The Best Barbecue Sauce

Thick and smoky, tangy and sweet, this is the best homemade barbecue sauce I have ever made. I’ve tried recipe after recipe and while they have been alright, nothing can quite compare to my husband’s beloved favorite store brand. Until now.

He’ll probably confess that he raised his eyebrows in skepticism when I announced a few Saturdays ago that I was going to attempt a new homemade barbecue sauce recipe that my friend, Liz, had sent me. But even he admitted after the big reveal and taste test that this blows every other recipe we’ve tried out of the water.

Here’s the beauty – barbecue sauce freezes remarkably well. I doubled this batch, froze it in 1 cup increments in freezer ziploc bags and have been able to pull it out for use in all sorts of delicious applications, two of which I’ll be sharing with you this week.

The flavors of this sauce are exactly what we’ve been looking for and while I may continue to make, say, 50 more chocolate chip cookie recipes before the end of the world, barbecue sauce is one of those things where once I’ve found it, I’ve found it. Thanks, Liz! You’ve saved us from a lot of future pain and agony over too-sweet, too-vinegary, too-watery, too-tomatoey barbecue sauces.

The Best Barbecue Sauce

One Year Ago: Skillet Chicken with Broccoli, Pasta, and Parmesan
Two Years Ago: Honey Lime Chicken Enchiladas

The Best Barbecue Sauce

Yield: Makes about 7 cups of barbecue sauce

The Best Barbecue Sauce

Ingredients

  • 2 cups ketchup
  • 2 cups tomato sauce
  • 1 1/4 cups brown sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup unsulphured molasses
  • 2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
  • 4 teaspoons hickory flavored liquid smoke
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper

Directions

  1. In a large saucepan, over medium heat, mix together all the wet ingredients and then add the seasonings. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to low and simmer for at least 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. The sauce will thicken as it simmers (and then as it cools). I try to plan ahead and simmer for at least an hour. Use the sauce to brush onto meats the last ten minutes of grilling or for any other recipe where barbecue sauce is used.
  2. Once cooled, the sauce can be frozen. Thaw in the refrigerator and use as needed.
http://www.melskitchencafe.com/the-best-barbecue-sauce/

Recipe Source: sent to me by my friend, Liz K. (by way of this recipe on allrecipes)

98 Responses to The Best Barbecue Sauce

  1. Jschmalle says:

    Hmmm, we are avid Sweet Baby Ray fans! But since YOU say it's the best, I will have to give it a whirl. You have yet to let us down :)

  2. Karen says:

    GREAT! On my must-try list, now… No HFCS, and that is a HUGE bonus for me!!!

  3. Miss Ra'chel says:

    Sounds fantastic! And as we don't buy bbq that has high fructose corn syrup (bad stuff, that!) I've been wanting to try my hand at making some myself. : )where would I find the hickory flavored liquid smoke though?

  4. Erica says:

    I have made an almost identical recipe and just left out the liquid smoke because I don't have it and it is wonderful! The only BBQ sauce we use anymore!

  5. grace says:

    i won't lie–sweet baby ray does it much better than i've ever been able to do. :)great recipe, though, and stellar photos!

  6. teresa says:

    i'm now thinking of what i could grill as an excuse to try this sauce! it looks amazing!

  7. Katy ~ says:

    I'm thinking pulled pork sandwiches with this best of the best! Sounds wonderful!

  8. Alisha says:

    Is your friend Liz that recommended this the Liz I know? Can't wait to try it!!! We love BBQ sauce! I made the sweet & spicy chicken a while back when I left my freezer door open & thawed a bunch of meat all at once– so I made freezer meals. Anyway, just tried the chicken tonight in tacos. DI-VINE. LOVE IT SO MUCH. NEW STAPLE AT MY HOUSE! Thanks!

  9. Anonymous says:

    I am so glad you liked it. I have not bought bottled sauce since I started making this. I think I had 5 bottles of bbq sauce in my storage room that I donated to the food bank because I knew we would never use them now that I had this recipe. I think my favorite way to use this sauce is in pulled pork sandwiches. So, so good! -Liz K.

  10. hondo3777 says:

    Chef Hymie Grande (www.chefhymiegrande.com ) is the first and only bottled BBQ sauce to carry the seal of the American Diabetes Association on the label. It has no high fructose corn syrup, no processed sugar, it is all natural and vegan friendly. It is produced by Jamie Failtelson, a.k.a. Chef Hymie Grande of Carlstadt, NJ. 5% of proceeds go to the American Diabetes Association.

  11. Danielle says:

    I have this exact recipe, and it is so good. I found it on allrecipes.com, where it has 471 5-star ratings. Hard to go wrong with reviews like that! I think it's darn near perfect. Try it….try it!

  12. Tami says:

    This was very good. I loved the hint of cinnamon and the flavor. My ketchup had high fructose corn syrup in it but I used it anyway. I loved the balance of sweet and tangy. The BBQ chicken braid was melt in your mouth good.

  13. Sally says:

    We made this sauce and the BBQ Chicken Braid. Both were delicious. It was a big hit with the family. I cut the onions pretty thin, even the picky eaters didn't find them. We snacked on it all night, even great cold. The sauce is wonderful. I love the sweet smokiness.

  14. Mel says:

    Tami – it’s ok, my ketchup has high fructose corn syrup in it, too. I haven’t figured out how to deal with that conundrum since my husband is brand-specific on that issue. Glad you liked the sauce,though!

    Sally, thanks for letting me know the sauce and braid worked out! I’m glad it was a hit with your family.

  15. Danielle says:

    I made this last Saturday along with the BBQ chicken braid and it was absolutley delicious! My husband and I already ate the entire braid! I can’t wait to use the rest of the BBQ sauce. So. Good.

  16. Mel says:

    Danielle – so glad that you liked this BBQ sauce – AND the braid. Thanks for letting me know!

  17. Michelle says:

    Mel,
    I’m trying this out on Monday. What is unsulphured molasses? Will normal molasses work? Actually, yes it will work because that’s all I have. And what would be totally awesome is if someone smart and ambitious did a cost comparison of this versus say generic store-brand bbq sauce. What would your estimate be? Close to breaking even? Cheaper more expensive? Your recipes always hit the spot for me!

    Thanks,
    Michelle

  18. Mel says:

    Michelle – I’m pretty sure I used just the everyday dark molasses I had in my pantry…so go ahead and use what you have on hand. I’m almost positive this would be cheaper than store-bought BBQ sauce, although I’ve never done an official comparison (I’m neither smart nor ambitious!!). It might not be significantly cheaper, but it has to be at least a little bit less expensive (at least compared to the KC Masterpiece we used to buy).

  19. julie says:

    what is hickory flavored liquid smoke, is their anoter name for it, as we live in Australia things are called by other names.
    Thanks

  20. Mel says:

    julie – sorry it has taken me a few days to get back to you. I don’t know of another name for liquid smoke – it is basically smoke flavor in a bottle. Here’s an article that may help you identify if it can be found where you live based on how it is made, etc:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liquid_smoke

  21. Reyna says:

    I finally made this, and I’m smacking myself that I didn’t do it sooner. My life may not have been complete up until this point. This is everything I want in a BBQ sauce–sweet, tangy, smoky..with a kick. I would eat my own shoe if it were slathered in this. Perfection.

  22. Greg says:

    What kind of tomato sauce do you use for this? Does it have the herbs and seasonings like a spagheti saue or is it just crushed tomato’s?

    • Mel says:

      Greg – I use plain old tomato sauce that is most commonly sold in the 8-ounce cans. It is right by the diced tomatoes and such but is not the same as crushed tomatoes. I buy the tomato sauce without added herbs.

  23. Natalie says:

    I live near Kansas City which is famous for its BBQ. I have tried many different BBQ sauces and this one is in my top 3, maybe even my very favorite. It surprised me that it didn’t solidify in the freezer. Is that because of the molasses?

    • Mel says:

      Natalie – that’s high praise! Thanks for letting me know. I’m thrilled you love this BBQ sauce. As for the freezing question, it’s a phenomenon and I have no idea why. You might be right about the molasses!

  24. Kattie Earl says:

    Mel-
    I made this a little less than 2 weeks ago, I however did not freeze it….bummer. Is it too late, how long does it last in the fridge???? And I loved it by the way, so good. I made BBQ Chicken pizza with it!

    • Mel says:

      Kattie – I don’t know the scientific formula for how long this stays good but I have kept mine in the fridge for at least up to a month.

  25. Allison says:

    Wow – this is the best bbq sauce recipe we’ve found! Definitely as good or better than all of the storebought sauces. I made it tonight for the bbq chicken salad w/cilantro lime dressing and it was perfect! Thanks!

  26. Aubrie says:

    Mel, this was absolutely AMAZING! I made your pulled pork sandwiches and realized about an hour before dinner that I out of barbecue sauce and didn’t want to run to the store. Instead, I whipped this up and it was lick-the-bowl delicious. Thanks for sharing! I’ll definitely be making it again and again. I especially love the hit of cinnamon. Yum!

  27. Bri says:

    I. Love. This. Sauce!

  28. Leah says:

    thanks so much for this recipe! i made it tonight with some BBQ chicken, it was absolutely fantastic!

  29. Jessica says:

    Do you think this recipe would still turn out alright if it was cut in half? Can’t wait to try it!

  30. Renae says:

    Great recipe! My husband is always difficult to please when it comes to BBQ sauce, and the exact words out of his mouth were “This is awesome!” We are slowly working to remove as much processed foods from our house as possible, and BBQ sauce was a tough one until now. I did make one alteration to more suit my family, as we are have to be sensitive to glycemic values. I substituted amber agave nectar for the molasses and brown sugar, and it turned out great. Thanks for the great recipe.

  31. Lisa Mcleod says:

    My son has requested this for his birthday dinner (to use with the pulled pork). I don’t have any cayenne pepper though. Do you think red pepper flakes would work okay? Can’t wait to try it!

    • Mel says:

      Hi Lisa – yes, I think you could sub the red pepper flakes with good results. Play around with the amount and start small and taste along the way so it doesn’t get too spicy (or not enough!).

  32. Stephanie P says:

    hi there! I just made your BBQ sauce last night, and holy smokes! it was absolutely amazing. I couldn’t stop licking my fingers!! It was finger lickin’ good!! Def a keeper! Thank you so much for sharing!

  33. Julie in TX says:

    Mel! This sauce is truly fantastic (and I’m from Texas where we have LOTS of really good sauce)! I now regret not doubling it as you suggested!

    Thanks for always having great recipes to share. Our families must have similar tastes as every one of your recipes I’ve made is a hit at our house!

  34. n82 says:

    Made this today and it is fantastic!

  35. Tracy says:

    Thanks for the recipe! I will never use bottled sauce again. Made it with your pulled pork. I have never used (or heard of!) liquid smoke before. Makes such a difference in the meat. Having friends over to enjoy this! Thanks again!

  36. Shannon says:

    This came out soooo good! I’m thinking of having a saucy Christmas this year….and gifting out this bbq sauce, your caramel sauce, and your hot fudge sauce!

  37. Kimiko says:

    You are so right, this IS the best barbecue sauce! I made a half batch of this recipe last night, then threw some chicken and sliced onions in the crockpot and poured this sauce on top, and it turned out great. It was the best barbecue chicken I’ve made, by far, and my boyfriend went for second helpings and cleaned his plate, so I know it was a success! This one will go in my permanent recipe collection. Thanks!

  38. Anna says:

    Im about to make this sauce but am not familiar with the celery seed, is it ground or do you leave it whole? Thanks and can’t wait to make it.

  39. Mel says:

    Anna – you can buy it whole and grind it yourself if you have a spice grinder but I buy it preground and it is usually pretty widely available at most grocery stores.

  40. gina says:

    Can’t wait to try this. I’ve been testing out ALOT of homemade bbq sauces and at best they’ve been okay. Hoping it will taste great on spare ribs just like your baby backs.

  41. April says:

    I’ve been wanting to make my own BBQ sauce for a while but I would like to make it without bottled ketchup. Your recipe looks delicious, do you know what I would do to substitute the ketchup with other tomato ingredients?

  42. Mel says:

    April – you could try increasing the tomato sauce but really, you’ll have to just play around with it and see. I’ve never subbed anything for the ketchup so I can’t attest to the results. If you hit on a great combination, let me know.

  43. Beth says:

    This was great…I love more of a molasses kick in mine, so I’ll try increasing that next time and dropping down the tomato sauce. It turned out so nice and thick, and my husband loved it. We kept the extra to use as a rib sauce :)))

  44. Sandra says:

    I am making your BBQ sauce this morning and I wanted to know if you let it simmer with the lid on or off? And do you think that the addition of a small piece of butter wrapper to the sauce will add more body and flavor? ;-) Obviously,I should not attempt sauce making until I am fully awake…lol.

    Thanks again for all of the great recipes and I hope that all is well with you and your family.

  45. Reese says:

    ive been tryin to find the best homemade bbq sauce and all have been okay to alright but still makes me just wanna get store bought. there either too tangy, not tangy enough, not sweet enough, not enough heat, not thick enough so on so on uggh!! im going to try this next weekend i hope this is the 1. the only thing im going to add is taramind and jack daniels. thanks for sharing

  46. Julie says:

    If we don’t have half a jar of this sauce in our refrigerator my fiance starts to panic. I make it once every two weeks at least. Also, every time we go to San Diego to visit friends and family they ask for a jar. We also have become barbecue sauce snobs – NOTHING else compares. Thank you for making our lives complete, Mel.

  47. Reese says:

    i finally made this bbq sauce, and WOW!! i finally found it this sauce has the perfect amount of tang, heat (spice), thickness next time ill add a lil more sweetness more molasses or honey. this sauce was so perfect i was really surprise that it was spicy enough to satisfy me!!! my permanent sauce for life, thank you! my search is over!!

  48. […] share since most people think they have never had vegan food and we eat bark. I like to put a good barbecue sauce on tofu, seitan, or tempeh. Here are some barbecue tips to make this experience […]

  49. Teri says:

    It is on the stove as I type this. I nixed the liquid smoke…not fond of hickory flavor…but added two bay leaves. I find that bay leaves enhance tomato things a lot with a subtle flavor that adds so much. I did add the celery seed whole rather than grinding it as that is how I have used it in the past. Even ‘raw’ it had some great flavor. I can’t wait until it simmers for awhile.

  50. […] from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe  Share this: anotherbiteplease August 4, 2012 Uncategorized No Comments Friday […]

  51. Carter says:

    Thanks! I made this today with some pork ribs. I cut the recipe in 1/2 because boy 7 cups of BBQ sauce is a lot! Came out terrific.

  52. Nikki says:

    I made this using Worcestershire sauce in place of the liquid smoke we were out of. Soooooo good! I canned some for presents!

  53. Reg Dubois says:

    I am making this sauce as we speek. My nose and tastes buds are going crazy. Thank you so much for sharring, it is unreal.

  54. Brittney Dargusch says:

    I don’t have celery seed will it make a big difference to leave it out

  55. Mel says:

    Brittney – the spices all play into the overall flavor so it will impact the interaction between the other spices but you could leave it out and see how it fares. It won’t ruin the sauce to leave it out by any means.

  56. Kathy says:

    Hi Mel! This BBQ Sauce sounds awesome! Question… during the simmering process, do you have the lid on or off? We plan to simmer at least 1 hour. TIA

  57. Kathy says:

    Mel – Found the answer further back in this thread. Obviously I did not read all of the comments and your responses before submitting my question. And the answer is… simmer uncovered! :)

  58. […] Mel’s Kitchen Cafe a while back and it’s one of my favorites! Mel posted a bbq recipe, The Best Barbecue Sauce, and believe me…it IS the best! This is one of those favorites that I like to make ahead of […]

  59. Eric Johnson says:

    This sauce is great. I’ve been trying a handful of internet recipes and as much as I like apple cider vinegar, that’s all I can taste anymore – luckily this one tastes like BBQ. I’m pairing it up with this, check it out:

    http://www.thehungrymouse.com/2009/04/13/oven-baked-bbq-chicken/

    Thanks for the sauce. Yummy!

  60. Eric Johnson says:

    Hi, me again. This sauce is so awesome. Yes!

  61. Teri says:

    I store mine in an squeeze bottle like a ketchup bottle. Easy to dispense and less messy than a wide mouth jar. I may have to buy some liquid smoke for the next time though it is pretty darn awesome without it!

  62. Zee Hope says:

    Can I can this recipe?

  63. carrie says:

    This was great! Just made it and added to my pulled pork…saved me a trip to the grocery store when I realized I was short on BBQ sauce! THe only ingredient I didn’t have was the liquid smoke, but it’s fantastic without it. Thanks for sharing!

  64. J says:

    Funny story….I saw your recipe and another barbecue sauce recipe on allrecipes.com and after I wrote down this one;I began to copy the popular Big Al’s K.C. Barbecue sauce and felt a déjà vu: they are the exact same recipe! And Big Al’s recipe has been on the site for 10 yrs already so I can’t help but feel pretty disappointed by your blog. I was thisclose to subscribing.

    • Mel says:

      J- I’m sorry you feel this way. If you look around the recipes on my site you’ll see that I always cite the source of recipes I’ve found elsewhere. Im not in the habit or business of ripping off other peoples recipes and posting them as my own which I’m sure you didn’t intend to insinuate. In this case, my friend Liz sent me this recipe. I’m not aware of the other BBQ sauce recipe you found elsewhere but perhaps that’s where my friend originally found the recipe. Its been several years since she sent me this one but I’ll have to check with her. Hope you find a BBQ sauce recipe worth making!

  65. J says:

    Thanks for your reply Mel. I understand, it happens so I thought I’d bring it to your attention. But dont take my word for it, here is the link: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/big-als-kc-bar-b-q-sauce/detail.aspx
    You sound like a nice person so I hope you give Big Al the credit he deserves. Thanks!

  66. Patrick says:

    Hi Mel. This sauce looks great. I just have one question:

    If I’m going to use it to make pulled pork in a slow cooker, should I start with a thinner barbecue sauce or will the thickness not matter?

  67. Kim says:

    Being new to the canning world this fall and thinking of canning anything and everything, you can absolutely can this sauce! Doubled, this would make a perfect batch of 7 pint jars. I can not wait to use this as my sauce for my bbq’d beef sandwiches. Yum! Btw, your blog is my go-to! From your pies to your soups and everything inbetween, I am a big fan! Thanks Mel!

    ~Kim

  68. Kim says:

    I haven’t made this yet but plan to soon. I do water baths and its best to put the batch directly into the jars once the sauce is ready and once the bath is boiling I’d give it 40 minutes to process. I think you could still put your recent batch in sterile jars and bring them to boiling and process them that way but I’m not sure how that works or not. Good luck. Canning is fun!

  69. Kendra says:

    I made this bbq sauce today. It was awesome. I made it on a BGE (smoker). It did remind me of Sweet Baby Ray’s, but even better. Our go to store brand is Sweet Baby Ray’s, so it couldn’t have worked out any better. Thanks so much for posting. Definite keeper.

  70. Andre says:

    Hi could you tell me how long it would last in the fridge ? Many thanks

  71. Anne says:

    Hi Mel,

    I’m in Australia and want to give this a go but we traditionally call Ketchup, Tomato Sauce. I was wondering if you could tell me what your Tomato Sauce actually is (I’m thinking its more of a plain, tomato reduction?? and I was going to substitute it with something like a tomato soup/paste blend).

    Thanks!

    • Mel says:

      Anne – the tomato sauce would be more of a plain tomato mixture (thicker than tomato juice but less thick than a tomato paste mixture). Other than salt, the ingredients are usually just tomatoes (but the mixture is smooth and not chunky).

  72. Barbara says:

    Just made this sauce for the second time. Is it wrong to eat it with a spoon?

  73. Paul says:

    That’s one of the best BBQ salses I’ve ever tasted and I’ve maid meney of them all throw my life, thank you so much for your web page.

  74. Jena says:

    Hi Mel,
    May I ask which brand of Ketchup you use for this recipe?
    I personally feel like every brand tastes different so I don’t want to use an off brand and have it ruin the sauce.
    Thank you!!

    • Mel says:

      Hi Jena – I usually use the Heinz natural brand (without HCFS) but I haven’t been able to find it lately so I’ve used regular Heinz.

  75. Louise E. says:

    I made this sauce last weekend to use in your pulled pork recipe. The sauce and the pulled pork turned out fantastic. I recently discovered your website, and I look forward to trying more of your recipes.

  76. Cindi says:

    I just made this. It is very good just a little spicy for me. Next time I’ll just use 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper.

  77. Diane says:

    This was too sweet for me. Flavor seemed alright – my hubby said he wanted more smokiness. I’m tempted to try it again with less sugar but I’m worried I’d mess up the consistency or something.

  78. paul says:

    Try leaving out 1/4 brown sugger? It tast better, you will see?

  79. paul says:

    When you use a sweet BBQ salse what kind of rub do you use? I was always told if you use a sweet salse , you use a hot rub, and when you use a hot salse you use a sweet rub, I like using a hot rub because its easey, judges want a kick when they tast it that’s in tn, I don’t know where you live and what the judges look for. On ribs the meat must fall of the bone, and the tast should tast sweet, with a kick with it. On chicken it should have a kick to it that makes you want more. I don’t like baby back ribes there’s no meat, and sky hi, I cook them to win and that’s all the long ribs have more meet, bit beef ribs are cheep and easey to cook, and have more meet , I’m still learning that’s the fun of it, love here your inpoot? Try leaving 1/4 brown sugger out and it will not be to sweet, try using apple suder viniger, take care and god bless

  80. […] 3-4 cups BBQ Sauce. I make my own using this recipe. […]

  81. stephanie says:

    Ah boo, I have mesquite liquid smoke. I am making this for your BBQ macaroni…should I definitely try to locate hickory? (Thanks, Mel!!)

  82. Barbara says:

    I mixed this up and, like any true chef, I followed it almost… I skipped the cayenne and chili powder (it irritates my stomach), used garlic and celery salts, skipped the salt… and added 2 tbs Worcestershire sauce. Ohhhhhhh Myyyyyyyyyy Go o o o o o d……. I swear I heard the angels singing cuz I knew I died and gone to heaven when I taste tested this while it cooked. I am making baby backs for my hubby this weekend for Father’s day and I know I will have him eating out of my hands with this. This recipe will solidify my status as master rib chef. He might put me down in history for this. Thank YOU!

  83. ryan says:

    Hi mel im a top notch chef in southern Arkansas, I intend on making this recipe without a doubt in mind. Im familiar with over and well beyond 1,000 seasonings and culinary ingredients, ive got to give it to you mel without even making this recipe yet I already know its going to be one of a professional grade. The only thing I advise to alternate is the tomatoe sauce. I firmly suggests using fresh garden tomatoes to make the tomatoe sauce rather then using the store bought tomatoe sauce in a can. I live by one simple rule in the world of flavor and texture when it comes to culinary magic, “make everything from ground zero with fresh additives”. Strong word of advice when handling this sauce try to stick strictly with wood spoons. Greetings to all and Godbless!! Thanks for sharing this wonderful recipe mel!!

  84. Pam says:

    Has anyone made this without butter? My son is dairy free and this recipe sounds delicious. Could I use olive oil?

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