How To Make Homemade BBQ Sauce
BBQ culture has spread so widely that no matter where you are, there are people barbecuing and grilling. From food shows featuring BBQ, to books, to the Internet, BBQ recipes and techniques are being mastered everywhere, and out in the country and in the woods is where it is most at home.
One of the most satisfying parts of learning to BBQ is molding recipes to suit your needs, making something of your own and with your own personality. The primary element to this is “regionality”. That is how BBQ grew, and it is defined by very clear and distinct varieties. If you live in these hotbeds of BBQ culture, we wouldn’t dream of suggesting any deviation of regional style, but for the rest of us, it can be fun to work on BBQ recipes we can call our very own. This starts with making your own BBQ sauce.
This isn’t a recipe article, the Internet is overflowing with those, but is rather a guide to knowing the fundamentals of BBQ sauce composition, so you can build on that knowledge to make a BBQ sauce that features regional specialties, and your own taste.
Types of BBQ Sauce
You don’t need to know the whole evolution of how BBQ sauces developed, there are books and websites for that. What you need to know, is just like there is red and white as clear defining types of wine, there are three types of BBQ sauces: Tomato based, Vinegar based, and Mustard based. All three include delicious, complex, and legendary examples, but for most of us amateurs not lucky enough to live in the primary BBQ cities, BBQ sauce is typically thought of as the tomato based variety. For making a starter BBQ sauce, we will discuss making a tomato based sauce.
Key Components of BBQ Sauce (tomato based)
Tomato Sauce / Tomato Paste
This is foundation of the sauce. Most BBQ sauces developed out of adding what was around, so this is normally provided in the form of ketchup. When using tomato sauce, the tomato paste is obviously used as a thickener.
Vinegar & Acidic Ingredients
Standard off the shelf white vinegar will do, but apple cider and rice wine vinegars add additional flavor elements. Balsamic is sometimes added as a lesser component as it brings along some very strong flavors. You can also add other common acidic elements such as lemon juice, orange juice, etc. When working on a recipe you will be trying to manage the balance between the Vinegar / Acid element and the Sweet.
With the tomato sauce / ketchup as your base, you then added your acid with vinegar. Now you have the counter to your acid with your sweet ingredients. Brown sugar is a favorite ingredient, as it adds not only the sweet, but also some wonderfully deep flavors. But this is where most often the regional specialization can come in, primarily in the form of fruits and berries. There are three that are particularly popular: Apple, Cherry, and Peach. You can start by using a much smaller amount of brown sugar that you might find in a proven recipe, and then substitute in one of those if it is a specialty of your region.
This includes salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, etc. To be honest, most “secret recipes” go way overboard on this. The best food styles in the world are the simplest, and a lot of people muck up BBQ with too many ingredients. Keep this simple, so as to just balance out the flavors. The one spice that can be played with is Cayenne as it can alter the “heat” of your sauce if you like it with some punch.
Some recipes called for adding liquid smoke to the sauce to create a smokey dynamic. It just feels like cheating. For a subtle undertone of “smokey” flavor, try a little Cumin.
Bourbon sauces are very popular, as the spirit adds some pretty deep and complex flavors. Overall you are better off with saving your booze to enjoy with your meal as it can overpower many of the other flavors.
Don’t start with the mad scientist routine, but work up to it. Blended veggies such as onions and green peppers add exceptional flavors, as will just about anything in your cupboards if you believe what you read on the web. Our advice in regards to extra ingredients is to start slow. A master at making sauces can do it in just a few ingredients, blended correctly, you don’t need a big recipe to make a great sauce. One rule you might want to implement is only use extra ingredients that you can buy at the nearest farmer’s stand.
One extra ingredient that deserves a side note is coffee. The cowboys and hobos of the past made BBQ sauce out of whatever they could find, and coffee was often a readily available ingredient. Espresso is a particularly popular addition to many fancy BBQ sauces today, and it does add one element not found in other ingredients: caffeine.
Creating Your Very Own BBQ Sauce
So let’s review: you have started with your base, let’s say some ketchup. You then are working on a balance between your two complementary components: Acid and Sweet. You might be from a region that is known for a certain type of apple. You add some apple cider vinegar that you bought at a local orchard, and also blend up some apples that you picked there as well. You are not one for spices, but you do like a little pep to counter the strong apple flavor, so you add a little white pepper.
For ratios, there are no strict rules. You might start with 1 Cup Ketchup, and 2 1/2 Cups of your Vinegars / Acid, 1/2 Cup Brown Sugar, 1 Cup Blended Fruit, and 1/4 teaspoon of let’s say three different spices. But don’t in any way feel you need to be close to this. Just remember you have your tomato base, then your competing vinegar vs. sweet, and some spices. We have included links to some excellent BBQ sauces below, so you can see the different ratios being used.
You don’t have to get real intricate with your cooking methods. Most of the time you can put everything in a pot, get it hot, and then simmer. The fun part is in the adjusting as it cooks to find your recipe. Have extras of all ingredients. If you are indeed trying to establish a recipe that you want to use again and again, don’t forget: RECORD WHAT YOU ADD It is so easy to get into it, pop open a few cold ones and completely forget what you added that ended up making a sure fire world champion BBQ sauce.
BBQ Sauce Cooking Method
You are going to see a lot of different cooking instructions for making your BBQ sauce, but if you get lost, you can always remember this: put everything in a big pot, bring to a boil, reduce, simmer 30 minutes. Let cool moderately and transfer to a blender. Blend and then store in mason jars for up to about a month.
Variations of BBQ Sauce Recipe
If you have developed a recipe that you love that includes a regional ingredient that you call your own, you should have in mind a few ways to modify it. Let’s say you are hosting a big summer party and you want to offer several varieties of your sauce at each table.
With a modification to a few ingredients you can come up with many variations of the same sauce:
When you are hosting a party, or if you do a lot of BBQ’ing and grilling, you can get a large amount of plastic squeeze bottles, and even make your own labels. You can also find condiment holders or even use empty 6 pack holders from your favorite craft beer to place them on tables.
BBQ Sauce Recipe Links:
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Also published on Medium.