homemade barbecue sauce

If you have never made your own barbecue sauce before, I’m going to have to insist that you try to at least once. And while I’m loath to ensnare myself in the myriad layers of barbecue conviction across this land — from the don’t-come-near-my-sauce-with-those-tomatoes whole-hoggin’ in Carolina to the don’t-you-dare-come-near-my-mesquite with sauce in Texas (and then the small matter of me being from New Jersey where barbecue just meant cooking your hamburgers and hot dogs outdoors) — I might have to insist that you try this one because it’s sacrilegiously good.

very softly cooked onion and garlic

I like to believe Ina Garten and I share an absorption with making typically unremarkable foods remarkable again. Okay, maybe it’s a stretch but her lemon cake has got to be one of the top five cakes ever made with her orange chocolate chunk version squarely in the top ten; her coleslaw made me like coleslaw and her barbecue sauce is a spectacular Eastern/Asian/Southern mutt.

many bottles and cans of ingredients

I’ll admit it’s a bit of an ingredient dump. I hate overly relying on things from jars and bottles when cooking, so this recipe taking but two of thirteen ingredients from the produce aisle caused me pause — the first time. After I’d tried it, however, with flavors so loud you can almost hear them, I’ve happily brought home groceries bags full of clink and liquid weight to make it again and again.

that's it!

Since we’re barbecue-agnostic in these parts, we felt free to couple our sauce-laden chicken with asparagus and a napa slaw for dinner and I encourage you to also innovate as you please. I suspect Whole Foods boneless, skinless chicken thighs broiled in the oven weren’t getting us invited to any Memphis pig-pickins, anyhow.

homemade barbecue sauce, ina garten-style

Homemade Barbecue Sauce

This is a tangy, subtly spicy, delicious mutt of a barbecue sauce. On her show, Ina Garten explained that she had at one point tried to develop different sauces to complement different cuisines — from Asian to various South Eastern regions — but only when she mixed them all together in frustration did she find exactly her barbecue sauce nirvana. I couldn’t agree more. I make this all summer, freeze leftovers in one-cup servings, and sob when we run out. This also makes excellent host gifts.

This is fantastic brushed over chicken to grill, Ina has also used it on ribs (but you all know I’m a dry rub girl). Although it’s not strictly vegetarian (it has Worcestershire sauce) or vegan (ditto, plus honey), I think it would be excellent on sturdy grilled tofu.

Use a mild chili powder here for a classic barbecue sauce flavor. If using a hotter one, add it to taste because 2 tablespoons of a very hot one could quickly make the sauce taste like hot sauce. I also find that red pepper flakes vary wildly (my current jar can heat a dish with just a pinch or two) so I’d add these to taste as well.

Update: I revisited this in 2017 and found I could use a little less oil and more tomato paste and it worked out just as well. Consider these ingredient levels fairly flexible if you want to adjust to your tastes.

  • 1 1/2 cups minced yellow onion (from 1 large onion)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 6 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup (265 grams) tomato paste (from a 10-ounce can)
  • 1 cup (235 ml) apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup (335 grams) honey
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup (240 grams) smooth dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) soy sauce
  • 1 cup (335 grams) hoisin sauce
  • 2 tablespoons mild chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • Red pepper flakes, to taste (Ina recommends 1/2 tablespoon, mine are quite hot and I use 1/2 teaspoon)

In a large saucepan on low heat, cook the onions and garlic in oil for 10 to 15 minutes, until the onions are transluscent and soft, but not browned. Add the rest of the ingredients. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Use immediately or store in the fridge for up to a month.

Do ahead: Although we’ve stored it in the fridge longer than a month with no notable decline in quality, we more often freeze extras.

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119 comments on homemade barbecue sauce

  1. I wanted to try this when I saw this episode, and now I will for sure! Thanks, it looks fantastic.

    Ina has never failed me, either. The first whole turkey I ever made was her “Perfect Roast Turkey,” and it was so perfect I’ll never make another. She posts the recipe only around Thanksgiving on the site.

    Lovely photos as usual!

  2. I watched Ina’s episode this weekend when she made this BBQ sauce and I was pretty intrigued. But it looks like it makes so much sauce, more than my husband and I would be able to eat in even 2 or 3 dinners. How long would you expect this to last in the fridge? A month maybe? I have no concept of how time evolves for different foods.

  3. deb

    Hi Sandy — It makes 6 cups, I believe, which is indeed quite a lot. What we do is freeze the leftovers in one cup containers. We took stuff out from a year (year!) ago that was perfectly fine. It can even be defrosted in the microwave if you’re in a rush. In the fridge, I try not to keep it for much more than a month, unless poured while hot into jars which vacuum-seal upon closing.

  4. MiM

    it looks yummmmy :)

    but please , after I make the BBQ sauce , how I would prepear the chicken ??

    would u please tell me in details ..

    thank u

  5. Christina M

    Just made this. I halved the recipe, and it still made quite a lot. And, very un-true to form, I even stuck closely to the recipe.

    My only tweaks were:
    1) pureeing the onion-garlic mixture in the blender a bit before returning to the pot and adding the other ingredients. i didn’t dig the chunky onion idea.

    2) adding a splash of liquid smoke, and a dash of chipotle pepper sauce

  6. jlm

    I’m not a fan of “chunky onions” either. If I decide to puree them, does that change the timing requirement on the first step–where I put them in the saucepan for 10-15 minutes?

    Thanks for anyone that can provide insight.

  7. deb

    You can chop the onions very finely and by the time they cook, you won’t notice the texture. Otherwise, pureeing them would work as well.

  8. stepha

    i made this this past weekend (AWESOME) and put 3/4 c servings in plastic bags to freeze, only they are not freezing rock solid. is that what happened to you? does this mean that i should probably use it within the month? thanks for any advice!

  9. deb

    Hi Stepha — We’ve frozen it before many times, but it has always gotten solid. We may have hyperactive freezers, or yours may be running a bit warm. If the latter, it’s probably not good to have it in there more than a month. If you’re sure your freezer is a good temperature, this stuff lasts in the freezer for… well, let me just say that once, we found a container a year later, defrosted it, and it was good as new. So it will keep for a long time.

  10. Kay

    what do you suppose would happen if i were to omit the worcestershire sauce to make it vegetarian? i know, i know, what’s a vegetarian going to put barbecue sauce on? why, fake chicken, of course!

    1. deb

      I had NO IDEA that worcestershire sauce wasn’t vegetarian, fancy that! I’d say just use soy sauce, or a mix of soy sauce and tamarind paste and/or maybe even some sugar, molasses and vinegar (I saw this suggested here). There are also a lot of vegetarian brands of worcestershire.

    2. vivian

      I use Maggi Sauce as a vegetarian substitute for Worcestershire, and it has always worked well. Barbecue sauce is also really good on grilled tofu, or pan crisped tofu, or Portobello mushrooms. Makes a great sandwich.

  11. Kay

    thanks for the tips. i learned something new too — definitely did not know that worcestershire sauce may have its roots in india! being indian, i keep tamarind paste on hand in my kitchen, so i should be able to sub out the worcestershire with that + soy sauce. thanks deb!

  12. so crazy weird, i just watched the episode today on food network featuring her insane sauce. i had seen the episode last summer or the one before? anyhow, haven’t ever tried making it. can’t wait to try yours!! thx

  13. I made this today using vegetarian worcestershire sauce and adding 2 T. brown sugar and a splash of liquid smoke. I was worried when I tasted it at the beginning, but after it had cooked down it was awesome!!! Can’t wait to make a bbq faux-chicken pizza with it!

  14. Pamela

    Just so you know, Deb, this recipe doesn’t show up in your “recipes” list. That said, it is *awesome*. I use it to make a slow-cooked shredded BBQ and then make grilled BBQ chicken pizza … heaven!!

  15. Perri

    This is awesome sauce. I might tweak it a bit next time, adding a bit more tomato paste and less cumin. Thanks!!

  16. Jill

    Incredible barbecue sauce. This is my third batch this summer.
    I was hesitant about the amount of vinegar, but it mellows perfectly.
    Like Lizzy, above, I add a bit of liquid smoke to make up for the fact that this sauce usually ends up on tofu. Have used it as a pizza sauce as well, with great success.

  17. Renee

    Hey! I made this last night, to astounding success! I ran out of Dijon mustard and ended up replacing the extra 1/3 cup with hot English, and MAN – it’s DELICIOUS! Bit of bite and SO much flavour.

    In short – you should leave your family and come live with me, and cook for me always!

  18. Renee

    Also in reference to an old post from stepha, mine doesn’t feeze solid either. But I attribute that to the amount of oil in the sauce. I’ll cut it down next time and see how that goes!

  19. Ann

    Sorry Deb, I’m probably the only one who didn’t like it. It’s SO salty. I only taste the soy and the worchestershire sauce, both very salty. I threw it away, what I never do with food.

  20. Alison

    Best barbecue sauce ever! The depth of flavor, the spiciness, the bit of heat makes it wonderful and I’m kicking myself for not making it sooner as I’ve had it bookmarked forever. I finally made it last weekend for some wings and it was delicious. So easy I’ll never go back to bottled.

  21. candymaze

    I just made it tonight, and cover some grilled chicken legs with it
    it’s the BEST, irresistible and sooooo delicious , it’s perfect!!!!

  22. Renee

    Ann – What ingredients did you use? Mine was perfect, a little sweet with only background salt flavour to give it depth. Maybe try it again, with salt reduced hoisin, Worcestershire and soy? It really is an amazing sauce, it would be a shame to give up on it.

  23. Susie

    I found the saltiness overwhelmed the taste also. With as many of my favorite ingredients in it, I’ll probably play with it a bit, but I did use low sodium everything (including tomato paste). Perhaps it’s because I don’t eat salt most of the time.

  24. Sarah

    I also thought the sauce was a little salty, but I don’t think you need to use a whole lot since it has so much flavor. I think I might reduce the cumin slightly next time. Thanks for the recipe! Making shredded barbecue chicken and carrot sandwiches.

  25. Mary

    I’m so glad to find a fellow fan of Ina’s barbecue sauce! I’ve ben making this for years and love it. I made a batch yesterday, and was looking online to see if it freezes well. Voila. I’m going to have to try the Lemon Cake, yum…

  26. Chocolate Chip Girl

    I’ve been trying to find a barbecue sauce recipe without ketchup (HFCS) and had almost given up the search. So glad I found your site. If hoisin sauce is free of high fructose corn syrup, then barbecue is back on the menu for my husband!

  27. MohairMomma

    I love Ina Garten recipes too, except this one. Too salty, too much cumin and oil. I’ve halved the recipe, reduced the salt by reducing the hoisin sauce and mustard and using all low salt ingredients. I added liquid smoke and chipotle pepper too. If its still too salty you can add some of this sauce to salt free HFCS free ketchup until it reaches the taste you desire. I live in CA and still wouldnt use up all of this sauce in a year. I cook so many other recipes besides barbeque. PS. I absolutely LOVE your blog and recipes, I’m addicted to it now. can’t wait for the cookbook!

  28. barb

    hi there! i just made a version of this for bbq beef ribs. i didn’t have hoisin, so i used what i did have… a combination of sweet dark soy sauce and homemade strawberry rhubarb jam. i think it worked like a charm! i’ll have to let you know what our dinner guests think…

  29. WendyO

    Has anyone tried it using Scallions instead of onions? they cook down into nothing and the ones we get here in the USA have a good strong ‘onion’ taste?

  30. Angie

    I just made this recipe & the sauce is fantastic! My kids loved it, too. I made baked pork chops & used this awesome sauce for it. I have to say that this wasn’t really “BBQ sauce” in the traditional sense. It had Asian & Indian favors in it, which I love, but not really a true BBQ sauce. My husband liked it, but laughed when I called it “BBQ sauce”. It’s delicious and I’m saving this recipe, but I needed to point out that it’s a unique basting sauce, but not really BBQ. Maybe that’s why previous posters used Liquid Smoke?

  31. Jon

    This is literally THE PERFECT BBQ sauce ever. I had a friend picking scraps of pulled pork as an excuse to drink up more of this glorious sauce. Also had a BBQ on the beach and brought too much food. Ended up giving away most of my food to random beach walkers and a mother and two daughters said it was the best BBQ sauce they had ever had.. ever… EVER

  32. Lali

    OMG! This sauce is soooooo delicious, I was eating it by the spoonful! I made it last year and, since the batch is pretty big, I put half of it in a beuatiful jar, made a personalized label, and gave it to a friend as a B-day gift. I am making it today again for my partner’s B-day bbq tomorrow, and I am expecting to get lots of compliments!;-)

  33. renée

    Fyi this bbq sauce freezes really, really well… i make a batch, freeze in smaller containers and use throughout the bbq season :) it is as others suggest the perfect bbq sauce…

  34. deb

    Hi Dee — I am not really a canning expert but see little in here that I think would be a problem to can. Not sure if you mean fresh, dried, just the seeds of or bottle hot sauce from datil peppers, but there’s no reason not to tweak this to your tastes.

  35. Since I’m from Germany, I’m not so sure about the BBQ traditions and customs in the wild west… is this sauce meant to be put on the meat before or during grilling it, or is it to dip in when you eat it?
    Am going to a camp fire next weekend and will definitely bring this to wow my mates!

    1. deb

      Hi Franz — It’s actually used both ways, depending on where you’re from. So, you can brush it over a bunch of times while you grill the meat (more common), or, cook the meat more simply and serve the sauce alongside.

  36. Ron

    Horrible! I hate to guess where everyone is from! This isn’t bbq sauce! I guess I will stick with guessing on ingredients and come up with something better on my own!!!

    1. deb

      Ron — Is it horrible because it wasn’t to your taste when you made it or because you don’t think these ingredients belong in a barbecue sauce? Only the first would actually be helpful to others as a comment on a recipe.

  37. Erin

    Hi Deb – I just found your blog about a month ago! It’s terrific. Thanks! Question: My daughter is allergic to mustard, but I want to try your dry rub chicken with this sauce, or one like it. Any sense of what it would be like w/o mustard, or what I might substitute? Thanks!

  38. I decided to make this sauce tonight because I’m making your dry rub chicken tomorrow. Please don’t scoff, but I am going to do it on my Big Green Egg and hopefully it all turns out. Thank you for sharing this sauce recipe…it’s yet another homemade condiment that I want to just eat as the main course or drink with a straw. I ate several spoonfuls before my husband made me stop and reminded me that I can have more with the chicken tomorrow night! Delish!

  39. KatieK

    I made a half quanity because I didn’t have that much hoisin sauce. It took much longer than 30 minutes to mellow out; probabaly more like 60 minutes. The result is pretty thick, so I’ll probably thin it out with some orange juice when I cook with it. It wasn’t salty at all but had a pretty good kick to it. We used it as a condiment on some grilled chicken sandwiches. In my opinion, the dry rubbed chicken makes its own fabulous sauce, which in my mind, needs nothing else but itself….

  40. Bella

    I too have a HUGE girl crush on Ina Garten. Everything she makes, and I copy, truly is foolproof. This is the only barbeque sauce I use. I make it in triplicate in fact, tonight is barbeque chicken and ribs. And extra sauce for dipping ;)

  41. Maria

    Hello! I don’t have hoisin sauce (actually, I’ve never even heard of it before!). Would tamarind paste be an ok substitute? How about pomegranate molasses?

  42. deb

    Hi Maria — Neither are matches in flavor, but they still might be good here. I’d use less, perhaps half, of either if using them, just in case they overwhelm the final flavor. Hoisin is comparatively mild, I think.

  43. Tasha

    It makes a lot… you can always divide every single quantity by the appropriate number to make less. By 2, by 4, by 6.

    1. deb

      Anne — I don’t have a favorite but would agree that there’s a lot of junk in a lot of them. If you can get to an Asian grocery, might be worth it to grab a couple and see which has the best-sounding ingredients.

  44. Ellen

    Hi Deb, thanks for the recipe! Can’t decide which is a better use of this sauce for those of us who don’t own a grill. Add it to Dutch oven with pork and slow roast or just dry rub / slow roast pork and add this sauce at the end? Any advice would be much appreciated!

  45. anabelle

    Ok this is THE best home made BBQ sauce EVER!!!! I had a huge hit with it. FYI: I added a dash of smoked water, it added that special smokey touch. Doing it again tonight, and many others this summer:-)

  46. Sandy

    I went to the store yesterday for BBQ sauce and a few other things. I’m almost home and what do I remember – I forgot BBQ sauce 😖 Rather than go back I thought, I can make some. The taste buds started thinking and with the help of the Internet I made a reasonable sauce. Wish I had seen this one yesterday! Now I’m thinking, I don’t need 6 cups but I can freeze it… Yeah and thanks. I can almost taste it. 😋

  47. Angela B.

    So I made this on the 4th of July 2015 and froze it.
    Today, November 25th 2016 I used it to bake a chicken breast. The sauce did not suffer AT ALL from being frozen that long, it still tastes great!

  48. Mika

    Ok, first off, i’ve made this sauce a couple of times, and it is THE BOMB. So unbelievably tasty. Now, I am making it for a big group of folks, several of whom are gluten-free. All the jars of hoisin I can find at my grocery store list wheat in their ingredients. Do you have any suggestions for a comparable substitute for hoisin? Thanks!

  49. Marla

    Believe it or not, Campbell’s came out with a bbq sauce recipe eons ago (you were probably in elementary school!) that used it’s tomato soup. It will always be my go-to bbq sauce, with the same ingredients as this one. I add cinnamon and use yellow mustard because that’s all there was 30 years ago. Best sauce ever!

  50. Lynn

    Love this BBQ sauce! It was a little thick. Any suggestions on how to thin it out without changing the amazing flavor?

  51. MBeth

    When you say chili powder, do you mean a jar of mixed spices, or just ground chili? Because I’ve seen both labeled chili powder. If the former, is there one you recommend?

  52. Ryann

    Could I throw this sauce on top of a pork shoulder in the crock pot for pulled pork? Or would I need to add anything besides the BBQ sauce? Thanks!

  53. Karen Sullivan

    I love hoisin sauce (SK Thai-Style Chicken legs, yum! But I don’t like it in this sauce. I’m on a barbeque sauce quest. Do you think I could omit the hoisin or substitute honey (maybe 1/2)? Any suggestions?

    1. deb

      I think that should work. I’m working on a barbecue sauce recipe with more classic flavors and (I promise) a much shorter ingredient list — hopefully soon.

      1. Suzanne

        If you do an update (nudge, plea), could you maybe test it at a smaller quantity? I’d rather not throw $20 or so of ingredients into something I’m not sure we’ll like (or all agree on). Also, I do some canning, and with all the tomato and vinegar in this, I’m sure it would can very well.

        1. deb

          I know, it’s definitely a pricy recipe. You can absolutely scale it back by half or more. I freeze the extra. There are barbecue sauces with fewer ingredients, of course, I just like this one a lot.

  54. matt

    It turned out great! Canned 3 pints in a water canning bath (35min at sea level). I did think it needed a little more “depth” so added a tablespoon of marmite. Used shallots instead of onions (because that’s what I had on hand) and added a little more honey (because I liked it sweeter)! I think some liquid smoke would go well in here as well. ***Fingers crossed for no botulism*** (I read on someone else’s blog that they canned this recipe in a water canning bath and had no problems 7mos out – it tastes pretty acidic ;) ).

  55. I’m really interested in making this as a Christmas gift, but I’m very particular about BBQ sauces. My favorite store-bought sauce is Sweet Baby Ray’s (both Hickory and Honey BBQ).

    To those who have made this sauce, is it sweet or more savory? I personally love sweeter sauce. I know it comes down to preference, but I wouldn’t want to gift something that I didn’t personally recommend.


    1. Karen Sullivan

      I wouldn’t make this sauce again – I commented and Deb said she’ll be doing a different one – that was a while ago. BBQ sauce is SO personal. My problem with this is the hoisin sauce. I like hoisin sauce, but I think it overpowers this sauce and it wasn’t my preference.

      1. Jamie

        That’s interesting! I’m the opposite — I normally don’t like hoisin sauce, and I really enjoyed this BBQ sauce. Delicious and I will be making it again.

  56. My husband loves this sauce. I however am not much of a barbecue girl, but can like it. You’re right freezing it is great for saving it for later. Thank you very much for the post!

  57. taylor

    hi deb! I really enjoy all your recipes and your voice- been a follower of this blog for over ten years and I love this recipe, too! I wanted to try this recipe in a modified version –without onions (gasp!) for someone who has an allergy to them. I have found fennel and garlic combo to be a good sub for minced onions, but I was wondering what you would sub for the Worcestershire sauce, as onions are an ingredient? I would normally consider soy, but this recipe already has a lot of that. thoughts? thank you!

    1. BG

      I use coconut aminos in everything that calls for soy and add a little salt because it’s not as salty and never noticed a real difference (I get mine at Trader Joe’s best price!) – I’m more concerned about the worchestire and hoisin which both have gluten! Do you have good subs?

      1. lorrikern

        I use Plum sauce instead of Hoisin (my husband is Asian – the tastes/textures are similar) and use French’s Classic Worcestershire Sauce, Gluten Free Meat Marinade for Worcestershire.

  58. Roni

    Looks good. I would trade out the Worcester to keep vegetarian. Big question: I have little freezer space. Can this be done in a canner?

    1. Charlotte in Toronto

      I’ve made triple batches of this bbq sauce (that’s how much I LOVE it) and put it in 1 cup Mason jars and waterbath canned it. I processed it for 20 minutes. Turned out well. Lasted for 3 months on a shelf in my pantry. Yum.

  59. Jeanette

    This looks like I would love it except that I am allergic to onions. Any thoughts on a substitute for the onions ? I am making your pulled pork tomorrow, mmmmmmmm can’t wait to gobble that down.