Sure, you can open a bottle of commercial barbecue sauce and brush it onto your meats or vegetables, but it only takes about 10 minutes to make your own sauce. A homemade barbecue sauce will beat any jarred sauce, and the best part is you can adapt the basic recipe and add in your favorite ingredients. You can try to replicate a regional favorite or just whip up your own concoction. Here are a ton of different ideas.
Regional BBQ Sauces
South Carolina and North Carolina favorites
If you want to bring out the flavor of any type of meat, go with a mustard-based barbecue sauce. All you need is 1/4 cup brown sugar, ¾ cup cider vinegar, 1 cup yellow mustard, and salt and pepper to taste. You can add some heat by throwing in a little bit of cayenne pepper and chili powder. This mustard-based sauce recipe is delicious on chicken, especially if you marinate it overnight. We have some alternative East Carolina recipes, which are vinegar and pepper-based, in our dedicated article.
Kansas City Here We Come
Made with a thick tomato base, the Kansas City-style sauce has a sweet taste with just the right about of heat and is perfect on pork shoulder and beef ribs. To prepare add a cup of ketchup, ¼ cup of water, 2 tbsp vinegar, ¼ cup brown sugar, 1 tbsp cayenne,1 tbsp chili powder, and 1 tsp paprika. Throw about ¼ cup of olive oil on a skillet and sauté the ingredients until they begin to bubble. Simmer for about 20 minutes until your sauce gets thick.
The Golden State of California
For a smooth sauce, mix 1 cup of regular cherry cola, two bottles of thick chili sauce, 1 jar of cherry jam, ½ cup brown sugar, ¼ cup balsamic vinegar, and some hot pepper sauce to taste. Heat a couple of tbsp of oil in a heavy skillet. Add a couple of cups of chopped white onion and 1 or 2 cloves of garlic. Sauté until clear. Stir in everything but the hot sauce. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Continue to cook for about 45 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste and the hot sauce. Let it cool completely before you coat your meat. This is delicious on steak and beef ribs. It also tastes great as a wet rub for smoked brisket.
The Longhorn State
Texas is known for great barbecues, and if you want to duplicate the robust, smoky flavors, try adding a cup of beer, 3 tbsp of Worcestershire sauce, ¼ cup ketchup, 2 tbsp of butter, 2 cups of beef stock, 1 medium white onion finely chopped, ¼ cup apple cider vinegar, 3 tbsp brown sugar and 2 tsp Tapatio or Tabasco sauce, salt, and pepper to taste. Mix the dry ingredients and melt the butter in a heavy skillet. Cook the onion and add the beef stock. Stir through and add the dry ingredients. Simmer for about 20 minutes. You can use it immediately on beef, chicken, or pork, or keep it in the fridge for about a month.
New England is known for seafood, and it tastes great with a little lemon and butter, but if you want to spice things up mix throw about 1 ¼ cup of vegetable stock into a cast-iron skillet. Add a ½ cup of red wine vinegar, 2 tbsp of Dijon mustard, a couple of chopped cloves of garlic, a finely chopped red onion, 2 tsp of brown sugar, and hot sauce to taste. Heat until it starts to simmer and continue cooking on low until it thickens. Remove from heat, cool, and slather it on catfish, trout, bluefish, or bass.
We have an entire article on Memphis dry rub and barbecue sauce. It’s a bit more complicated than the above recipes, but it’s definitely got that tangy vinegar base.
Southern White Sauce
Sweet and tangy, white sauces generally have a mayo base. Our recipe straight from Alabama contains 5 tbsp white sugar, 7 tbsp white vinegar, 7 tbsp lemon juice, 3 tbsp sea salt, 3 tbsp ground black pepper, and 2 1/2 cups of mayo. Just mix it all up.
Other BBQ Sauce Ideas
It’s fun to experiment with flavors until you’ve created your own signature sauce. Always add in new ingredients in small amounts and let your taste buds guide you.
Basic barbecue sauce
Here’s an old stand-by, ketchup-base sauce that is simple to make. Put two cups of ketchup into a medium-sized saucepan. Stir in 1/2 cup of water or red wine. Stir in 1/4 cup of cider or wine vinegar and four teaspoons of either Worcestershire sauce or soy sauce. Add in a tablespoon of onion powder and the same amount of garlic powder. Cook over low heat and stir to blend the ingredients. In 10 minutes or less, your sauce will be silky, thick, rich, and ready to use.
Spicy barbecue sauce
Here comes the fun part of making your own sauce. Now you can add to the traditional flavors in your basic sauce and turn on the heat. Tabasco sauce, cayenne pepper, chili powder, dry mustard, dried chipotle pepper or even red pepper flakes will make your sauce hotter and spicier.
Obviously, you can’t add all these ingredients at once, so try just one or two and remember to taste your sauce so you can adjust the heat. The best predictors of how hot or spicy your sauce will be are inside your own mouth. Your taste buds will allow you to tweak your ingredients until you have the flavor you want. Don’t worry if you create a sauce that seems to be too hot. You can always add more ketchup to the pan to reduce the heat.
Sweet barbecue sauce
If you love a sweet sauce, you can make your basic barbecue sauce but add in a tablespoon or two of brown sugar, honey, or molasses to give it a sweeter flavor. Always add sugary flavors sparingly, and be sure to taste your sauce to ensure you haven’t made it too sweet.
Bourbon barbecue sauce
For a unique earthy flavor in your sauce omit the 1/2 cup of water or wine and add in 1/2 cup of bourbon instead. As you cook the sauce the alcohol will burn off, and you’ll end up with a complex but mild, woody flavor in your barbecue sauce. People won’t be able to guess what is giving your sauce such a deep flavor.
Tequila barbecue sauce
One liquor that adds a special flavor to a barbecue sauce is tequila. Because tequila has a strong and sweet flavor, use only 1/4 cup and add 1/4 cup of water to your pan. If you like, squeeze one or two fresh limes and add the juice to the pan for a tangy sauce that is superb on shrimp, scallops, or ribs.
Beer barbecue sauce
If you love beer, you will love this barbecue sauce even though the beer flavor is not overwhelming once it’s cooked. Use a 1/2 cup of the darkest beer you have on hand. Light beers and lagers won’t give you the punch that a heavy dark beer like a stout will offer.
Your Homemade BBQ Sauce
Stop using store-bought barbecue sauce and get creative. You can even have a competition with your friends and family. Who knows? Maybe someday you’ll even start bottling your own. However, you design your own barbecue sauce, be sure to add it to foods at the end of the cooking time so that it won’t burn or char the outside of your food.