Sweet and Spicy BBQ Sauce
This homemade sweet and spicy BBQ sauce recipe has incredible flavor, with bold but balanced smoky, sweet, and spicy notes. It’s made with simple ingredients, and perfect with ribs, chicken, smoked pork butt, and other meats!
Why would you make BBQ sauce yourself when you can buy it from the store?
I have asked this question myself.
Because given the choice, I will ALWAYS buy the pre-made thing from the grocery store to save time, even at a premium.
But only if it’s as good or better than homemade.
I’ve never had a bottled bbq sauce that’s anywhere near as good homemade. And yes, I’ve tried the really expensive artisanal ones that are nearly $10 for a small bottle.
I think it’s partially the freshness factor and partially the intensity of the ingredients in homemade, because this is also true of homemade dressings like Lemon Vinaigrette and Cilantro Lime Dressing. Or homemade Crockpot Applesauce and Mayonnaise. Freshness matters. Ingredients matter.
Even the premium sauces at the store can seem a bit thin and watered down to me.
Why This Recipe Is So Good
The most flavorful BBQ sauce you’ve ever had – This sauce is packed with flavor and quite punchy. It is not mild, and to me that’s a good thing. It’s such a pleasure to eat, and has a nice natural flavor. No corn syrup!
You can adjust it to your tastes – With that said, I’ve got instructions below for how to make the recipe more or less smoky, sweet, spicy, thick, or thin. Part of the greatness of making your own sauce is being able to adjust it to how you like it. What makes good bbq sauce is somewhat subjective.
It’s quick – This can easily be made in 20 minutes, and most of that time is just letting the sauce simmer a bit. It’s a minimal time investment.
Step by Step Overview:
To make the sweet and spicy barbecue sauce, you’ll need to cook onion and garlic until soft, then add condiments and spices, and simmer. Let’s break it down.
Soften chopped onion
In a large saucepan, cook chopped sweet onion in ghee or butter for about 5 minutes over medium heat, until softened:
You can swap in your desired fat as you see fit, and you can also use red onion or yellow onion here instead of sweet.
Just make sure you use fresh onion and fresh garlic cloves here. Using fresh aromatics is way better than simply using onion powder and garlic powder.
Next, add a couple tablespoons of minced fresh garlic to the pan.
Stir this all around for about 30 seconds, to wake up the garlic.
Be careful not to brown the garlic, or it will give off a burned flavor.
Add the remaining ingredients
Add ketchup, molasses, worcestershire sauce, ground chipotle chile, smoked paprika, honey, and apple cider vinegar:
I use blackstrap molasses here, but you may use regular if you prefer. Blackstrap molasses has a less sweet and more bitter taste (in a way I enjoy), and also gives the sauce a much darker color.
Simmer the sauce for 10 minutes, until it has thickened a bit.
And that’s really all there is to it!
Do a final taste test to get your perfect balance, and see if your spicy sauce needs anything else. I almost never add salt, because there is already salt in many of the ingredients used. But you may add extra kosher salt if you wish.
How to Adjust the Sauce to Your Liking:
You can easily play with the sauce to have just the right amount of heat, sweetness, smokiness, and zing, for you.
If the sauce gets too thick: I like a thicker sauce. If you want thinner, dilute to desired consistency either with water, apple juice, or apple cider vinegar. Water will dilute without adding flavor, the apple juice will dilute while adding more sweetness, and the vinegar will dilute while adding more tang.
If you don’t want too much of a smoky flavor: Use regular paprika instead of smoked paprika. You will still have some smoked flavor from the chipotle chile, but this will cut it down.
If you want less sweetness: Omit the honey, but more importantly, be really intentional about which ketchup you purchase for use in this recipe. Some store-bought ketchup is incredibly sweet, while some have no sugar at all (like Primal Kitchen’s paleo ketchup).
If you don’t want it to be spicy: The heat here comes from the chipotle chile powder, which is smoked and ground jalapeño peppers. It has an absolutely incredible flavor beyond the spicy factor, so try to cut it in half before eliminating altogether.
Place in an airtight container, then store in the fridge for up to two weeks. Or you can freeze for up to 3 months.
Yes, and I’ve done this many times! Place in an airtight container, making sure to leave a little empty space so the sauce can expand, and freeze for up to 3 months.
You can move it to the fridge the night before you need it. Or, you can thaw in the microwave or on the stovetop.
The heat – What I like about chipotle, which is ground smoked jalapeño pepper, is that it adds a smoky and spicy note. In place of the chipotle, you may use 1 teaspoon of standard chili powder plus 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. If you want to add a different smoky note, add 1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke.
I tend to like ground spices for heat over hot sauce, because then you’re usually dealing with additives like xanthan gum, or extra ingredients like celery seeds or unusual spices. But you may add your favorite sauce if you wish. This will require more judgment and experimentation, as they range quite a bit in terms of heat and vinegar. Tabasco sauce would be a safe choice.
The sweet – I like honey and molasses because they give extra flavor beyond just sweetness. However, you may swap dark brown sugar in place of the honey.
To cut down on the sugar, only use 1/2 cup of ketchup and add 1/4 cup of tomato paste. I do not recommend tomato sauce, which tends to be watery.
The tang – Apple cider vinegar is best with these flavors, but you may also use a mild white vinegar as well. Do not use lemon juice, which in my opinion has an odd flavor for this.
Sweet and Spicy BBQ Sauce
- 2 tbsp butter or ghee (or neutral cooking fat of choice)
- 1/4 cup chopped sweet onion (red or yellow onion also okay)
- 2 tbsp minced garlic
- 1 cup ketchup *
- 2 tbsp molasses **
- 2 tbsp worcestershire sauce
- 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp honey
- 2 tsp ground chipotle chile pepper
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- In a medium to large saucepan, melt the butter or ghee over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes until softened.
- Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds, until fragrant but not brown at all.
- Add the ketchup, molasses, worcestershire, apple cider vinegar, honey, chipotle chile pepper, and smoked paprika.
- Simmer for 10 minutes on low heat (to prevent sputtering), until thickened.
- If the BBQ sauce becomes too thick for your liking, dilute with water or more apple cider vinegar until you get your desired consistency. Enjoy!
Nutrition is estimated using a food database and is only intended to be used as a guideline for informational purposes.
Post updated in July 2020 with new photos, copy, and slightly adjusted recipe. Originally posted in July 2011.