6 Steps to Making the Perfect Homemade Barbecue Sauce

Did you know that barbecue sauce has a long and diverse history? Barbecue sauce owes its rich diversity to early colonial histories, which varies widely by region. Kansas City for example, uses a thick tomato base flavored with molasses, Alabama uses white mayonnaise as it’s base, while some parts of North Carolina use mustard. Some key ingredients such as vinegar, tomato, mustard, or mayonnaise have all come to define distinct regional American barbecue sauce styles.

barbecue sauce recipes

If you’ve never made your own barbecue sauce, you will be surprised how quick and easy it is. While there are practically unlimited sauce variations possible, there are six basic steps to making the perfect homemade barbecue sauce:

1. The Base
Most barbecue sauce foundations start with a tomato base, usually ketchup, tomato paste or canned tomato sauce/puree, though some regional sauces have a mustard or mayonnaise base.

2. The Sweet
Sugar plays an important role in barbecue sauce, it helps to caramelize the sauce and seal in flavor. While you can use any sugar you prefer, using sweetness with a greater depth of flavor are a better choice for a more flavorful sauce. Use sweeteners like dark brown sugar, molasses, or maple syrup. If you want an incredible sweet flavor and don’t mind a chunky barbecue sauce, add caramelized onions and garlic. For a less-traditional sweet take, try dark agave syrup or brown rice syrup.

3. The Salty
Every sauce needs a salty element. Traditional barbecue sauces simply use kosher salt. Another choice is to use soy or shoyu sauce instead. You can also use a vegan Worcestershire sauce to add flavor and a glossy, deep color.

4. The Heat
This is the heat of your sauce and you’ve got plenty of options to choose from. Try dried spices like ground cayenne, red chili flakes, or other ground chilies. Use a dash of a vinegar-based hot sauce like Tabasco or Sriracha. Want something spicier? Add diced jalapeño, habanero, or serrano peppers.

5. The Smoke
You can’t have barbecue sauce without the smoke. While nothing replaces the smoky flavors that come from cooking over a fire, there are a few spices that can replicate the flavor in homemade sauces nicely. Use smoked paprika, smoked salt, smoked chilies, or liquid smoke to add the perfect smoky taste.

6. The Acid
Acids found in vinegar create balance in dishes, which is true in barbecue sauce as well. The classic choice is apple cider vinegar, but any vinegar would do. Using a good quality vinegar will help create the sharp note needed to cut through the richness of the sauce. Flavored vinegars work well too.

barbecue sauce recipes

Once you master the basics of making barbecue sauce, you’ll be ready to start experimenting with new flavor combinations. There is no right or wrong way to make barbecue sauce. Mix and match ingredients for unique combinations and spice levels. And for ultimate barbecue sauce inspiration, check out these traditional and not-so-traditional recipes that will get you ready to fire up the grill.


Sue H
Sue Habout a month ago

Thanks for sharing.

natasha p
.about a year ago


Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill2 years ago


Siyus Copetallus
Siyus C2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

Elena Poensgen
Elena Poensgen2 years ago

Thank you

Anne G.
Anne G2 years ago

Thanks, it is easy and definitely better than bottled.

LF F2 years ago

My recipe is one step: Turn lid to bottle, haha. (but I do like it when someone else makes a special sauce and goes to all that trouble....lol)

Karen F.
Karen P2 years ago

Love love love sauces, chutneys and pickles. Add so much zing to a meal.

Chavonne N.
Chavonne N2 years ago

Feels good to make homemade sauce instead of having store bought.