Kansas City-Style Barbecue Sauce Recipe

A glass bowl of Kansas City-style barbecue sauce with a basting brush dipped in sauce on top of the bowl. Some cut ribs are in the background.

Grilling season is ramping up, and all of my thoughts have turned completely to barbecue. I've always preached the merits of homemade sauce over just about any bottle, but there's an art to building the best barbecue sauce, and I hope to get you on the right path to understanding how simple changes in proportions of fairly common ingredients can completely redefine a sauce.

I'll wager that when most people think of barbecue sauce, they're picturing a thick, sweet, and tangy tomato mixture—that's Kansas City style and probably the most fitting place to start this exploration.

I've been shifting away from using ketchup in my sauces lately but that sweet, deep tomato flavor is the perfect base for a Kansas City sauce. A sizable amount of ketchup is added to sautéed onions and garlic, then combined with molasses and brown sugar (for extra thickness and sweetness), a little vinegar (adds the tartness), and to keep the sugar in check you'll need mustard, chili powder, black and cayenne peppers for some heat.

There's a good reason Kansas City sauce has become the most ubiquitous of all the barbecue sauces: versatility. It works great on everything from ribs to chicken to beans, or it can be a dip or a baste. Because of its thickness, the sauce doesn't bake in much, rather it sits atop the meat, and its high sugar content means it can burn quickly over hot coals. It's best to use the sauce lightly with a little extra vigilance while grill-side.

Recipe Facts

4.5

(5)

Active: 50 mins
Total: 50 mins
Makes: 2 1/2 cups

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Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 2 cups ketchup
  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoon yellow mustard
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Directions

  1. Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

    Diced onions being sauteed in oil in a saucepan and stirred with a wooden spoon.
  2. Add ketchup, molasses, brown sugar, vinegar, mustard, chili powder, black pepper, and cayenne pepper and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer until slightly thickened, about 30 minutes, stirring frequently.

    Cooking homemade Kansas City-style barbecue sauce in a pot. A wooden spoon holding sauce is being held up over the pot.
  3. Transfer sauce to the jar of a blender and blend until smooth. Let cool to room temperature, transfer to a jar and store in refrigerator for up to a month.

    Homemade Kansas City-style barbecue sauce in the jar of a blender.