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Sara Hansen

How To Make Barbecue Sauce Like A Pro

No matter what style of barbecue you are cooking, chances are you want to have a barbecue sauce (at least on the side) that complements and elevates that great meat flavor even more. The use of barbecue sauce when outdoor cooking meat dates back to as early as the end of the 15th century when Christopher Columbus brought a primitive sauce back from Hispaniola that was used for cooking Alpaca meat.

The variety and number of options now available in store-bought barbecue sauce are enough to make your head spin. There are definitely some great ones available. But, if you are spending time learning how to cook like a champion pitmaster, why not elevate your sauce game too by making a homemade barbecue sauce. 

Learning how to make barbecue sauce from scratch like a pro is actually easier than you may think. Plus, the most fun part is putting your own twist on the sauce, experimenting, and determining what flavor profile you like the best. 

In this article, we’ll break down some necessary background info you need to know first. We’ll also give you a good starting point for making a barbecue sauce that you’ll be proud to show off.


Pair Your Barbecue Sauce & Your Meat 

If you are not sure where to start when it comes to how to make barbecue sauce, a good jumping-off point is to consider what type of meat you’ll be pairing it with. 

Some flavor profiles pair better with certain types of meat. Remember, you want the flavors in your sauce to complement and enhance the meat. Not overpower or fight against it.

  • Savory Sauces - Sauces that have a more savory flavor profile tend to pair well with beef and other richer cuts of meat (especially beef brisket and other cowboy cuts).
  • Sweet Sauces - Barbecue sauces that have a sweeter profile pair well with pork (especially baby back and St. Louis ribs).
  • Tangy Sauces - If you like a tangy taste to your sauce, smoked pork (especially pulled pork) and beef (especially beef brisket) are both good pairings.

If you are grilling or smoking chicken, you can pair several different types of barbecue sauce depending on your taste preferences. Many people enjoy lighter, vinegar-based sauces with chicken. If you want to try a more unique sauce that pair deliciously with chicken, a mayo-based white sauce (like the Alabama White Sauce made famous at Big Bob Gibson’s in Northern Alabama) is a great option as well. 


Traditional Flavor Profiles Of Barbecue Sauce

flavor profiles of barbecue sauce | how to make barbecue sauce | BBQ sauceSource: The Daily Meal


When you are planning out what will go in your barbecue sauce, it is important to utilize several flavor profiles that balance and enhance each other to create a harmonious overall flavor. Of course, some sauces will lean heavier towards one flavor profile but will still have enough of other flavors to balance it. 

The traditional flavor profiles found in barbecue sauce include:

  • Sweet - Most often, sweetness in barbecue sauce comes from brown sugar. But, some other great alternatives or supplements include blackstrap molasses, honey, agave nectar, maple syrup, sorghum, or even sodas.
  • Salty - You definitely don’t want your barbecue sauce to be overly salty, but salt enhances other flavors, like sweet, and balances others, like spiciness and bitterness. Kosher salt is a usual favorite. But, other options include Worcestershire, soy sauce, smoked salt, celery salt, onion salt, tamari, or even anchovy paste.
  • Sour/Tangy - Tangy or sour flavors balance perfectly with both salty and sweet flavors. Tangy starts with the acid component in tomato, which is the base for many barbecue sauces. But tangy and sour flavors can be boosted by using different types of vinegar, lemon, grapefruit juice, mustard, pickle juice, tamarind paste (which also adds a touch of sweetness), or even beer.
  • Spicy - Every good barbecue sauce needs at least a little bit of spiciness to balance any sweetness. An easy way to add a little bit of spiciness is with black pepper. You can amplify spiciness by using things like hot sauce, chili powder (like chipotle, cayenne, or ancho), fresh dried chilies, fresh chopped peppers in adobo sauce, pepper jellies, or even Habanero rib candy glazes.


Focus On The Base First

Now that you understand how the flavor profiles play a factor in a well-balanced sauce, it’s time to focus on the base of your sauce first. Your base will help guide you in what and how much to add from the other flavor profiles. Most barbecue sauces start with a tomato base in some form. As we mentioned above, tomato is going to put you at a starting point of a tangy flavor. 

Some popular choices for a tomato base include ketchup, tomato-based chili sauce, tomato sauce, tomato paste, and pureed tomato. Ketchup is a popular choice for a base because it already has some spices built-in, as well as high sugar content which helps achieve a nice sticky glaze on your meat when it is cooked.

Of course, there are some regional style variations when it comes to barbecue sauce and your base may not be tomato at all. If you’re going for a traditional Carolina style sauce, you’ll start with a vinegar or mustard base. Or, as mentioned above, the Northern Alabama style sauce will start with a mayonnaise base.

Whether you are starting with a tomato, vinegar, mustard, or mayonnaise base, focus on your base’s flavor profile first and build out from there to complement it.


Get Creative With Flavor Boosters, Herbs, & Spices

barbecue sauce ingredients | barbecue sauce | how to make barbecue sauceSource: Cooking Channel


One of the best parts about making barbecue sauce from scratch is that once you’ve combined the basic ingredients you have the opportunity to flex your culinary creativity. Those basic ingredients will get you started on hitting the essential flavor profiles. You can elevate and expand on flavors by using flavor boosters, herbs, and signature spices.

  • Experiment with even more creative ways to add sweetness by using fruit. You can add guava paste as part of your base, use fresh blueberries or blackberries, or even add a little bit of fruit jelly/preserves.
  • To add extra texture and depth you can opt to add in some aromatics. Things like minced garlic, chopped onions, diced jalapenos, or diced bell pepper are good examples.
  • Some herbs can help enhance a delicious savory flavor. Examples that work well in barbecue sauce include dried rosemary, thyme, basil, sage, bay leaf, cilantro, mint, and parsley.
  • Getting creative with additional spices is an easy way to boost the existing flavor profiles in the base. Depending on how sweet of a sauce you want, or the meat you are cooking, you can use things like cinnamon, nutmeg, Allspice, cardamom, and ginger to add sweetness. While things like paprika, coriander, cumin, and curry powder can be used to achieve a savory flavor.
  • All barbecue sauces need some type of liquid to provide a smooth texture. This is an opportunity to get creative as well. Different kinds of beer are an easy way to enhance tangy and savory flavors. Bourbon and even red wine are other options. Root beer and colas are a way to enhance a little sweetness. Brewed coffee can even add delicious bitterness. Even a little bit of bacon drippings can add a robust savory flavor.


A Starting Point For How To Make Barbecue Sauce

Now you have the knowledge of flavor profiles and how to build on the different flavors to create a great barbecue sauce. But, you may still be wondering exactly where to start once you’ve decided on a base. 

This recipe below from Char-Broil is a simple, traditional tomato-based sauce that can give you a starting point. It touches on all of the traditional flavor profiles to give you a well-balanced overall flavor. From this recipe, you can modify it, add in different things, and get creative until you’ve made your own signature sauce built around your flavor preferences. 

Makes 1 1/2 cups


  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black ground pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried minced garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried minced onion
  • 1 teaspoon BBQ rub or 3/4 teaspoon chili powder


Mix all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a slow boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Allow sauce to cool before serving. Store refrigerated for up to 1 month.


How To Correct Homemade Barbecue Sauce

homemade BBQ sauce | barbecue sauce | how to make barbecue sauce


So you’ve been mixing up your barbecue sauce and maybe now it tastes too salty, too sweet, or even too spicy. Don’t worry, you don’t have to throw the sauce out and start over. There are easy ways to correct it and still end up with a great tasting sauce.

  • Too Salty - If you find, after mixing your ingredients, that your sauce is too salty then you have a couple of options. One is you can simply double the batch while leaving out any of the salty ingredients you have already used. Or, lemon juice or brown sugar can be used to tone down an over salty sauce.
  • Too Sweet - If your sauce is tasting too sweet DO NOT add salt. Remember from earlier in this article, salt enhances sweet flavors. To cut down on the sweetness you can add a little bit of vinegar or lemon juice. Another option is to add more of the base and sour ingredients.
  • Too Spicy - If your sauce has too much of a kick you also have a couple of options here. One is to add a little bit more of a sweetener plus an acidic ingredient to tone the spiciness down. For example, brown sugar with vinegar. But just add a little at a time and taste as you go. Your other option is to increase the amount of all of the other ingredients (except the spicy ones of course).


Wrapping It All Up

As you can see, there’s more to making barbecue sauce like a pro than just throwing a bunch of ingredients together. It is important to understand the different flavor profiles, how they complement and enhance each other, and how they pair with different meats.

Learning how to make barbecue sauce can be just as fun as actually cooking the meat. It is also a time where you can show off your culinary creativity. There are many options for ingredients to use to end up with your own signature barbecue sauce that you’ll be proud to share with friends and family.

For tips on how and when to use your homemade barbecue sauce when you are doing your outdoor cooking, check out our other great article here.

This insider information and tips like we’ve covered above are the type of barbecue insight you’ll get from the award-winning pitmasters and grillmasters here at BBQ Champs Academy. You’ll learn step-by-step outdoor cooking techniques alongside insider secrets, all in stunning high-def 4K video. Check out our All-Access pass to get the full inside look.

Sara Hansen

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3 comments on “How To Make Barbecue Sauce Like A Pro”

    1. Thanks Shannon! We're glad you found the article helpful. Let us know how it turns out if you make your own sauce!

  1. I've made homemade bbq sauce starting with tomatoes instead of ketchup or tomato sauce/paste. It has a nice tang to it and a smokey aroma, but it also has a almost bitter tomato taste at just the end of the tasting. How can I fix this bitter tomato flavour that is coming out of the bbq sauce?

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