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Sara Hansen

Unleash the Flavor: Unconventional Ingredients to Enhance Your BBQ

When it comes to BBQ, many people stick to the tried and true flavors of traditional sauces and seasonings. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Many people have their favorite regional style and associate that with great BBQ. Especially when it comes to barbecue competition cooking.

But if you are cooking a backyard meal for your friends and/or family and want to do something different, there is a whole world of “unconventional” flavors waiting to be explored. By stepping out of your comfort zone and experimenting with unique ingredients, you can take your BBQ to a whole new level. 

If you want to surprise and delight your guests with unexpected taste sensations, it's time to embrace the power of unconventional flavors.

By incorporating unique ingredients into your barbecue cooking, you can create a symphony of flavors that will tantalize your taste buds and leave a lasting impression on anyone who takes a bite. Unconventional flavors can add depth, complexity, and a touch of excitement to your dishes, elevating them from good to fantastic.

In this article, we break down some exciting ways that you can add unique flavors to grilled or smoked meats and sides.


Add a Citrus Twist

Adding a citrus twist to your BBQ can take your dishes to a whole new level of flavor. The zesty and refreshing notes of citrus fruits can perfectly complement the smoky and savory taste of barbecued meats. Here are two great ways to incorporate a citrus twist:


Lemon and Herb Marinated Meat

When it comes to infusing your meats with bright and tangy flavors, a lemon and herb marinade is a game-changer. This marinade combines the zing of freshly squeezed lemon juice with aromatic herbs like parsley, basil, and thyme, creating a delicious blend that will leave your taste buds craving more.

Making a lemon and herb marinade is super easy. Simply whisk together the juice of two lemons, a quarter cup of olive oil, some minced garlic, chopped fresh parsley, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper to taste. Then marinate your choice of meat, whether it's chicken, pork, or even fish, for at least an hour before grilling.

The acidity of the lemon juice tenderizes the meat, while the herbs infuse it with a burst of freshness. Once cooked, your BBQ creations will boast a delightful citrusy tang that will take your dishes to a new level.


Orange-Glazed Ribs


orange glazed ribs | unconventional flavors for BBQ | unusual ingredients for BBQ


If you want to add a unique twist to a rack of smoked barbecue ribs, then an orange glaze is the way to go. An orange-based glaze will give a touch of sweetness to your BBQ while still keeping it deliciously tangy.

While the ribs are cooking is when you’ll whip up the orange glaze. Simply combine fresh squeezed orange juice, brown sugar, soy sauce, and a hint of ginger in a saucepan. Allow the mixture to simmer and reduce until it thickens slightly. Brush the glaze onto the ribs during the last few minutes of cooking and turn them frequently to ensure a glossy and caramelized coating.

The sweet and tangy flavor of the orange glaze adds a delightful twist to the rich and smoky taste of the ribs.


Use a Sweet and Spicy Combo

Great barbecue is all about the proper balance of flavors. And, when done properly, this can include two opposite flavors. So if you are looking to add a unique twist to your next cookout, try the delicious combination of sweet and spicy. 

The contrast of these two flavors can help take your BBQ dishes to a whole new level. Here are two mouthwatering ways to balance these two flavors:


Homemade Pineapple Jalapeno Barbecue Sauce

Using sweet fruits and spicy peppers is a perfect way to add some unique flavor to your BBQ repertoire. This homemade barbecue sauce combines the tropical goodness of pineapple with the heat of jalapeno and the smoky richness of barbecue sauce, creating a flavor explosion that will complement any grilled meat.

Here's a simple recipe to make your own pineapple jalapeno barbecue sauce:


  • 1 cup pineapple chunks, fresh or canned
  • 1/2 cup pineapple juice
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Combine all of the ingredients in a saucepan and bring it to a boil. Then reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened slightly. Remove it from heat and let cool completely before using it as a glaze or dipping sauce.

This sauce is perfect for basting pork ribs, grilled chicken, or even drizzling over grilled vegetables. Its sweet and tangy flavors will add a delightful twist to your barbecue.


Mango Chipotle Marinade

Another great way to combine a spicy kick with a touch of sweetness is a mango chipotle marinade. With this, you combine the delicious sweetness of mangoes with the smoky heat of chipotle peppers, creating a perfect balance of sweet and spicy flavors.

For this marinade, simply combine diced ripe mango, minced chipotle peppers, lime juice, olive oil, honey, garlic powder, cumin, salt, and pepper in a bowl and mix well. Then, let your meat marinate in this mixture for a couple of hours before cooking.


Unleash the Power of Umami


umami sauce for BBQ | unconventional flavors for BBQ | unusual ingredients for BBQ


Umami is the fifth basic taste of the flavor profiles, along with sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. It is often described as a savory or meaty taste and frequently used in Asian dishes. But using umami can help beautifully enhance the flavor of BBQ meat by adding more depth and complexity. It can also help to make the meat even more tender and juicy. Here are two ways you can utilize the delicious power of umami:


Ginger-Soy Marinade

When it comes to using umami to enhance the flavors of your BBQ, look no further than the umami-packed goodness of a ginger-soy marinade. This versatile marinade combines the savory taste of soy sauce with the zing of fresh ginger, creating a mouthwatering blend that will elevate your grilled dishes.

To make this marinade, just combine equal parts soy sauce and freshly grated ginger in a bowl. The soy sauce provides a rich, salty base, while the ginger adds a subtle heat and a bright, citrusy note. For added flavor complexity, you can also include other ingredients such as garlic, honey, or sesame oil. Whisk everything together until well combined. Then marinate your meat for 1 to 2 hours before cooking.


Miso-Glazed Steak

For a truly indulgent BBQ experience, look no further than the mouthwatering umami explosion of miso-glazed steak. This unique twist on a classic cut of meat combines the rich, earthy flavors of miso paste with the succulent tenderness of a perfectly grilled steak.

To make this glaze, whisk together miso paste, mirin (a sweet rice wine), soy sauce, and a touch of honey or brown sugar. The miso paste is the star of the show, providing a deep, complex umami taste. The mirin adds a subtle sweetness, while the soy sauce brings savory notes that complement the steak beautifully.

Once your glaze is ready, generously coat your steak with it. Let the steak marinate in the glaze for at least 15 minutes. For maximum impact, you can let it marinate for up to an hour.

The umami-packed ingredients above can bring a depth of flavor that will leave your guests impressed and asking for your secret recipe.


Try an Herb Infusion

By infusing flavorful herbs into your grilling or smoking you can add a whole other dimension to your food. Herbs can help amplify and complement the natural flavors of meats and vegetables. Here are two mouth-watering ways that you can utilize fresh herbs:


Rosemary-Infused Lamb Chops


rosemary smoked lamb chops | unconventional flavors for BBQ | unusual ingredients for BBQ
Source: Food52


If you're looking to add a touch of elegance and depth to your BBQ, using rosemary with lamb is the perfect choice. The aromatic herb brings a unique flavor profile that complements the rich, juicy lamb beautifully. 

Infusing lamb chops with the taste of rosemary is very easy. Just mix up a marinade of minced fresh rosemary, garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Then let your lamb chops sit in this marinade in a resealable bag in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, allowing the flavors to meld together.

The result? Tender, succulent grilled lamb chops infused with the earthy and aromatic essence of rosemary. Your guests will be impressed by the depth of flavor in this dish.


Basil Pesto Grilled Vegetables

Who said that herbs are only meant for meat? Basil pesto is a versatile sauce that can take your grilled vegetables to new heights. The vibrant flavors of basil, garlic, pine nuts, and Parmesan cheese create a delightful explosion of taste when combined with the smokiness of the grilled vegetable. 

To incorporate the basil pesto, just drizzle it over the grilled vegetables, ensuring each piece is thoroughly coated, and gently toss the vegetables to distribute the pesto evenly. You can serve the basil pesto grilled vegetables as a side dish or as a standalone vegetarian option.

Incorporating herb infusion into your BBQ dishes allows you to explore new dimensions of flavor. Whether it's the aromatic rosemary-infused meat or the use of vibrant basil pesto, these unconventional flavors will take your BBQ experience to a whole new level. Get creative and don’t be afraid to experiment with different herbs.


Add Just a Touch of Heat

Simply adding a touch of heat to your barbecue can help elevate the flavor profile and create a truly memorable taste. If you're a fan of a subtly spicy kick, these unconventional flavors will surely satisfy:


Smoky Chipotle Rub

For the lovers of spice, there's something irresistible about the smoky flavor of chipotle. Chipotle peppers are actually smoked and dried jalapenos, and they bring a unique smoky heat to any dish. When used as a rub for your grilled or smoked meats, it adds a fantastic depth of flavor.

To make your own smoky chipotle rub, start with dried chipotle peppers.Use a spice grinder or mortar and pestle to grind them into a fine powder. Combine the chipotle powder with other spices like smoked paprika, cumin, garlic powder, and brown sugar. The result is a flavorful rub that will give your meats a smoky, spicy crust.

Next time you're smoking chicken, brisket, beef ribs, or a pork roast, generously apply the smoky chipotle rub beforehand and let the flavors infuse into the meat. As it cooks, the rub will create a beautiful caramelized crust with a delicious hint of heat.


Jalapeno and Lime Grilled Corn on the Cob


jalapeno grilled corn | unconventional flavors for BBQ | unusual ingredients for BBQ


Is there anything more delightful than sinking your teeth into a juicy, perfectly grilled corn on the cob? Take it up a notch by adding a jalapeno and lime twist to this classic BBQ side dish. The combination of the heat from the jalapeno and the tanginess of lime creates a flavor explosion that will have everyone reaching for seconds.

To do this, in a small bowl, combine melted butter, minced jalapenos, lime zest, lime juice, salt, and pepper and thoroughly mix. Then, after you have removed the husks and silk from the corn, brush the mixture generously onto the corn, making sure to coat all sides. Wrap each corn cob in aluminum foil and place them on the grill. 

Each bite of the grilled corn will be bursting with flavor, as the heat from the jalapenos lingers on your palate and the lime adds a refreshing zing.

So, the next time you fire up the grill, don't be afraid to experiment with these unconventional flavors. The smoky chipotle rub and the jalapeno and lime corn on the cob will undoubtedly add a touch of heat and excitement to your BBQ.


Don’t Be Afraid to Get Creative with Unconventional Ingredients

Incorporating unconventional flavors into your BBQ can take your grilling game to the next level. By experimenting with “unusual” ingredients such as tangy citrus, sweet fruits, spicy peppers, fresh herbs, exotic spices, and even coffee, you can create unique and mouth-watering dishes that will impress your friends and family.

Remember to balance these flavors with the traditional BBQ elements to maintain the essence of classic BBQ. Don't be afraid to get creative and try new combinations – you may discover a winning flavor profile that sets your barbecue apart from the rest.

Do you know of or use any other unconventional ingredients in your barbecue cooking? Did you recently try one of the things we covered above? If so, leave a comment below. We want to hear all about it!

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So what are you waiting for? Get started with BBQ Champs Academy today and start barbecuing like a pro!

*Feature image from Yummly.com

Sara Hansen

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