Homemade BBQ Sauce

This BBQ sauce recipe is quick and easy to make and SO good you’ll never want store-bought again!

This homemade BBQ Sauce recipe is an intoxicating blend of sweet, tangy, spicy, smoky and ready in less than 20 minutes – 15 of those minutes are hands-off simmering!  It’s made by simmering simple pantry staples of ketchup, molasses, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, liquid smoke, seasonings and my secret ingredient to create the best barbecue sauce you ever tasted!  This BBQ Sauce recipe is the perfect condiment for grilled chicken, brisket, ribs, burgers, sandwiches, and even nachos or pizza!   It is make-ahead friendly, freezer friendly and make-EVERYTHING-better friendly! 

showing how thick and rich BBQ Sauce recipe is by dipping a spoon into a mason jar of sauce

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BBQ SAUCE RECIPE

Since sharing my BBQ Ribs recipe years ago, it has received hundreds of adoring reviews, many claiming the homemade BBQ Sauce is the best they’ve ever tasted and multiple comments claiming they could “drink the sauce.” So, without further ado, I finally bring you a post dedicated to the BEST BBQ Sauce – but you don’t have to take my word for it:

The SAUCE, is absolutely the best, better than any homemade or out of a bottle we’ve ever had. – Stephanie

The best part is your BBQ sauce. That is the best I have ever had and I will be making my own (your recipe) from here on out. – Terry

Best part is my BBQ/smoked meat snob boyfriend was obsessed with the BBQ sauce – so much so that he now requests I make it anytime we BBQ!  – Natalie

The bbq sauce is amazing, I could drink it, it tastes that good. – Lacie

The sauce is so good that I’ll never buy a bottle of sauce again. – JFender

And this is now my BBQ sauce recipe from here on out. – Matthew

The BBQ sauce were amazing!! I’ve made few different BBQ sauces before, but this one is the best, even on burgers. – Stacie

The Blackberry preserves and liquid smoke gave the ribs an exotic flavor without changing the true style of southern cooking. I am printing and putting into my personal cookbook that I have for my favorite recipes. 5 out of 5 starts. – Lori

So, let’s talk about this praise-worthy BBQ Sauce recipe.  With Memorial Day next week and summer quickly approaching, everyone needs the best BBQ Sauce recipe from scratch.  This thick, rich, intensely flavored condiment instantly elevates everything it touches.  This homemade BBQ Sauce also earns major points because it’s totally make-ahead friendly – all you have to do is pull it out come grill time and you have barbecue magic.

We use this barbecue sauce regularly in our house to make BBQ ribs, BBQ brisket, BBQ brisket sandwiches, BBQ pulled pork, BBQ pulled chicken, BBQ Burgers, BBQ Chicken Pizza and of course it’s a favorite to dunk popcorn chicken and chicken tenders in.  You can also use it for baked beans, meatloaf, and anything else you would normally use store-bought barbecue sauce for.

With so many ways to enjoy BBQ Sauce, you will LOVE how easy it is to make at home and love how pantry friendly it is – you probably have almost all (if not all) of the ingredients in your refrigerator or pantry already!  If not, they are easy to keep stocked. 

To make this homemade BBQ Sauce, combine all the ingredients in one saucepan and simmer on the stove for 15 minutes – that’s it!  Easy to make, easy to cleanup and easily better than any store-bought sauces!

showing how to use BBQ sauce recipe by smothering ribs with homemade BBQ sauce

BEST BBQ SAUCE

So, what makes this BBQ Sauce recipe so magical? It all comes down to ingredients, seasonings and proportions.  Like many barbecue sauces, this one starts with a ketchup base. A generous amount of apple cider vinegar is added for tartness, brown sugar for sweetness, and molasses for warm, smoky sweetness. 

My secret ingredient of blackberry preserves further balances out the acidity with subtle, exotic sweetness instead of just using more plain sugar.  Liquid smoke, smoked paprika and chipotle pepper add a dimension of aged smokiness while the chipotle also offers a kick of heat. 

Finally, the homemade BBQ Sauce recipe is rounded out by chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, ground mustard, dried thyme salt, and pepper which add complex dimensions of flavor. The resulting BBQ Sauce is thick, rich, sweet, tangy, smokey, spicy and “absolutely the best, better than any homemade or out of a bottle we’ve ever had.”

Of course, the beauty of homemade BBQ Sauce, is you can make it the best BBQ Sauce for YOU!  You can customizable the ingredients to make it sweeter, not as sweet, tangier, spicier, etc. so you’ll want to “drink the sauce” every time.

top view showing how to use homemade barbecue Sauce by dipping a spoon into the sauce in a glass mason jar.

Barbecue SAUCE INGREDIENTS:

This homemade BBQ Sauce recipe comes together very quickly with just a handful of ingredients. You will need (measurements included in the full recipe below):

  • Ketchup. 2 cups of your favorite ketchup will be the base in this barbecue sauce recipe. Look for organic ketchup or one that isn’t sweetened by high-fructose corn syrup if possible.
  • Apple cider vinegar:  adds the balancing tang to offset the sweetness.
  • Molasses:  adds rich, thick smokey-sweet undertones and is a BBQ Sauce must!  Make sure you are using unsulfured  molasses and NOT blackstrap molasses.  Unsulfured molasses is the finest quality and only a small amount of sugar has been removed from the first boiling (sugar content around 70%).  Blackstrap, on the other hand has been boiled further resulting in a thick, bitter, salty sludge with a sugar content of only 45%.   Blackstrap molasses is never an acceptable substitute for true molasses.
  • Brown Sugar:  sweetens the sauce and helps deepen the molasses flavor. This BBQ Sauce recipe is on the sweeter sauce like Sweet Baby Rays.  If you would like less sweet barbecue sauce, simply use less sugar.  You can always add more to taste at the end of simmering. 
  • Liquid smoke:  if you aren’t familiar with liquid smoke (it really is liquid smoke!), it imparts a wonderfully smokey flavor that elevates the BBQ Sauce to an other realm.  It is created by capturing smoke as it rises through a combustion chamber filled with wood chips to a condenser.  In the condenser, the smoke cools and forms a liquid, thus liquid smoke.  (thank you Wikipedia).  It is a very common ingredient and should be easy to find next to the barbecue sauces in your grocery store.
  • Seasonings: smoked paprika, chili powder, garlic powder, ground chipotle pepper, onion powder, ground mustard, dried thyme, salt, and pepper infuse the barbecue sauce with classic flavor with hints of smokiness and heat.  You can use more or less chipotle chili powder depending on how spicy you like it.

Ingredient Substitutions

  • If you can’t find blackberry preserves, I’ve had readers comment they have also used strawberry preserves, raspberry preserves, fig preserves and apple jam with success. 
  • You can use any brown sugar you have on hand – light, medium or dark. 
  • You can use granulated sugar or honey if that’s all you have on hand but, in this case, I would reduce the sugar by a tablespoon or two and add extra molasses in its place.  You can also use a blend of sweeteners.
  • If you don’t have chipotle chili powder, then you can add a pinch-¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper.   You will need much less because cayenne pepper is much spicier.  You also might want to add an extra splash of liquid smoke to make up for the missing smokey chipotle flavor.  In the future, I suggest you keep chipotle chili powder stocked – it adds a sublime smokey heat.
  • If you’re out of ketchup, you could try substituting with tomato sauce, but you will need to add some extra vinegar and sugar to compensate for the flavor of the ketchup.
showing how to make barbecue sauce recipe by stirring the sauce while it simmers in a teal saucepan

HOW TO MAKE BBQ SAUCE Recipe

Homemade BBQ Sauce from scratch is super simple to make and every bit as delicious as sauces from legit barbecue joints – and then some – and infinitely more delicious than any store-bought sauce.  This BBQ Sauce recipe couldn’t be any easier to make, all you do is combine the ingredients in the pot, let it simmer and you’re done!

  1. Combine ingredients.  Measure ingredients and add to saucepan, give everything a stir.  
showing how to make homemade BBQ sauce by adding ketchup, brown sugar, molasses, apple cider vinegar and spices to a teal saucepan
  1. Simmer. Bring the sauce to a gentle simmer; continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes.
  2. Serve.  Use immediately or refrigerate or freeze for later. 
showing how to make homemade BBQ sauce recipe by simmering until thickened

TIPS FOR HOMEMADE BBQ SAUCE

  • Use smoked paprika.  The difference between smoked paprika and normal paprika is small but makes a big flavor impact.   Normal paprika uses crushed dried chilies, whereas smoked paprika uses chilies that are first smoked with oak, then dried and crushed.  This adds a smokey, woody, outdoorsy flavor that adds a little something-something to your homemade BBQ Sauce.  Smoked paprika can be found in every grocery store with the seasonings.  I use it ALL the time in my Mexican recipes, so I promise it will not go to waste!
  • Simmer gently.  Simmering the BBQ Sauce melds the flavors and slightly thickens the sauce – it does not need to be anything more than a gentle simmer.  Simmer the sauce on low to reduce splattering as this sauce likes to sputter.
  • Splatter screen.  If you have a splatter screen, you might want to place it over the barbecue sauce in between stirring.
  • Stir sauce.  Stirring the sauce prevents scorching and helps reduce splattering.
  • Adjust to taste.  To test, dip a spoon in the sauce, place it on a plate and refrigerate for 5-10 minutes. Taste the sauce and adjust it to YOUR preferences per the section below.

BBQ SAUCE RECIPE VARIATIONS:

The most important (and best!) part of making homemade barbecue sauce from scratch is how adaptable it is. Like a sweet sauce, add more sugar.  Like a vinegarier sauce? Use more!  Like a spicy BBQ Sauce, add more chipotle.  You can completely your homemade BBQ Sauce until it’s perfect for you.  Here’s how:

  • Make it sweeter:  add more brown sugar.  I suggest you simmer the sauce for 10 minutes, taste and add additional sugar at this time if desired (and not right off the bat); continue to simmer for an additional 5 minutes.  
  • Make it tangier:  add additional apple cider vinegar at the end of simmering.
  • Make it smokier:  add additional liquid smoke, ½ teaspoon at a time.  
  • Make it spicier:  add additional chipotle chile powder for smokey heat or cayenne pepper for penetrating heat. 
  • Make the seasonings your own.  Like more garlic?  Use more garlic.  Like more mustard?  Use more mustard.   You can adjust all of the seasonings to suit your tastes and even add additional seasonings such as oregano or parsley.
  • Make it thicker:  simmer the sauce for upwards of 15 minutes until it reaches your desired consistency, however, it is already gorgeously thick after 15 minutes so I don’t think you’ll find this necessary. 
  • Make it gluten-free:  double check your ingredients to ensure they are gluten free.

BBQ SAUCE Recipe Varitions

  • Homemade Spicy BBQ Sauce.  This BBQ Sauce already has a nice kick due to the chipotle, but I would categorize it as more sweet-spicy.  For a spicier BBQ Sauce, either increase the chipotle, add cayenne pepper, crushed red pepper flakes or your favorite hot sauce.
  • Homemade Maple BBQ Sauce. Substitute half of the brown sugar for pure maple syrup – not the breakfast imitation kind!  
  • Homemade Honey BBQ Sauce. Substitute the brown sugar for honey.    
  • Homemade Smokey BBQ Sauce:  Swap the chili powder for smoked paprika and increase the liquid smoke.

How to Use Homemade Barbecue Sauce

Homemade Barbecue Sauce has so many delicious uses from basting, to smothering, to dipping!  It is particularly scrumptious on grilled meats such as chicken and pork as well as smothering slow cooker pulled meats. Essentially, homemade BBQ Sauce can be used in any recipe that calls for barbecue sauce or anything that needs some added flavor.   Some of our favorite ways to use barbecue sauce include:

  • Pork.  Smother ribs, burnt ends, or brisket with barbecue sauce and drool.    
  • Burgers:  Add some barbecue sauce directly to your ground beef before making patties then also spread some on top of the cooked BBQ burgers.
showing how to use homemade BBQ sauce recipe by smothering on burgers
  • Sloppy Joes. Skip the sloppy Joe sauce and use homemade BBQ Sauce instead!
  • Sandwiches.  In addition to pulled sandwiches, barbecue sauce can be used as a spread on sandwiches like these BBQ Chicken Sandwiches for an instant flavor bomb.
  • Pizzas and Stromboli.  Use homemade barbecue sauce in place of pizza sauce on pizza or in stromboli for BBQ Chicken Pizza/Stromboli. I’ve also used in in these Mini Deep Dish Hawaiian Pizzas and BBQ Chicken Pizza Dip.
  • Salads.  One of my favorite chicken salads is BBQ Chicken Salad with Tomatillo Ranch made by smothering chopped chipotle grilled chicken in barbecue sauce – to live for!  So, essentially, you can smother any protein in BBQ Sauce and add to salad. You can even use the sauce as a dressing like in my Cowboy Pasta Salad.  
  • Salmon.  Brush homemade BBQ Sauce over salmon before cooking and again after cooking. It can also be used as a “glue” for any type of crusted salmon.
  • Tacos/burritos/quesadillas/nachos.  Mix up your favorite Mexican dishes by using BBQ Sauce instead of salsa or enchilada sauce along with some pineapple for a Hawaiian flair.  I used this concept in my very first recipe post ever Hawaiian Beef Taquitos and again in my BBQ Pork Taquitos – both phenomenal.
showing how to use homemade barbecue sauce by adding to pulled pork and making taquitos

How to Store Homemade BBQ Sauce

Allow the BBQ Sauce to cool to room temperature then transfer it to a mason jar or an air-tight container. Store for up to two weeks in the refrigerator.  Now it’s ready for any of the aforementioned uses throughout the week!

How to Freeze Barbecue Sauce

Place the barbecue sauce in an airtight freezer-safe storage container in the freezer for up to 3 months. Let it defrost overnight in the refrigerator before using.

Helpful Tools to Make BBQ Sauce Recipe

  • Mason Jars: these are ideal for storing BBQ sauce as well as any sauce, dressings, vegetables, pickles, salsa, pie fillings, etc.
  • Saucepan:  is a kitchen staple ideal for preparing homemade sauces. I love my cast-iron Le Creuset with an interior enamel that makes it easy to monitor food as it cooks and prevents burning and sticking.  This less expensive All-Clad is also a great option.
  • Measuring spoons:  are my most used kitchen tools! These are magnetic, stackable and double-sided, so there are less dishes wash!
BBQ Sauce recipe is in a glass mason jar with a spoon dipping into the sauce to show rich and thick it is

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Homemade BBQ Sauce

This homemade BBQ Sauce recipe is an intoxicating blend of sweet, tangy, spicy, smoky and ready in less than 20 minutes – 15 of those minutes are hands-off simmering! It’s made by simmering simple pantry staples of ketchup, molasses, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, liquid smoke, seasonings and my secret ingredient to create the best barbecue sauce you ever tasted! This BBQ Sauce recipe is the perfect condiment for grilled chicken, brisket, ribs, burgers, sandwiches, and even nachos or pizza! It is make-ahead friendly, freezer friendly and make-EVERYTHING-better friendly!
Servings: 3 cups
Total Time: 17 mins
Prep Time: 2 mins
Cook Time: 15 mins

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Ingredients

  • 2 cups ketchup
  • 1/2 cup unsulphured molasses (not blackstrap)
  • 1/3-1/2 cup brown sugar, packed (⅓ C for less sweet)
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup seedless blackberry preserves
  • 1 teaspoon liquid smoke (mesquite)
  • 1 tsp EACH smoked paprika, chili powder, garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp EACH chipotle chile powder, onion powder, ground mustard, pepper, salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

Instructions

  • Add all of the BBQ Sauce ingredients to a medium saucepan and stir to combine.
  • Bring to a simmer then reduce to LOW to gently simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Notes

Tips and Tricks

  • Molasses:  make sure you are using unsulfured  molasses and NOT blackstrap molasses (it will say on your jar).
  • Liquid smoke:  imparts a wonderfully smokey flavor that elevates the BBQ Sauce to an other realm.  It is a very common ingredient and should be easy to find next to the barbecue sauces in your grocery store.
  • Blackberry preserves:  if you can’t find blackberry preserves, I’ve had readers comment they have also used strawberry preserves, raspberry preserves, fig preserves and apple jam with success. 
  • Chipotle Chili Powder:  if you don’t have chipotle chili powder, then you can add a pinch-¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper.   You will need much less because cayenne pepper is much spicier.  You also might want to add an extra splash of liquid smoke to make up for the missing smokey chipotle flavor.  In the future, I suggest you keep chipotle chili powder stocked – it adds a sublime smokey heat.
  • Uses: Homemade Barbecue Sauce has so many delicious uses from basting, to smothering, to dipping!  It is particularly scrumptious on grilled meats such as chicken and pork as well as smothering slow cooker pulled meats. See the post for all of my recipe ideas!

RECIPE VARIATIONS:

 
  • Make it sweeter:  this BBQ Sauce recipe is on the sweeter sauce like Sweet Baby Rays.  If you would like less sweet barbecue sauce, than start with less sugar.   I suggest you simmer the sauce for 10 minutes, taste and add additional sugar at this time if desired (and not right off the bat); continue to simmer for an additional 5 minutes.  
  • Make it tangier:  add additional apple cider vinegar at the end of simmering.
  • Make it smokier:  add additional liquid smoke, ½ teaspoon at a time.  
  • Make it spicier:  add additional chipotle chile powder for smokey heat or cayenne pepper for penetrating heat. 
  • Make the seasonings your own.  Like more garlic?  Use more garlic.  Like more mustard?  Use more mustard.   You can adjust all of the seasonings to suit your tastes and even add additional seasonings such as oregano or parsley.
  • Make it gluten-free:  double check your ingredients to ensure they are gluten free.

How to Store 

Allow the BBQ Sauce to cool to room temperature then transfer it to a mason jar or an air-tight container. Store for up to two weeks in the refrigerator.  Now it’s ready for any of the aforementioned uses throughout the week!

How to Freeze 

Place the barbecue sauce in an airtight freezer-safe storage container in the freezer for up to 3 months. Let it defrost overnight in the refrigerator before using.

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20 Comments

  1. Katherine Dietz says

    I made this yesterday and used the 1/2 cup sugar and added another Tbsp. Blackberry preserves. This is the best BBQ sauce ever. I make a lot of BBQ sauces from scratch and this one is at the top! I used it on chicken and it was very good. I also used it on hot dogs and it was amazing! If you make this you will never use store bought sauce again.
    Just be sure to spray your grill grates as it is pretty sticky.
    Katherine

    • Jen says

      Thank you so much for your awesome comment Katherine! I’m thrilled this is the best BBQ sauce you’ve ever made! Thanks for taking the time to make my day!

  2. Erin says

    Great recipe for bbq sauce, I love how it is not too sweet like the store kinds . I used ketchup containing no added sugar to keep the sweetness at bay. The best part, this goes great with your Best Burger recipe which we love love as well. Love your site and please keep up the amazing work!!!

    • Jen says

      Thank you so much Erin! I’m so pleased you loved this homemade BBQ sauce and what a great pairing with the Best Burger recipe! Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  3. Melanie says

    This made a very good base for barbecue sauce! I don’t particularly care for ultra smoky sweet flavors, so I left out the jam and liquid smoke and fused canned tomato sauce instead of ketchup. There was plenty of fruitiness from the ACV and molasses. It was perfect for pulled pork!

    • Jen says

      That’s awesome you were able to use this recipe as a springboard, your version sounds great!

  4. Cyndi says

    I have made this recipe several times using mango pineapple preserves and it was spectacular! I had a hard time finding blackberry preserves, finally found a jar and was anxious to make. I don’t know which one we like best, as they were both spectacular. I will never buy store bought ever again! Thank you so much Jennifer, your recipes never disappoint!

    • Jen says

      I LOVE that idea. I have pineapple mango preserves right now and will have to give it a try! Thanks for taking the time to comment and for making my recipes!

      • Jim says

        Every recipe of yours I’ve made, and there are many, have been great. This recipe is no exception. I swapped the molasses for maple syrup and left out the liquid smoke and jam because I’m bad about starting before I make sure I have everything. Thank you so much for all your recipes. As my wife wife has turned over a lot of cooking to me I seem to be aging weight. Oh well it’s best if the food you eat taste great.

        • Jen says

          Thanks for the rave review Jim! I love that you are doing so much cooking in your home – your wife must be so pleased! And you’re so right, if you have to cook anyway, might as well make it exceptional!

  5. Susan says

    So delicious. Can’t wait to use it in your pulled pork recipe

    • Jen says

      Thank you Susan, I hope you loved it!

  6. Lindsey says

    I’ve made several barbecue sauces and even when I try new ones we always come back to this because it is our favorite. We’ve eaten it with your brisket, love it with pulled pork, and have used it with many other things and it is delicious every time.

    • Jen says

      Thanks so much for the glowing review Lindsey, I’m so pleased this recipe is your favorite!

  7. Debbie Milne says

    I made the BBQ pulled pork and home made BBQ sauce for Easter and my family loved it! My daughter decided to make it for her daughter’s high school grad party. We filled 4 crockpots with pork butts and the seasonings and made 3 batches of the BBQ sauce. Everyone raved about the BBQ sauce and thought I had a secret family recipe!! I will never buy store brand BBQ again! Thanks, Jen

    • Jen says

      You made my day Debbie! It sounds like quite a production making all that pork – I’m thrilled it was worth the effort and everyone loved it! Bravo!

  8. Bridget says

    Jen,
    Would you recommend using your barbeque sauce as a marinade for baked chicken breasts? We love this recipe and use it over meatballs and with our hamburgers. I have tried many, many homemade BBQ sauces and many recipes taste like over sweetened ketchup, but not yours. Your recipe has a wonderful depth of spices, and the liquid smoke and preserves are a fantastic addition to the flavorings. I am wondering if you think this would work as a chicken marinade.
    Thank you,
    Bridget

    • Jen says

      Thank you so much for your glowing review Bridget, I’m so pleased this BBQ Sauce is a family favorite! Yes, you can absolutely use this BBQ Sauce as a marinade, just be sure to add some olive oil as well so help the flavors penetrate the meat.

      • Bridget says

        Thank you so much for the advice. Very appreciated. You must get a million comments and questions every day. I have asked a few questions upon occasion, and you always reply. Not sure how you manage it all. You are truly awesome. My family loves your recipes. Thank you again.

        • Jen says

          Thank you for making my day Bridget, your kind words mean so much to me! I’m honored your family loves my recipes! xo

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