Sweet, tangy, spicy? Thick or thin? Tomato-forward or molasses dominant? How do you like your BBQ sauce?
Sometimes it seems like there are as many barbecue sauce types as there are people who love barbecue. And, the preferences tend to run strong.
But, if your goal is all-natural, real food, barbecue sauce can be a tricky route to navigate. One look at the ingredients label of some of our favorite sauces, and we knew there had to be a better way to get the flavor we loved without all the junk.
The good news is, there is a better way. Homemade BBQ sauce! And, it’s not all that complicated.
Personally, I like a thick and dark barbecue sauce, but my husband prefers a sweet and tomato prominent sauce. So, our go-to sauce needed to find a happy balance between the two. What we came up with was a robust, classically flavored, slather-able BBQ sauce that is great for basting, dipping, and loading on a burger.
Homemade BBQ Sauce Basic Ingredients
A good base
Starting with tomato paste gives a thick and tomato-y base to barbecue sauce. Many homemade versions will start with ketchup, but by starting with tomato paste, we have even more control over the end flavor and what goes into our sauce. (Unless of course you use your own homemade ketchup, then you already know it’s all good stuff!)
To get that slightly tangy BBQ sauce flavor, we turn to vinegar. Apple cider vinegar has a slight sweetness that makes a great addition to barbecue sauce, but white vinegar, red wine vinegar, and even infused vinegars would all create fun and incredibly unique BBQ sauce variations. (Imagine making barbecue sauce using raspberry vinegar. Yum!)
Sweet and sticky
You can’t have BBQ sauce without some sweetness. White sugar, brown sugar, molasses, honey, and maple syrup are all great options to add to that sticky sweet sauce we love. Each will add their own unique characteristics. We like a combo of equal parts white sugar, brown sugar, and molasses to give just enough sweetness and a nice depth of flavor.
Worcestershire sauce is a great way to add a complex, smoky, and tangy flavor to your barbecue sauce. (Keep in mind, not all Worcestershire sauces are created equal, so be sure to check the ingredients list on the bottle before you add it to your cart.)
We use ground spices to season our sauce in order to keep the smooth and spreadable consistency. Paprika deepens the smokiness, mustard seed enhances the tanginess of the vinegar, and everything benefits from a good dose of onion and garlic. (If you don’t mind a chunky sauce, try caramelizing actual onions and garlic to add to your sauce for an incredible, natural sweetness and depth of flavor.)
If you like a spicy BBQ sauce, consider adding in a bit of cayenne powder to give it a kick!
Basic Bold and Classic Barbecue Sauce
This is our go-to, everyday BBQ sauce. It has a deep flavor that is fairly well balanced between sweet, smoky, and tangy.
(makes about 1 ½ cups sauce)
- ½ cup tomato paste (this organic brand is packaged in non-BPA lined cans)
- ½ cup apple cider vinegar (find organic raw ACV here)
- 3 Tbsp brown sugar (find organic brown sugar here)
- 3 Tbsp sugar (find organic pure cane sugar here)
- 3 Tbsp molasses (find organic molasses here)
- 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce (this sauce has decent ingredients)
- 2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp ground mustard seed
- 1 tsp paprika
- ½ tsp onion powder
- ½ tsp sea salt (find unrefined sea salt here)
- ½ tsp ground black pepper (find organic whole black peppercorns here)
- 2 cups filtered water (find the best water filtration systems here)
- Mix all ingredients, except water, in a medium saucepan until combined.
- Add the water and bring the mixture to a simmer, whisking to eliminate any lumps.
- Simmer the mixture for 50 minutes, or until the sauce reaches your desired thickness.
- Store in a sealed, glass jar in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks.
Not Just for Basting
We all know barbecue sauce is the quintessential ingredient for basting those grilled ribs and chicken legs. Brush it on thick and often during the last 10 minutes of cooking time. (Any earlier increases the chances of your sauce burning and makes it more difficult to tell when the meat is done.)
But, it also works great as the sauce for an easy slow cooker pulled pork. My husband likes to throw BBQ sauce on nearly anything, including his burgers. And, if you’re looking for a veggie burger, these Spicy BBQ Chickpea Burgers pack some great sweet and tangy barbecue flavor.
Sweet, spicy, tangy? What kind of sauce do you prefer? Leave us a comment below and let us know!