How To Make BBQ Sauce

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Sauce flavor is a subjective subject, but you can easily make your own favorite BBQ sauce at home if you know the basics of how BBQ sauce comes together. Scroll below to learn how to make BBQ sauce. We’ll cover sauce bases and how to add flavor so you can feel confident creating your own sauce at home.

Homemade BBQ sauce dripping off a sauce brush with text overlay - How to Make BBQ Sauce.

Popular BBQ Sauces

Every sauce has a balance of flavors. They bring acidity and sweetness to the rich BBQ. These are just a few popular BBQ sauces based on where they originated in the United States.

  • Alabama White Sauce. Creamy, mayonnaise-based sauce. Adds richness and cuts fattiness of the meat with acidity and tanginess.
  • Kansas City BBQ Sauce. This is a tomato-based sauce that is sweetened with molasses and brown sugar.
  • South Carolina Sauce. Mustard-based sauce that is nice and tangy.
  • North Carolina Sauce. This thin, vinegar-based sauce is extremely acidic with a good amount of spice in the blend as well.

Whether you slather sauce on your meat or serve it on the side, it’s important to have the basic sauce recipes handy. It’s also beneficial to have the skill set to mix your own BBQ sauce at home to complement the flavor profiles in the meat you are cooking.

BBQ Sauce Ingredients

When you’re planning to make your own BBQ sauce, you need to focus on balance with the rich and fatty meat. Your main goal is to add some of the following:

  • Tanginess & Acidity. All BBQ sauce has that tang or “bite” to compliment the hearty flavor of the meat.
  • Sweetness. Add in a bit of sugar or sweetener to balance out the acidity.
  • Unique Flavor. From there, you can add in whatever flavors you like best. This can include fresh, citrus, herbs, heat, smokiness, etc.

Let’s break down selecting the ingredients for your BBQ sauce further:

Ingredients for cherry cola BBQ sauce in a large pot on the stove.

Step 1: Build the Base

This will make up 50-75% of your finished sauce, so make sure you choose something that will complement your meat.

  • Tomato. Most popular sauces begin with a tomato base, either through ketchup or canned tomatoes. Canned tomatoes give you a nice, blank canvas to work from, whereas the ketchup is already flavored.
  • Mustard. If you want a tangy sauce, go with a mustard base. It makes for a great punchy base for meats like pork.
  • Mayonnaise. Creamy sauces with a mayonnaise base are great for chicken and other cuts of meat that don’t have a lot of natural fat in them.

Step 2: Add Acidity

Once you have your base chosen, you need to introduce some acidity to the sauce. This is usually in the form of vinegar or some form of citrus juice.

  • Apple Cider Vinegar. This is a great compliment to tomato-based sauces.
  • Wine Vinegar. This pulls sweeter than apple cider vinegar.
  • Balsamic Vinegar. For a sweet acid, choose balsamic vinegar that gets rich when it cooks down.
  • Rice Vinegar. This will give your sauce an Asian twist.
  • Citrus Juice. These add acidity and unique flavor to your sauce.

Brown sugar being poured into a saucepan.

Step 3: Add Some Sweetener

Adding sweetness to your BBQ sauce helps to balance out the tanginess and gives it a syrupy consistency. The more sugar you add, the more syrupy your sauce will become. If you’re going for a glaze, increase the sweetness in your recipe. Here are a few common sweeteners you can use in your BBQ sauce.

  • Brown sugar or molasses. These will bring some richness and depth to the sweetness of the sauce.
  • Honey. This is great when making a nice honey BBQ sauce.
  • Maple syrup. Maple goes great with a variety of meats. Try it with bourbon for a killer maple bourbon sauce.
  • Jams. For a really unique flavor profile, think about adding a jam to your sauce.
  • Sodas. This will introduce a fun flavor to your BBQ sauce that will make for a one-of-a-kind sauce.

Step 4: Include Finishing Touches

Once you have the basics in your sauce, it’s time to have some fun! Start thinking about the final flavors you want in your sauce, and get creative with adding some of the following:

  • Herbs or spices
  • Aromatics
  • Chiles or hot sauce
  • Garlic
  • Salt & pepper
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Coffee or chocolate

Adding Liquid Smoke to BBQ Sauce

I’ve heard this question asked fairly often, and adding liquid smoke to your BBQ sauce is a heated argument in the BBQ community.

For most, adding liquid smoke is a “cheater” way to make your food taste smokier. If you’re going through all the trouble of smoking or grilling your meat, using a BBQ sauce with liquid smoke in the ingredients should be unnecessary (since you should be able to taste that natural smoke flavor already!)

I personally stay away from liquid smoke in my sauces. I believe that good BBQ should compliment the flavor of the meat, not try to recreate it will liquid smoke in the sauce.

Ingredients for Carolina mustard BBQ sauce in a saucepan.

How to Make BBQ Sauce

Choosing the different components of your BBQ sauce is the most complicated part of the homemade BBQ sauce-making process. Once you have all your ingredients decided and assembled, you’re ready to make the sauce. This is an easy process that only takes about 20-30 minutes. Here’s how to make BBQ sauce:

  1. Combine ingredients. Gather all your ingredients and add them to a medium saucepan.
  2. Boil. Turn the heat on to medium and cook the ingredients, stirring often. Continue to cook until the sauce comes to a boil.
  3. Simmer. Once the sauce is boiling, lower the heat and allow the sauce to simmer for 20 minutes or until the sauce has thickened to your liking. This might take some trial and error as you figure out the best time for the sauce to get to that perfect BBQ sauce consistency.
  4. Cool. After 20 minutes, remove the sauce from the stove and allow it to cool. 
  5. Use or store. Once the sauce has cooled and set, you are ready to use the sauce immediately or store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use. I usually like to give my sauce 24 hours in the fridge before I use them. This allows time for the ingredients to really come together and reach their full flavor.

Homemade BBQ Sauce Recipes

If you’re interested in making your own BBQ sauces, but you’re not ready to dive into the process of recipe creation, check out some of Hey Grill Hey’s most popular homemade BBQ sauce recipes below. You can view all our sauce recipes here as well.

Homemade BBQ Sauce How To

Hey Grill Hey is dedicated to helping you make better BBQ so you can feed the people you love and become a backyard BBQ hero. If you’re looking to up your BBQ game, join The Grill Squad. It’s my members-only BBQ group that is packed full of awesome pitmaster classes and other amazing perks (like a running discount on my store!) Check it out today!



Susie is the BBQ Brain behind the Hey Grill Hey website. Her passion for smoked meats and developing fun, new recipes have landed her on the Food Network, cooking turkeys with Shaq, and on a couple of Guinness World Records. When she’s not grilling, she is hanging out with Todd and their three kids, preferably outdoors!

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2 Reviews

  1. Angie Grigsby says:

    Do you have a printable version of “how to make BBQ sauce?”

    1. Hey Grill Hey says:

      Hey, great question! There isn’t currently a printable version of this post, but all sauce recipes have a printable version.