From Sweet to Spicy: How to Make the Perfect BBQ Sauce

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Updated: 01/23/2023

BBQ Sauce is a staple condiment for many grilled meats and vegetables, and can be used as a marinade, baste, or dip. There are many different types of barbecue sauce, from the sweet and tangy sauces of the American South to the spicy and smoky sauces of Texas and Kansas City, and even international styles like the vinegar-based sauces of the Carolinas or the sweet and savory sauces of the Caribbean.

Regarding BBQ sauces, five major kinds branch into many other sub-categories. The sweet and thick tomato-based BBQ sauce originating in Kansas City is the most popular.

However, some people opt for a vinegar base resulting in a stronger-tasting BBQ sauce. But how can you make a great BBQ sauce at home?

BBQ sauces are defined by their base ingredient: ketchup (tomatoes), vinegar, mustard, mayonnaise, or Worcestershire sauce. From this, you’ll add ingredients such as tomatoes, vinegar, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, spices, and sometimes even mustard or mayonnaise to create your own particular kind.

Want to know more about BBQ sauce and how you can make your tasty condiment? Then read on! We have everything you need to know about BBQ sauces.

sign of bbq

The Different Types Of BBQ Sauce

There is more than one kind of famous BBQ sauce, and depending on where you’re at in America, you may find yourself with a BBQ sauce much different than what you’re used to.

The major styles of BBQ sauce originated in different parts of America, such as Kansas, Kentucky, and Alabama, where BBQing meat and food became a popular event. 

While the majority of ingredients will be included in each of the sauces, the difference is the amount in each individual sauce.

Below we will list the major kinds of BBQ sauces and where they originated:


This is the most popular BBQ sauce you’ll find in supermarkets and is made up of a tomato ketchup base, and is usually a lot sweeter than other varieties.

This BBQ sauce originated in Kansas City and is excellent for coating meats in a sweeter rub.

BTW, since you are here, you probably like cooking! So, check out these sweet (and easy) Griddle Recipes!


Vinegar-based BBQ sauces originated in North Carolina and are typically much less sweet than ketchup-based sauces.

They involve a much higher percentage of vinegar in the sauce, resulting in a much stronger and tangy taste. 

People in North Carolina would argue that a sauce higher in vinegar tenderizes the meat as much as possible, resulting in one of the most succulent styles of BBQ. 

Worcestershire Based

Worcestershire Based BBQ sauce originated in Kentucky and is a staple when it comes to BBQing mutton.

This particular kind of sauce will have a much higher percentage of Worcestershire than other varieties resulting in a sweet yet bold BBQ sauce. 


The mustard-based version is a BBQ sauce that’s extremely popular in South Carolina.

This particular kind of BBQ sauce has a flavor that is both tangy and peppery and is an excellent condiment for just about any type of beef you can grill. 


In Alabama, the most popular kind of BBQ sauce is one that includes a much higher percentage of mayonnaise than what would be typical in other places. This results in a creamy BBQ sauce that is great for any smoked poultry.

How to Make Your Own BBQ Sauce

Making your own barbecue sauce is a great way to customize the flavor to your liking and save money in the process. Plus, you can control the ingredients and make sure they are as healthy and natural as you want. Here’s a guide on how to make your own barbecue sauce at home.


  • 2 cups ketchup
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional for heat)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste


  1. In a large saucepan, combine the ketchup, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, molasses, honey, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, smoked paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, and cayenne pepper (if using).
  2. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
  3. Heat the saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture comes to a simmer.
  4. Reduce the heat to low and let the sauce simmer for about 15 minutes, or until it thickens to your desired consistency.
  5. Once it reaches the desired thickness, you can remove the saucepan from heat and let it cool down.
  6. You can use your barbecue sauce immediately or transfer it to an airtight container and store it in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Tips and Variations:

  • You can adjust the sweetness and acidity of the sauce by adjusting the ratio of ketchup to apple cider vinegar.
  • If you prefer a sweeter sauce, you can add more brown sugar or molasses.
  • If you like a tangier sauce, you can add more apple cider vinegar or lemon juice.
  • For a smokier flavor, you can add a teaspoon of liquid smoke.
  • If you want a spicier sauce, you can add more cayenne pepper or hot sauce.
  • You can also add some fresh herbs like thyme, oregano, or rosemary for more depth of flavor.
  • To thicken the sauce more, you can add some cornstarch or flour to the mixture, just be sure to cook it for long enough for the flour taste to cook off.
  • If the sauce is too thick, you can add some water or broth to thin it out to your desired consistency
  • You can also add some fruit like pineapple or apricot to complement the savory flavors of the sauce.

Tips On How To it Make Better!

There are a few age-old tips that can help you create the best BBQ sauce. Some are simple reminders, whereas others are harder to come by; a few of these will be listed below:

When making your BBQ sauce, you’ll want to make it well in advance of your event or BBQ. This will give the ingredients within the sauce as much time as possible to mix and combine, resulting in a great sauce.

On top of this, letting your BBQ sauce simmer for at least 30 minutes on a gentle what is another way in which you can ensure the ingredients contained within are well and thoroughly mixed. 

When it comes to spices, don’t be shy and try different amounts and combinations each time.

Whether you add a little more garlic and cumin at one time, or the next time a little more onion and mustard, the key is finding what combinations work for you. 

Adding spices to your sauce will also stop it from being so bland. So, if you end up with a BBQ sauce that tastes flat and bland, try adding in a few teaspoons more of Worcester sauce, yellow mustard, or spices such as garlic and onion powder.

If you find your BBQ sauce too sweet, an excellent way to balance this out is to add a bit of apple cider or rice vinegar.

This will add contrast and a tanginess to your BBQ sauce. Start with a few tablespoons and give it a good shake. 

If your BBQ sauce is too tart, you can add in a sweetener to help with the flavor profile. This could be brown sugar, molasses, or honey. Start with a teaspoon and work up until the flavor is balanced. 

If you’ve added too much smoke to your BBQ sauce, one way in which you can save it is by adding in a bit of citrus juice, including limes or oranges. Start with a little so you don’t ruin the overall flavor. 


Making your own barbecue sauce is a great way to customize the flavor to your liking and save money in the process. There are many different types of barbecue sauce, but this guide provides a simple recipe that you can customize to your preferences.

The key is to balance the sweetness, acidity, and spiciness, and to let the sauce simmer long enough to thicken and meld the flavors together. With a little experimentation, you’ll be able to create a barbecue sauce that is perfect for your taste.

So, now you have everything you need to get into the kitchen and make a great Kansas City BBQ sauce for yourself; remember, the ingredients list is just a base, but you should play around a see what combinations you like the best.