Find your own signature recipe and you will never buy bottled sauce again.

By Patricia S York
May 18, 2020
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Photo: Hector Manuel Sanchez; Prop Styling: MindI Shapiro Levine; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Growing up, I thought everyone made their own BBQ sauce. Long before celebrity chefs and televised BBQ competition shows made it popular, grilling steaks and burgers was a weekend ritual with my dad, and he always started off by making a saucepan of his homemade BBQ sauce. Now, just to be clear, Daddy thought cooking any meat over an open fire was BBQ. I don’t remember him ever distinguishing between grilling – cooking quickly over a hot flame, and barbecue – using a low, slow, hours-long technique. So, when I say my Daddy quickly barbecued steaks (chicken and even hot dogs) over a hot fire, just go with it, ok?

Like some people have a talent for making tender buttermilk biscuits without consulting a recipe, Daddy made his sauce from memory and taste. He started by melting a stick of butter, then added ketchup, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce, sweet pickle juice, and other ingredients I can no longer remember. Sugar? Spices? It probably depended on his sense of adventure that particular Saturday morning. What I do remember is my dad stirring the sauce, tasting, adding a little more of this or that and, when it got to be “mighty fine,” he would let the sauce simmer as he went out to prepare the grill. That homemade BBQ sauce was rich, slightly sweet, and slightly tangy and, over the years, I have spent many sessions at the stovetop trying to duplicate that long-forgotten recipe.

Making homemade BBQ sauce is as easy as blending a few ingredients in a pan and then letting the sauce simmer. The trick comes in finding the flavor profile that suits your taste as well as the cut of meat you are preparing. When preparing pork or sausage, many people prefer a basic Carolina-style mustard-based sauce. Want something a little sweeter to slather on your ribs, chicken, or beef? You might enjoy this ketchup-based Sweet-and-Spicy Barbecue Sauce. A mason jar is all you need to shake up a batch of this Vinegar-Based BBQ Sauce, but don’t put it over beef – this sauce is best drizzled over  pulled pork and ribs. If you have lingered in the BBQ circles for any time at all, you have heard of Bob Gibson’s Alabama White BBQ Sauce, a simple mayonnaise-based sauce that can jazz up any cut of meat from grilled chicken to brisket.

By making your own BBQ sauce or rub you can control the ingredients and tweak the flavor profile – cut down on the sugar, add some heat, go big on the tang. Once you perfect your own recipe, you may never buy the bottled sauce again.