How to Make Easy, Delicious Barbecue Sauce From Scratch

Pitmasters and registered dietitians break down the process.
How to Make Your Own Homemade Barbecue Sauce
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While it seems like a simple question, it’s actually a controversial one in the barbecue world: Experts are divided on whether or not ketchup should be used, though you’ll often see it in many homemade barbecue sauce recipes.

After talking to a couple of pitmasters and culinary experts, here’s our take: It all boils down to your preferences in taste and convenience—and what kind of sauce you’re after, Charnichart says. Ketchup is an inexpensive, speedy way to add a sweet tomato flavor. Because the condiment usually contains vinegar, though, it can be easy to accidentally go overboard on the acidity, says Costantino.

Depending on the type of sauce you’re making, this isn’t necessarily a dealbreaker. For example, Carolina sauces are typically known for having more tartness, so ketchup would be a fine addition to those recipes, he says. On the other hand, it may not go so well in an Alabama white barbecue sauce, in which the creamy mayo base is the star of the show.

What other ingredients should you add to homemade barbecue sauce?

This one is simple: spices! Seasonings are one of the best ways to boost your barbecue sauce. To start, consider adding paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, and salt and pepper, Charnichart says. Then, depending on your heat preference, you can kick it up further with other spices like cayenne or chipotle pepper flakes.

Try making an all-purpose blend for your sauce, Costantino says. His go-to spice combo for barbecue sauce includes salt, black pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder. For each cup of sauce, he adds one teaspoon of that all-purpose blend.

Vegetables like onions and garlic are another great addition, he says. The more you can build layers of flavor, the richer your sauce will be. For example, by caramelizing onions in a recipe you’re creating sweet notes for your glaze, he says

How to make homemade barbecue sauce in three steps

Getting BBQ sauce right doesn’t have to be complicated, especially if you follow these tips from Costantino:

  1. Decide if you’re adding ingredients like onions or garlic. If so, cook them down until tender before incorporating them into the sauce. Barbecue sauce is intended to be smooth, not chunky.
  2. Combine all your vegetables like the tomatoes, onions and/or garlic, seasonings, and condiments like ketchup or Worcestershire sauce in a pot, and cook the mixture on medium heat until it reaches a boil.
  3. Next, turn the heat down to low and simmer for 10 minutes—or longer if you want to hone in all those rich flavors. Remember to stir occasionally. You’ll know your sauce is done once it reaches a thick and sticky consistency. Not sure? It should resemble syrup.

How to elevate your homemade barbecue sauce recipe

To take your sauce to new heights, Charnichart recommends leveling up the liquids in your recipe. If your sauce calls for water, sub in a one-to-one swap for something more flavorful like lapsang tea, citrus juice, or even espresso, they advise.

You can also play around with infusing the sweetener in your recipe, they explain. Create a simple syrup—a one-to-one ratio of sugar and water—and steep it with fun ingredients. If you have any serrano peppers on hand, why not use some to spice up your sweetener? Carry that pitmaster energy of experimenting with flavors that pair well with grilled foods, and you’ll be on your way to making a banging sauce. Read on for a few recipes to get started.