Your Guide To Homemade Barbecue Sauce

Jul 24, 2020 | Cooking Tips, Recipes

Walking around the grocery store, you will see dozens of different types of Barbecue sauce. Many of those sauces are delicious and make great options for whatever you are cooking. If you are happy with your store-bought sauce, then, of course, keep using it. However, if you want something a little different, it may be time to start making your own homemade barbecue sauce. To be clear, this is not about convincing you to stop buying barbecue sauce. This is for people who want something a little different and are ready to level up to make their own homemade barbecue sauce. Let’s take a look.

What is Barbecue Sauce?

Before you can make homemade barbecue sauce, you first need to understand what it is. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines barbecue sauce as “: a spicy sauce usually eaten with barbecued food.”. That’s a pretty loose, but also a standard definition. As I’m sure you are fully aware, most barbecue sauces on the market today would never be classified as “spicy.”. Does that mean they aren’t barbecue sauce? No, of course not. For our purposes here today, we are going to define barbecue sauce as an acidic/sweet/occasionally spicy sauce eaten with barbecued food.

In all honesty, there are a lot of different types of barbecue sauces from Carolina Gold mustard-based sauce, to Kansas City White Sauce which is mayonnaise-based, to Texas Vinegar Sauces. However, today, our focus is going to be on the classic tomato-based sauces that most of us use most often. If you would like more information on those other sauces, check out this post I did last year.

The Base of the Sauce

When making homemade barbecue sauce, there are two main starting points. You can begin with fresh tomatoes, or you can begin with ketchup. Both of these bases have their benefits and their drawbacks, let’s take a quick look at each.

Starting with Fresh Tomatoes to Make Your Barbecue Sauce

When using fresh tomatoes to make your homemade barbecue sauce, you typically have to roast or bake the tomatoes first. You can also smoke the tomatoes to get a more “authentic” barbecue sauce taste. This roasting removes the sharp acidity of the tomato and intensifies their natural sweetness. To cook the tomatoes start by slicing them in half, drizzling them with olive oil, and seasoning them lightly with salt and pepper. Put them in a 400°f oven for 30-45 minutes or until they soften and start to brown around the edges. Once the tomatoes are roasted, combine them with the other ingredients, then purée the sauce and pass it through a fine-mesh sieve to ensure a smooth consistency. Tomato paste is often added to sauces made from fresh tomatoes to ensure the texture of the final sauce is that of a typical barbecue sauce.


  • You have complete control over the flavour of the sauce.
  • You know exactly what is in the sauce.
  • Usually, tastes better than ketchup-based sauces.


  • More preparation is required.
  • More effort is required to perfect the flavour of the sauce.
  • The sauce must be puréed and strained to ensure a smooth consistency.
  • Mush more time is required to make this type of sauce.

Starting with Ketchup as the base of your Homemade Barbecue Sauce

In truth, either way, you are basically starting with ketchup. The difference is that you are either making the ketchup from scratch and adding the ingredients to make it a barbecue sauce as you go. Or, you are using store-bought ketchup and adding the elements to make it a barbecue sauce. The benefit of using store-bought ketchup is that you are removing five or six steps from your sauce-making process.

Typically, when store-bought ketchup is the base of a barbecue sauce, there are only a handful of ingredients used in the sauce. These are vinegar, sugar (could be white or brown sugar, molasses, honey, or maple syrup), and spices (commonly onion powder, garlic powder, cayenne, etc.). For a more “authentic” barbecue sauce taste, liquid smoke or smoked salt are sometimes added. Making barbecue sauce in this way takes only a few minutes and requires no cooking. However, some people prefer to use ketchup as the base but to use fresh onions and garlic, which they sauté until soft. The other ingredients are added to the onion and garlic, puréed and passed through a fine-mesh sieve.


  • Quick to make.
  • Less effort.
  • Fewer ingredients are required.
  • Don’t have to cook.


  • You have slightly less control over the flavour.
  • There may be hidden ingredients in the ketchup.

Most often, I use store-bought ketchup as the base of my sauce, it is much more convienteant and much quicker than using fresh tomatoes. However, I do prefer the flavour and the control I have over the flavour more when making a sauce with fresh tomatoes.


The standard barbecue sauces that we are talking about today have four main elements. The first, which we’ve already talked about, is the tomato element. The second is acid, more specifically, vinegar. The type of vinegar you chose to make your sauce will affect its final flavour and appearance. The three most common options are white distilled vinegar, apple cider vinegar, and balsamic vinegar. I find that apple cider vinegar is the best all-around, go-to vinegar for barbecue sauce. However, that is not to discount either white or balsamic vinegar, which both have their place. Balsamic adds a deeper, more complex acidic taste to the sauce. White vinegar, on the other hand, has a much more upfront, punch you in the face, kind of flavour. Apple cider vinegar is somewhere in between these two. Balsamic will also give your sauce a much darker appearance.


The third element of these sauces is something sweet. Now, some barbecue sauces are very sweet, and some are not, but most, if not all, have some sweet element to them. Like the vinegar, the sweetener you choose to use will affect the flavour and appearance of the sauce. Most commonly, brown sugar, molasses, and maple syrup are used to sweeten barbecue sauces. Molasses will add the most depth to the flavour of the sauce, and will also have the most significant impact on the appearance of the sauce. Brown sugar adds depth to the sauce, though not as much as molasses. Sauces with solid sugars like brown sugar or white sugar, usually have to be cooked to ensure that the sugar dissolves into the sauce. Maple syrup adds that earthy, maple flavour to a sauce though it is more expensive than both molasses and brown sugar.


Flavourings are the final element to a barbecue sauce. Depending on how you are making your sauce, these may include either onion, or onion powder, garlic or garlic powder, and chilli or chilli powder. Black pepper is commonly used in relatively large amounts in barbecue sauce as well. If you are making the sauce from scratch, you may include spices like cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg, which are found in most ketchup. As I mentioned earlier, you may choose to use liquid smoke or smoked salt to achieve a more “authentic” barbecue sauce flavour. All that means is that the smokey element will make your sauce taste more like bottled sauces.

Typically, if I am making a quick sauce, I will use ketchup as the base, add to it cider vinegar, molasses, onion powder, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, black pepper, and sometimes liquid smoke. I stir all of these ingredients together and have a useable and tasty sauce in minutes. When making the sauce from scratch, I use my roasted or smoked tomatoes, along with sautéd onions and garlic. To that, I add in some tomato paste, brown sugar, cider vinegar, a cinnamon stick, some chilli flakes, a few cloves, and maybe some thyme and mustard powder. I simmer all of these ingredients with a bit of water for about an hour, then purée it in a blender, and pass it through a food mill or a fine-mesh sieve.


You can make a delicious sauce from scratch, and you can make a delicious sauce using ketchup as the base. It just comes down to what you prefer. I do recommend that you make barbecue sacue from scratch at least once. It is a fair amont of effort, but you will gain an appreciation for the sauce, that you didn’t have before, and you may even find that you love it much more then ketchup based sauces.

Below I have included three recipes for barbecue sauce made with store-bought kethcup as the base. Take a look at them and you will immediately notice how similare, yet different they are. I hope what you take away from this is that even though the ingredients are mostly the same, small variations in ratios, and a few additional ingredients can make a world of difference.

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Chef's Notes Logo

Standard Barbecue Sauce

A very basic barbecue sauce that can be used on almost anything.
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes
Course: Condiment
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Barbecue, Barbecue Sauce, BBQ
Servings: 1 cup
Author: Chef Ben Kelly


  • 1 mixing bowl
  • 1 Whisk
  • Measuring Cups
  • Measuring Spoons


  • 1/2 cup Ketchup
  • 2 tbsp Cider Vinegar
  • 2 tbsp Maple Syrup
  • 1 tsp Onion Powder
  • 1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
  • 1/8 tsp Cayenne Pepper
  • 1/4 tsp Salt
  • 1/4 tsp Pepper


  • Mix all ingredients together.
  • Let sit for 10-15 minutes.
  • Use as desired.
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

All Purpose Barbecue Sauce for Ribs

A delicious Barbecue Sauce for ribs, pork or whatever.
Total Time: 5 minutes
Course: Sauce
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Barbecue, Barbecue Sauce, Rib Sauce
Servings: 2 Cups


  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup Maple syrup
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2-3 drops fish sauce
  • 1/2 cup water


  • Mix all the ingredients and put in a squeeze bottle.
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Barbecue Sauce For Pork Tenderloin

This Barbecue sauce is pack with flavour from ingredients from South East Asia. It is the perfect sauce to marinade your pork tenderloin for your Banh Mi.
Total Time: 6 minutes
Course: Sauce
Cuisine: Canadian
Keyword: Banh Mi, Barbecue Pork, Barbecue Sauce, BBQ pork, Chinese BBQ Pork
Servings: 2 cups
Author: Chef Ben Kelly


  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup Molasses
  • 1 tbsp sambal
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 3-4 drops fish sauce
  • 1/2 tsp Chinese five-spice
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp powdered ginger
  • 2 tbsp rice vinegar


  • Measure all of the ingredients into a medium-sized mixing bowl and whisk to combine.
  • Pour half the sauce over two pork tenderloins and leave to marinate for two hours.
  • Reserve the remaining sauce for basting the pork as it cooks.
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!



  1. Perfect Bacon-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin – Chefs Notes - […] in a small roasting pan or casserole dish and brush with your favourite barbecue sauce or follow my guide…

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