jar of homemade barbecue sauce

Making your own barbecue sauce might seem like an intimidating and time-consuming process, but thanks to this super simple and quick homemade barbecue sauce recipe from registered dietitian and recipe developer Hayley MacLean, you can have an alternative to store-bought sauce in under 20 minutes. "What I like about this recipe is [how] simple and delicious it is," MacLean says. "It comes together so quickly and tastes like it has been cooking for hours. The ingredients are common pantry staples, so it is great to throw together in a pinch, and it is so flavorful!"

Why go through the trouble of making your own barbecue sauce when there are so many options bottled and ready to go at the grocery store? When making your own sauce, you can save money, customize the flavor of your barbecue sauce, and also avoid some of the additives and preservatives commonly found in processed foods. This recipe is also very simple, very quick, and uses ingredients that you might already have at home. It’s also a fun project to whip up and give to friends and family for holiday gifts. Let’s get started!

Start with the ketchup

ketchup and spices

The main ingredient that this recipe uses is ketchup. While MacLean doesn’t recommend any particular brand, she does suggest looking for a no or low-sugar ketchup. "I like to look for low-sugar or sugar-free options to make sure the final sauce is not too sweet and the savory flavors of the sauce get highlighted as well," says MacLean.

If you think that ketchup is a cheat ingredient or shortcut, don’t worry, because it’s not! There are many different varieties of barbecue sauce across the U.S., according to Taste of Home — from the yellow mustard sauce of South Carolina to the sweet yet spicy sauce served in St. Louis — and ketchup is the star of the show plenty of times.

Gather the rest of your ingredients for homemade barbecue sauce

barbecue sauce ingredients

For this recipe, you’ll also need apple cider vinegar, light brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, ground mustard, smoked paprika, cumin, salt, and black pepper. If you want to add a spicy kick to your barbecue sauce, you can also add some hot pepper sauce as well. While MacLean recommends an optional teaspoon of hot sauce, she notes that you can definitely add more if you want a spicier sauce, saying, "I would say adding another teaspoon or even making the amount a full tablespoon would give the kick someone [who] enjoys spicier food is looking for."

Start cooking the sauce

barbecue sauce cooking in pot

Whisk the ketchup, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, ground mustard, smoked paprika, cumin, salt, and pepper together in a small saucepan, and cook over medium heat. If you’re using hot pepper sauce, you’ll want to add that in now as well. Bring to a simmer, and then reduce the heat to low. Simmer until the sauce has thickened, about 10 minutes.

Due to the sugar in this sauce, it can burn easily. Avoid cooking at high temperature, and be patient with your barbecue sauce as it cooks. "Going low and slow with this is definitely the best," says MacLean, who also recommends stirring occasionally so that the sauce cooks evenly.

Serve and store the sauce

barbecue sauce in a bowl

After the sauce has thickened up, you’re good to go! You can serve it immediately, or store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week. While barbecue sauce has traditionally been brushed on meat, it’s now more of an all-purpose condiment. MacLean recommends using this homemade barbecue sauce with grilled chicken or vegetables, or even as a pizza sauce.

However you choose to use your barbecue sauce, it will probably taste a little better knowing that you made it yourself. Enjoy!

  • 2 cups ketchup
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ⅓ cup light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons ground mustard
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon back pepper
  • 1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
  1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the ketchup, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, ground mustard, smoked paprika, cumin, salt, pepper, and optional hot pepper sauce.
  2. Bring the sauce to a simmer, and then reduce the heat to low. Allow the pot to simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until the sauce has thickened.
  3. Serve immediately, or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.