Exclusive Barbecue Sauce

Barbecue ribs made inside on the stove.
Barbecue ribs made inside on the stove.

We predict after reading this you will never reach for that bottle of store-bought barbecue sauce again. If you try to make your own sauce, and it’s very easy, you’ll find it beats the heck out of anything made by a factory and even most small producers.

If you go to the grocery store, you’ll see dozens of brands and styles of commercial barbecue sauce. Some will be made by big national food companies. Others will be local favorites or bottled versions of famous restaurant sauces. The use of barbecue sauce varies in different regions of the country, just as the type of sauce varies. In some places, barbecue sauce is a condiment like ketchup or mustard. In some places, it’s like a dipping sauce, thin and vinegary. Some are so thick they barely pour. Some use it as a cooking sauce, such as one would use for braising. Some are sweet, like sugary ketchup. Others are eye-watering spicy.

No one knows exactly where the use of barbecue sauce started. Some historians say Christopher Columbus brought something like it back to Europe from the Caribbean. Others credit early American colonists a couple hundred years later. The first earliest published recipe for a barbecue sauce comes from German settlers in South Carolina.

We also find variations of barbecue sauce around the world. In China, hoisin sauce, made from fermented soy beans, is a type of meat cooking sauce. In South America, chimichurri is popular for marinating and grilling meats. Unlike the tomato-based sauce we are familiar with, this sauce is green and based on parsley. And from Japan we have teriyaki sauce, which is used on grilled or roasted meats.

Regardless of your taste, making your own barbecue sauce will start with a basic recipe and then face variations that will make it your own. Here’s the basics:

  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup apple cider or rice vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce (low-sodium preferred)
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar (I prefer the low-sugar version that’s part sucralose)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon liquid smoke
  1. Combine the ingredients in a sauce pan over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer about 30 minutes until thickened. Stir frequently.
  2. You can add other ingredients to meet your tastes, like oregano, molasses, Sriracha or other hot sauce, smoked chilies, tomato paste, curry powder, cumin, garlic, onion and just about anything else you like.

We find the best way to cook barbecue, especially if you don’t have an outdoor grill or smoker, is to braise or boil the meat plain. Then lay it out on a sheet pan, coat liberally with sauce and put under the broiler or on the grill until the sauce becomes sticky, about 5 to 7 minutes. NOTE: When using the broiler, DO NOT leave the stove and DO keep a close eye on the food. Burning can happen in an instant. Then turn the meat, coat with some more and broil on the other side. This gives you all the taste without worrying about the meat being underdone, tough or dried out.

Another note here about liquid smoke. Although most of the stuff you find in the store these days is mostly chemicals, there really is something called liquid smoke made in the same way you would distill liquor. Still, it’s one of the best ways to get that smoky flavor into your food.

So, try making your own barbecue sauce. You won’t regret it.