Get Your Grill on with Perfect Barbecue Sauces

From the lecture series: The Everyday Gourmet — How to Master Outdoor Cooking

By Chef Instructor Bill Briwa, The Culinary Institute of America & Chef Instructor Patrick Clark, The Culinary Institute of America

Dogs, burgers, brats – whatever you’re barbecuing, the right sauce can take your meal from good to great. Discover the world of barbecue sauces and learn a simple, yet delicious version that works with almost anything you grill.

variety of bbq-sauce

When it comes to barbecue sauce, everyone has an opinion and every region has their own special version. Consider buying commercial barbecue sauce, tasting it, and then deciding if you like the way it tastes as is or if you’d rather change it.

Types of Barbecue Sauce

In North Carolina, barbecue sauce is typically a vinegar-based sauce with tomato. To make this type of barbecue sauce, start with apple cider vinegar. Add sweetness in the forms of brown sugar and molasses. Then, add garlic powder, salt, pepper flakes, hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce.

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If you wanted to stop at this step and use what you’ve combined so far as a sauce, you certainly could.

If you wanted to turn this into a true North Carolina barbecue sauce, add some ketchup.

It’s powerful, but the flavor is balanced. Some people would periodically use this sauce—often called a mop—to baste their pork. Just mop the sauce on top to keep the meat moist and to flavor the meat while it cooks.

This is a transcript from the video series The Everyday Gourmet: How to Master Outdoor Cooking. Watch it now, Wondrium.

In South Carolina, they have a fondness for mustard in their barbecue sauces. Instead of a dark sugar like molasses, they use white sugar, and instead of ketchup, they add yellow mustard.

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In Tennessee, they have an interesting sauce called a white sauce. In this kind of sauce, instead of mustard or ketchup, mayonnaise is used, and the dark sugars are replaced with something a little lighter.

Grilled sliced barbecue pork ribs on wooden background, top view

In Kansas City, they love sauces that are sweet and tomato-based. Because they cook a lot of ribs, which don’t cook for as long as brisket or pork butt, they can make a sauce that’s slightly thicker, so more ketchup, as well as a lot more sugar, is added.

In Texas, they eat a lot of brisket, which cooks for a long time, so they use a thinner, tomato-based sauce. Texas barbecue sauces are influenced by spices from Mexico, such as cumin and chiles.

In Kentucky, many barbecue sauces contain bourbon and brown sugar.

Just Add Whatever You Have

You might have some blackberries or blueberries in your refrigerator, and you can make a blackberry or blueberry barbecue sauce simply by cooking the berries in the barbecue sauce. If you have a bottle of root beer that is slightly flat and you don’t want to drink it anymore, you could reduce it down and add it to the sauce for sweetness and spice. You might even have some Asian products, such as sweet Thai chile sauce, ponzu sauce, or katsu sauce, and you can add any of these to commercial barbecue sauce to create your own signature sauce.

Barbecue Wings

Barbecue Sauce


  • 12 oz orange juice concentrate
  • 12 oz prepared chile sauce
  • 5 oz molasses
  • 3 oz soy sauce
  • 2 oz prepared mustard
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 oz 2 oz lemon juice
  • chicken stock as needed

Cooking Instructions

In a stock pot bring the chicken stock to a simmer. Stir in each ingredient and hold at a simmer for 3-5 minutes until fully combined and thick.

Take some chicken thighs and legs, and with a knife, slash across the middle of them, right down to the bone. This is going to allow the heat to penetrate down to the bone, and the thighs and legs will cook quicker than they would otherwise.

Place the pieces of chicken on a hot spot on the grill. Cook them until they get some markings on the outside, along with some caramelization.

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Chicken legs grilling over flames with barbecue sauce

After about six or seven minutes, right before they are completely cooked, generously glaze the thighs and legs with some barbecue sauce.

Once the chicken thighs and legs have sauce on them, if they stay in one place on the grill for any length of time, the sauce is going to burn. But if you keep them moving regularly, after about two to three minutes, the sauce is going to caramelize and form a crust on the outside.

Common Questions About Barbecue Sauce

Q: What does barbecue sauce actually consist of?

While there is an almost impossibly huge variety, barbecue sauces all have a base of tomato paste and vinegar with added powdered spices and often a sweetener such as molasses.

Q: How do I make barbecue sauce?

You can make barbecue sauce fairly easily by first choosing what type of base you want and then choosing the spices. You bring the base to a simmer in a stove pot and stir in the spices until well-blended. Finally, stir in a sweetener if you like sweet barbecue sauce. Cook this for 2-3 minutes, and you’re ready to barbecue!

Q: Is ketchup in barbecue sauce?

Ketchup is in many barbecue sauce recipes as it is made from some of the primary ingredients of barbecue sauce—spices, tomato paste, sugar and vinegar—but it is not in all of them, and barbecue sauce can be made without it.

Q: Is barbecue sauce made for vegetarians?

Barbecue sauce can be vegetarian and even vegan, but many of the store-bought varieties include anchovies, honey, eggs, or milk products, so it is wise to check the labeling and even better to make it yourself.

This article was updated on 1/13/2020

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