce

One of the biggest mistakes home chefs make is putting the barbecue sauce on too soon. Experts recommend brushing the sauce on your meat about 10 minutes before it’s done cooking. Too early and you end up with a burned and gummy sauce and too late and the meat doesn’t get a chance to absorb all of the flavors from the sauce.

If you’re smoking the meat, you can put the sauce on the meat sooner since you’re cooking at a much lower temperature. When you’re putting sauce on pulled meats, pour it on when you serve it. You can also serve barbecue sauce on the side so everyone can control how much or how little they want.

Storing the Sauce for the Best Results

Because store-bought sauce is often treated with preservatives, it will last for much longer than homemade sauce. Once your homemade sauce is cooked, you can use your BBQ sauce right away or you can store it in airtight jars in the refrigerator.

Use it up within a couple of days to a week so you don’t run the risk of getting sick from spoiled sauce. If you can’t use it up that quickly, make a smaller batch next time so you don’t have to waste any of it.

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Thinking Outside the Barbecue Sauce Box

Of course, you use your homemade barbecue sauce on ribs, chicken, and pork, but did you know there’s so much more you can do with it? Here are some suggestions: 

  • Use it in place of tomato sauce on pizza then add your favorite toppings
  • You can also add your sauce to slow cooker baked beans
  • Use it on top of meatloaf instead of plain ketchup
  • Try your homemade sauce to make meatballs
  • Use it to flavor your next chicken salad
  • Barbecue sauce makes a delicious glaze for hot wings
  • Pour it on bratwurst and cover with onions
  • You’ll love barbecue chicken tacos, barbecue chicken burritos or barbecue chicken enchiladas
  • Use barbecue sauce to make pulled pork and then bake a dish of nachos
  • Wrap jalapenos stuffed with cream cheese in bacon and brush them with barbecue sauce before grilling

It’s All in the Sauce

Homemade BBQ sauce can be as basic or complex as you want to make it. Making your own is overall cheaper than store-bought, especially if you keep the three basic ingredients on hand in your pantry all the time. It’s also versatile and can be used on so much more than grilled meats. Let your imagination fly.

Let Barbecue Chiefs help you master all of your barbecue techniques. We can also help you figure out the right tools and share hundreds of barbecue recipes you’ve never tried before!

How to Make BBQ Sauce: Homemade BBQ Sauce Recipe

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