How to Make Great Homemade Barbecue Sauce

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Start to Finish: 1 hour, 15 minutes Servings: About 2 cups Difficulty Level: Beginner

Barbecue sauce serves as more than just a flavor booster when cooking meats. When basted onto the protein during barbecuing, the sauce helps moisten the surface and slows the speed of cooking, tenderizing the meat even further. Make a delicious barbecue sauce at home to customize and maximize the flavor.


  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 large red or sweet onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup chili sauce
  • 1 1/2 cups ketchup
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery salt
  • 2 to 3 dashes hot sauce (optional)


Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and onion and saute for 1 to 2 minutes, until onion is translucent.

Add all remaining ingredients to the pot and stir to incorporate. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring regularly to prevent scorching.

Reduce heat to low and simmer sauce for 30 to 40 minutes to thicken. Turn off heat when sauce is reduced enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Allow sauce to cool for 5 to 10 minutes.

Using an immersion blender, puree the sauce until smooth. Alternatively, working in two batches, move the sauce to a blender to puree.

Allow sauce to cool for storage or use immediately for barbecuing.


  • Replace the water with 1/2 cup bourbon and add 3 tablespoons molasses for a complex, boozy sauce that goes well with ribs.
  • Replace the water with 1/2 cup pineapple juice and add 2 chipotle chilies, minced, from a can with adobo sauce for a sweet and smoky tropical flavor.
  • Add 4 tablespoons honey and double the vinegar for a sweet and tangy barbecue sauce.
  • Add 4 tablespoons honey and one 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, grated, to the sauce for a sweet and spicy flavor.


  • Adjust the salt and pepper, cumin, celery salt, brown sugar, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and optional spices as desired during cooking. Taste the sauce halfway through simmering to determine if you want to add more of any ingredient. Mix in any extra flavors at this point so that they have time to simmer with the rest.
  • If preferred, substitute 1 1/2 cups tomato puree or plain tomato sauce for the ketchup. You may wish to add an extra tablespoon or 2 of brown sugar and a splash more vinegar, as well.
  • Skip the blending stage, if desired. The sauce will have onion and garlic bits. For a chunkier sauce, add 1/2 cup onion, less finely chopped, and 1 cup diced bell peppers during the first step. Do not puree the sauce.
  • If the sauce is too thick for your taste after simmering and blending, add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it reaches your desired consistency.
  • Store the sauce in an airtight container for up to 1 week in the refrigerator. For longer storage, pour the sauce into a freezer-safe zippered bag and store in the freezer for up to 3 weeks.