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.
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.
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.
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.
How to Make It:
To make BBQ 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
To get started, cook chopped sweet onion in ghee or butter for about 5 minutes, 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.
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.
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: Dilute to desired consistency either with water OR apple cider vinegar. Water will dilute without adding flavor, while the vinegar is a good choice if you taste the sauce and desire 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.
Did you enjoy the recipe? Please leave a 5-star rating in the recipe card below and/or a review in the comments section further down the page.
Spicy, Sweet and Smoky 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 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.