Kansas City BBQ Sauce


This thick, vinegar based BBQ sauce has all the right flavors.

Kansas City BBQ Sauce
Photo: Antonis Achilleos; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall; Prop Styling: Prissy Lee Montiel
Active Time:
5 mins
Total Time:
5 mins
2 ⅔ cups

In the South, we sure do know our barbecue. Each year, we ask our readers to help us rank the South's Best BBQ Joints, and the list is bound to elicit some fiery debate. How is one supposed to rank smoked chicken smothered in vinegary white sauce against Central Texas brisket? Our studies in Southern barbecue have proven that this revered culinary landscape is far from a monolith—each Southern region, state, and even city has its own unique expression of barbecue. And more often than not, the secret is in the sauce. We sought out to devise a Kansas City-style barbecue sauce that did the city—and its diverse, limitless barbecue scene—justice.

"Rusty orange in color with a strong vinegar tang, the thick sauce has a distinctive grainy texture from plenty of embedded spice," Robert Moss writes on the signature sauce at Arthur Bryant's Barbecue in Kansas City, Missouri. Inspired by this iconic sauce, our Test Kitchen created a Kansas City-Style Barbecue Sauce that you can whip up from the comfort of your own kitchen.

While some other KC BBQ sauce recipes call for heating the sauce to melt the sugar, we found that the slight grittiness of the unheated sauce stayed truer to the version that we've admired at some of our favorite Kansas City barbecue joints, like Arthur Bryant's Barbecue.

Our Kansas City-Style Barbecue Sauce packs a fair bit of spice, with dynamic layers of flavor from the chili powder and cayenne pepper. Celery seeds bring an unmistakable zing to this sauce, while lemon juice and apple cider vinegar brighten the whole thing up. When served right away, this sauce has a bit of texture from the sugar; if you let it stand for a day or two, the sugar eventually melts into the sauce. This BBQ sauce pairs beautifully with smoked beef or Kansas City's famous burnt ends.


  • 2 cups ketchup

  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar

  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon)

  • ¼ cup granulated sugar

  • 1 tablespoon chili powder

  • 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

  • 1 teaspoon celery seeds

  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder


  1. Whisk together ketchup, vinegar, and lemon juice in a large bowl until combined. Whisk in sugar, chili powder, salt, celery seeds, cayenne, and garlic powder until smooth. Store in an airtight container in refrigerator up to 1 week.

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