Easy All-Purpose Barbecue Sauce

This versatile sauce combo is perfect on a wide variety of barbecued and grilled foods, like ribs, chicken, or burgers.

Brushing barbecue sauce on top of ribs on the grill

Serious Eats / J. Kenji López-Alt

Why This Recipe Works

  • A balanced barbecue sauce provides a good contrast between sweet and savory, with complex flavor.

Let's say, for argument's sake, that you've already sworn off store-bought salad dressing for good. Wise move. Here's your next one: Ditch the store-bought barbecue sauce. Pre-made sauces are almost inevitably, achingly sweet, with built-in cruddy smoke flavor.

Here's the good news: If you barbecue or grill with any frequency, it's easy (and cheap!) to make big batches of homemade sauce that will keep in your fridge for several months, saving you money while simultaneously delivering flavor that's superior to anything you can get premade. I set out to make a balanced sauce that would work well with a wide range of grilled meats and vegetables, whether you're slow-cooking ribs or pulled pork, or grilling chicken or even tofu.

I start with a classic Kansas City–style base of molasses, to which I add some ketchup, mustard, chicken stock, Worcestershire sauce, cider vinegar, and hot sauce. I originally started by sautéing an onion in butter before adding the liquid, but found that for a short simmer, an onion grated on the large holes of a box grater provided the right pungency and was much faster, too. To really add depth to the sauce, I add a couple of tablespoons of my spice rub and simmer it all together. If you plan on using this for foods cooked indoors (like this oven-cooked pulled pork), a touch of high-quality liquid smoke, like Wright's, works great.

With this sauce on hand at all times, you'll be ready for anything that your grill might throw at you.


How to Make an Easy All-Purpose Barbecue Sauce and Rub

September 2016

Recipe Details

Easy All-Purpose Barbecue Sauce

Prep 5 mins
Cook 20 mins
Active 5 mins
Total 25 mins
Serves 16 servings
Makes 2 cups of barbecue sauce

This versatile sauce combo is perfect on a wide variety of barbecued and grilled foods, like ribs, chicken, or burgers.


  • 1 cup (240mlchicken broth

  • 1/2 cup (120ml) ketchup

  • 1/4 cup (60ml) dark molasses, plus more to taste

  • 1 small onion, grated on the large holes of a box grater (about 4 ounces; 115g)

  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) Worcestershire sauce

  • 1 tablespoon (15ml) brown mustard

  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) cider vinegar, plus more to taste

  • 2 teaspoons (10ml) hot sauce, plus more to taste

  • 2 tablespoons (25g) spice rub

  • 1 teaspoon (5ml) liquid smoke, such as Wright's (optional)


  1. Combine all sauce ingredients in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk together and simmer until reduced to a glaze consistency, about 15 minutes (sauce should reduce by about one-third). Adjust flavor with more molasses, vinegar, or hot sauce to taste. Cooled barbecue sauce can be stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator for several months.

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Nutrition Facts (per serving)
30 Calories
0g Fat
7g Carbs
0g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 16
Amount per serving
Calories 30
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0g 0%
Saturated Fat 0g 0%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 166mg 7%
Total Carbohydrate 7g 3%
Dietary Fiber 0g 1%
Total Sugars 6g
Protein 0g
Vitamin C 1mg 6%
Calcium 17mg 1%
Iron 0mg 2%
Potassium 138mg 3%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)