How to make barbecue sauce

Apple barbecue sauce

How to make barbecue sauce

by Great British Chefs13 May 2024

This simple recipe demonstrates how to make a buttery Kansas City-inspired barbecue sauce that has a mild, sweet flavour perfect for basting or dipping.

How to make barbecue sauce


This simple recipe demonstrates how to make a buttery Kansas City-inspired barbecue sauce that has a mild, sweet flavour perfect for basting or dipping.

If you’ve grown up in the UK, barbecue sauce means pretty much one thing: deep brown, ketchupy sweet sauce. In the states however, it’s a category more like ‘salad dressing’ and can mean anything from incredibly light, vinegar-based sauces to rich and creamy mayonnaise-based sauces. This guide will focus on the version most well-known in the UK, but we have lots of the other varieties on our site.

What is barbecue sauce?

The exact origins of barbecue sauce are unclear but is believed to have come from South Carolina some time in the seventeenth century. Homemade barbecue sauces vary not just by state, but also by region within states, with South Carolina alone having four distinct styles. 

The bottled, brown and sweet barbecue sauce available today is mostly made with tomatoes, vinegar, molasses and other sugars, spices and thickeners. It’s not so different from ketchup – and so it perhaps shouldn’t be a surprise that Heinz was the first major brand to sell barbecue sauce at scale in 1940. In the USA, one of the most popular bottled sauces is Sweet Baby Ray’s, which has a strong smoky flavour, whereas the modern Heinz version is mild and fruity. 

How do you use barbecue sauce?

Although it was originally used to baste meat during cooking, barbecue sauce is also now more commonly served as a condiment similar to ketchup and brown sauce. As the name suggests, barbecue sauce goes well with all the barbecue classics - sausages, burgers, ribs and chicken wings and thighs. It’s also delicious on all kinds of fried food, like chips, chicken nuggets and deep-fried cauliflower.

How to make barbecue sauce




  • 15g of butter
  • 1 tbsp of onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp of tomato purée
  • 60g of tomato ketchup
  • 1 tbsp of molasses
  • 1/2 tbsp of soft brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce, optional, not vegan
  • 1 tbsp of cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp of water
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1/4 tsp English mustard powder
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Melt the butter to a small saucepan over a medium heat, then add the onion


Cook the onion over medium until softened, but not browned, about 10 minutes


Add the tomato purée, and cook for a couple more minutes. The tomato purée should darken slightly, and become shiny with the butter


Add the remaining ingredients to the pan, and stir well. Once the sauce begins to bubble, turn the heat down to low and cook down for 10–15 minutes


Taste the sauce, and adjust the seasonings as needed. The sauce should be quite thick – whisk in a little bit of water to loosen it if you prefer

What is Kansas City barbecue sauce?

Kansas City (or KC) barbecue sauce is popular even outside of the US. It’s thick, sweet and made with lots of tomato, sugar and vinegar. It loosely resembles the sort of barbecue sauce sold by Heinz, but can be more buttery and spicy, often incorporating fried onion and garlic, as well as cayenne pepper.

What else can you add to barbecue sauce?

Try adding a hot sauce like Tabasco if you're after a bit of heat, or for a smoky version, try using chipotle or morita chillies, or a few dashes of liquid smoke. Marcus Wareing adds garlic and lemon juice to his version whereas Adam Gray uses apple as the base for his recipe. Berries also work well in barbecue sauce, and we have a delicious blackberry barbecue sauce recipe too.

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