Homemade BBQ Sauce Basics and A Yummy Recipe

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Homemade BBQ Sauce

This homemade bbq sauce article covers all the basics of DIY barbecue sauce and also gives you a delicious bbq sauce recipe that will knock your socks off!

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.

Flavorful add-ins

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)



  1. Mix all ingredients, except water, in a medium saucepan until combined.
  2. Add the water and bring the mixture to a simmer, whisking to eliminate any lumps.
  3. Simmer the mixture for 50 minutes, or until the sauce reaches your desired thickness.
  4. 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!


About Sarah Ozimek

Sarah is a writer, recipe developer, traveler, gardener, and lover of (almost) all things outdoors. Together with her husband Tim, she writes the blog Curious Cuisiniere where they explore world cuisines and cooking using real ingredients and tried and true methods, the way our ancestors have done for ages. Connect with Sarah on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

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  1. Sue Mosier says

    I am trying to find a recipe for Sweet Bay Ray’s sauce. My daughter uses that brand. I want to get rid of gmo products. Do you know if this recipe tastes like it? Thank you.

    • Sarah Ozimek says

      Hi Sue. My Husband’s go-to BBQ sauce was Sweet Baby Ray’s before we started making our own. This version more of a cross between Sweet Baby Rays and a KC Masterpiece. It has a nice sweetness, but a good thick texture and deep flavor.

      To get the lighter flavor of Sweet Baby Rays, I would try eliminating the 2 cups of water from this recipe and only simmering the sauce until the sugar dissolves, maybe 5 minutes or until you reach the thickness you like. You probably also will want to increase the amount of brown sugar. How much will depend on how sweet you like your sauce, so you may have to play around with it a bit.

      If you give it a try, I’d love to hear how it turns out for you!

  2. Bethany says

    THANK YOU for a BBQ sauce recipe that doesn’t start with ketchup!!! Sadly, it has been really hard to find one. I’ll whip up a batch this weekend, to test it out. If all goes well, I’ll make a bunch to can when my garden tomatoes are in full swing.

  3. Cindy says

    I always enjoy your recipes & DIY ideas. It would be great if I could “pin” them to my Pinterest boards instead of printing them or saving e-mails. But I never see a Pinterest button on your recipes. I assume the is a reason you do not offer this option??

  4. Susan Parsley says

    As a low-carbing diabetic, I would love to find a healthy, natural BBQ sauce! Anyone have any suggestions?

    • Sarah Ozimek says

      I don’t know much about diabetic cooking, Susan. Much of the flavor in BBQ sauce comes from the caramelizing sugars, and our recipe is actually on the low side for sugar content of recipes we have seen. But that is an interesting question that we will have to look into. Hopefully some of the DIY Natural readers have some diabetic-friendly options they can share!

  5. Lauren says

    BBQ sauce can also make a great variation for pizza sauce if you want to try something different! I like to use it for Hawaiian pizzas.

  6. MiTmite9 says

    Yes, read the ingredients label on Worcestershire sauce. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you’ll want to buy W. sauce which doesn’t contain anchovies. (I was shocked to learn most W. sauce has fish.)

  7. kariane says

    This sounds great! I look forward to trying it.

    Just as an FYI, our local health food store sells a tomato paste that comes in a glass jar. You might be able to find it if you’re interested.