We had a family discussion the other day about whether "barbecue" means a flavor (as in barbecue sauce) or a cooking method (referring to anything cooked on the grill). I think the answer is "both". But, that may depend on where you're from. Different regions use the term barbecue differently.
This post is about barbecue as a sauce flavor. What makes a good barbecue sauce is another area of hot debate from region to region across the United States. Memphis, St. Louis, Kansas City, Texas, the Carolinas, and more. We all have different takes on what a real barbecue sauce is. Honestly, I like a lot of different kinds of barbecue sauces. The kind I use most often is commonly categorized as Kansas City Style. KC is known for a sweet and tangy tomato-based barbecue sauce. I like to use it as a base for adding some smoky and spicy flavors.
For years I bought bottled barbecue sauce. There are a lot of tasty ones out there. But, once I figured out how easy it is to make my own, I immediately vowed to never buy bottled sauce again. I can make my own in a jiffy, and that allows me to control the ingredients and avoid undesirable additives.
We're fans of ribs with barbecue sauce in our family. We also like pulled pork and chicken with barbecue sauce. Check out my post: Slow Cooker Pulled Pork.
Today, I'm sharing my barbecue sauce recipe and 3 ways it can be adapted. You'll be able to easily customize this recipe to suit your taste. I use my 14-Spice Dry Rub Mix to season my sauce (explained in a previous post). With the spice mix on hand, it's a snap to make barbecue sauce.
Step-by-step photos for making Barbecue Sauce:
Assemble the ingredients. Dark brown sugar, vinegar (cider preferred, white will work), ketchup, cayenne pepper, honey, worcestershire sauce, prepared mustard (the yellow ball-park kind), 14-spice dry rub mix.
Add all ingredients to a saucepan.
Stir everything together, heat to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 1 hour.
Done! How easy is that? This makes a thick, sweet, and tangy sauce. The 14-spice dry rub mix gives it a complex combination of seasonings that is so good! If you have time, make the sauce a day or 2 ahead. It's gets better as the flavors meld. The sauce will keep in the fridge for at least 2 months.
Barbecue Sauce #1: Sweet and Tangy. This is the "original" recipe as described above. You can stop right there with a flavorful sauce, or use this as a base for making other versions. Read on...
Barbecue Sauce #2: Smoky. Take the original recipe and add 1/2 teaspoon of liquid smoke for each cup of sauce. Careful not to overdo it. Liquid smoke is concentrated--it doesn't take much.
What is liquid smoke? I was a little hesitant to use liquid smoke, because I assumed it was made with artificial chemicals and probably not good for me. Turns out that if you use Wright's liquid smoke you're getting nothing but smoke infused water. There are other brands that have all kinds of additives and "unnatural" sounding ingredients. Wrights is recommended by Cook's Illustrated as the only brand that is all natural. Although it's not a perfect substitute for on-the-grill flavor, it's a good alternative when you can't grill. A bonus is that liquid smoke doesn't have the carcinogens that can be present in grilled food. Read more about liquid smoke here.
Barbecue Sauce #3: Spicy. Take the original recipe and add 1/4 to 1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper per cup of sauce--the amount depends on just how spicy you want your sauce to be. You can also spice it up with a few hits of tabasco or a similar hot sauce. Diced jalapenos can be added, too.
Monica's favorite combo - very spicy with a hint of smoke. Here's my favorite version of the sauce: For each 1 cup of sauce, add 1 teaspoon cayenne and 1/4 teaspoon liquid smoke. (King-Man can't handle the heat. He gets the original version.)
Serving suggestion. When I'm serving barbecue sauce to guests, I like to divide up the original batch and make some of each of the three different kinds described above. That way guests can choose from a variety--just like at a barbecue restaurant. Condiment bottles are the easiest and tidiest way for guests to use the sauce. But, it can be spooned or poured on, too.
Downloadable tags. Here are tags you can download and print for labeling your barbecue sauces. If you only make one kind, there is a tag that says simply "barbecue sauce" that can be used. Click on the image below to download & print a single sheet with 4 of each of the tags:
To use the tags:
Gift idea: Give one or more of these sauces along with other grilling supplies like a gloves, basting brush, tongs, spatula, grill brush, grilling cookbook, etc. Add a jar of 14-spice dry rub mix, too. Great for Father's Day!
NOTE: I got my condiment bottles at The Container Store. They're the only ones I've found that have both of these features: (1) a cover for the tip that stays attached to the bottle when you remove it, so it doesn't get lost; and, (2) clear so you can see the contents. Three of these filled with three different barbecue sauces with tags make a fun gift. They're also very convenient for serving the sauce at home.
Can It. This recipe is suitable for water-process canning as long as you don't reduce the ratio of vinegar to other ingredients. Doubling the recipe makes enough for five 1/2-pint jars. It's great to have on hand for quick meals and homemade gifts. For canning instructions, see my post with Step-By-Step Canning Tips.
Even without going through the canning process, this sauce will keep in the fridge for several months.
Whether making one sauce, all three, or inventing a few of your own, you'll see how fast and easy it is to make your own barbecue sauce that's better than anything you can buy in a bottle.
Make it a yummy day!
Other posts that may interest you: