If your regular ol’ cookout is feeling a little stale, might we suggest making homemade barbecue sauce to go the extra mile? The summer staple is a trusted sidekick, boosting flavor and moisture in hearty proteins like grilled chicken, smoked tofu, or tender ribs—just like a marinade would but without the fussy time commitment.
In fact, barbecue sauce can really elevate some of the best bites at your gathering, Chuck Charnichart, cofounder of Barbs-B-Q, one of the few queer-owned BBQ restaurants in Texas, tells SELF. And when you make your own you have the autonomy to enhance the flavor depending on what you like, they explain.
You also have control over how much sweetener you mix into the sauce, Brigitte Zeitlin, MPH, RD, CDN, tells SELF. Many store-bought barbecue sauce recipes tend to include a lot of added sugar, which some people may not prefer the taste of or other people may be trying to limit due to certain health issues. Just note that any delicious homemade barbecue sauce recipe should ideally include some sort of sweetener. (If you’re trying to reduce your consumption, you can choose a recipe that’s more tangy or spicy instead.)
Make sure the rest of your plate at the cookout is balanced too. When you get to slathering your sauce, eating protein-rich mains like grilled salmon or chicken and fiber-filled sides like garlicky asparagus or smoked broccoli can help stabilize blood sugar spikes, Zeitlin says.
And you don’t need to be a pro to spin up your own sauce. Most glazes come together in as little as 10 minutes with only a few ingredients—and you probably already have them in your fridge or cabinet. Read on for all the deets on how to craft the perfect formula. Then get cooking with some amazing homemade barbecue sauce recipes that put it all to the test.
What kind of barbecue sauce should you make?
If you’ve gone to a smokehouse or BBQ restaurant, you probably noticed a whole array of sauces on the menu, which are typically labeled by region of popularity. You’ll generally see eight kinds: Texas, Kansas City, Memphis, Nashville, North Carolina, Alabama, South Carolina, and Oklahoma.
A majority of them contain a sweet component—like brown sugar—but there are some important contrasts. South Carolina typically loves to add mustard, for example, while Oklahoma loves Worcestershire sauce in its recipe. So which type should you use as your inspo if you’re new to the homemade stuff?
Texas style, which is known for its sweet, tangy, and spicy taste, is a great choice for beginners, Alexis Tovias, cofounder of Barbs-B-Q, tells SELF. It’s best slathered on proteins like a peppery smoked brisket because the sweetness balances out the savory beef, Tovias says.
Texas-style sauce contains three primary ingredients that you likely have on hand, Frank Costantino, dean of the Culinary Institute of New York at Monroe College, tells SELF. You’ll need tomatoes (fresh, diced, pureed, or paste—anything works, really), a sweetener like sugar, and vinegar. Don’t be afraid to try variations, such as apple cider vinegar instead of traditional white vinegar. You can even sub in Worcestershire sauce, which is highly acidic and flavorful.
Should you use ketchup in your homemade barbecue sauce?
As we mentioned above, you need some form of tomato in your sauce. So does ketchup do the trick?