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  • Writer's pictureKonky's Creative Kitchen

Building on Basics: BBQ Sauce Making

Everyone loves BBQ. You cannot deny that. Whether it is working with a grill, smoker, pit, a campfire, it doesn’t matter. Whether it is skewered or whole, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if it is chicken, pork, beef, turkey, duck, goose, insert-type-of-animal-here, vegetables, pizza, or sliced bread. The BBQ is an all-inclusive entity that provides enjoyment, not only for the one who plays at the grill. Those who hear, “Come and get it!” and run for the table know they are about to wear that BBQ proudly! LOL! Now, some folks like to have BBQ sauce. Others prefer spice rubs.  Some folks will even jump in on both for a flavor-packed explosion. Some like their simple store-bought bottle versions of sauce, and that is ok. There are folks out there who prefer to make it from scratch. 

In my travels, I've talked with folks who have asked me about what makes a good BBQ sauce. What it boils down to (no pun intended) is balancing flavors and having a solid understanding of good time/temperature control when you cook the sauce. Some can be sweety-tangy, some can be bold-smoky-savory. Hell, some can be super-tangy-focused while others can be sweet-salty-savory.  Soppy, sticky, or smooth consistencies are another area to consider. Whether it is tomato-based or vinegar-based, you can make your BBQ sauce by understanding the basic elements of what would go into a BBQ sauce.

A display of ingredients for the purpose of making BBQ sauce
Common elements used for BBQ sauce making

Tomato Sauce Base: This means you want to control the amount of sweet elements and what combination of sweet elements. Then you focus on savory and/or smoky condiments or alcohol, your spices, and even cooked vegetables that you would like to incorporate. Tomato Ketchup: This means you want the ability to work with your base that is already on the sweet spectrum and let’s you add a few other sweet and/or savory sauce condiments or alcohol, and then your spices. Even vegetables cooked down are used.


Emulsified Vinegar: You want to create a tangy sauce with multiple sweet and savory elements. Typically, this is emulsified with mustard, honey, tomato paste, roasted garlic, or even egg yolks. You can then work on what herbs and spices you would like to add to build a unique flavor profile.


Sopping Vinegar: This is the basic of all basics. Typically it will be the vinegar of choice, maybe some spices and a little chili for warmth, a slightly sweet element, some neutral oil, and it is used for sopping.


Sweet Elements: Commonly used would be honey, molasses, hoisin, ketchup, maple syrup, brown sugar, and white sugar. Using fruits, fruit compotes, jams, and preserves are also another sweet avenue to explore. Your favorite mead would be a great sweet element to add. Even beverages like pineapple juice, orange juice, and mango juice to name a few are a great way to add a liquid-sweet element to your sauce-base.


Savory Elements: Caramelized onions, roasted garlic, bacon and bacon fat, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce (pronounced WUH-stuh-shuh), tomato paste, tomato puree, mustard, coffee, beer, bourbon, whiskey/whisky or other favorite spirits. Some folks may want to use beef stock or some form of meat/vegetable stock. Your favorite spices that offer varying levels of savory and warmth are VERY important here.


Acidic Elements: Fresh lemon juice, lime juice, tomato juice/puree/sauce, apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, or your choice of vinegar.


Warming Elements: Your dried and/or fresh chilies, dried spices like white pepper, black pepper, smoked paprika, red pepper flakes, taco seasoning blend, hot sauces, ginger, Chinese 5, Aabic 7 (Baharat), and capsaicin extract.


While these elements are not an all-inclusive list, these are the most common elements that BBQ sauce makers will turn to when making their sauces.   One of the best things you can do to get started is take your favorite spice blend and add it to your choice of tomato sauce, tomato ketchup, or a vinegar base. Mix, dissolve well, and taste it. You will know automatically you want to build further.


When cooking the sauce, it should always be low, slow, and always stirring the pot to help avoid burning the bottom. Any time a sweet element is used, there is a high risk of burning the sauce, so pay close attention. Some sauces will be better after it has cooked down and concentrated. It is extremely important to taste as you go. Have a few grapes on the side to cleanse your palate so you can taste the next sample.

Let me know how I can help you on your next BBQ sauce-making endeavor!

Options of BBQ sauce photo images
BBQ sauce in tomato base form or vinegar form.

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