(Actually) All-American Food: BBQ Sauce

Edited on September 2, 2013 to correct the measurement for red wine vinegar. It was brought to my attention that the measurement I had down was incorrect and too much for the recipe. I am more sorry than I could ever convey for this mistake. I take cooking incredibly seriously and this is paramount to treason against my readers. Please forgive me. 

“American” food is, for the most part, a myth. Every summer you hear the cliche “as American as apple pie” and people start drooling over “American” foods like hot dogs, hamburgers, and french fries. I’m sorry, but apple pie started out as the French apple tarte tatin, hot dogs and hamburgers are both German, and french fries are Belgian. And that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to foods we’ve turned into what Americans recognize and claim as our own today. However I’m not saying this is a bad thing. My favorite pie is apple, I love fresh french fries (dipped in roasted garlic aioli), and burgers & dogs on the grill- count me in! My point is there are precious few things that we, as Americans, can truly claim as our own. To find something truly American we have to look at BBQ. Yes, it started with buccaneers and barbacoa over a fire on the beach in the Caribbean.  But really that’s only related to our BBQ in a very vague way. (Kind of like you and your 4th cousin, twice removed; you’re related but it takes pen, paper, and an hour to figure out exactly how.) I can think of nothing else that is so ingrained in- and defining of- our culture and yet has a culture all it’s own. You can go anywhere in our country and invite someone to a BBQ and they not only know what you’re talking about but they will have a preconceived notion of what will happen and how it will taste. Everyone loves BBQ- some so much so that they make their living doing it. So while we can’t legitimately claim most of our “American” foods, we can claim one of the most popular activities/food categories/cultures in the world. And the most important part of that culture- the thing that is most highly prized and guarded- is BBQ sauce. There are people crazy enough to injure friends & family over sauce recipes. I am not one of those people… anymore 😉 So here is my BBQ sauce recipe. Sauce so good my daughters would eat it on their cereal in the morning if I’d let them. Sauce so good my husband will sit with a hunk of cheese and dip slices in it. Sauce so good my dad would happily eat it with a spoon if my mom would let him. Sauce so good that your friends and family will beg for the recipe. Whether or not they survive that encounter I will leave up to you 😉

Do not let the somewhat large collection of ingredients scare you! It’s not nearly as intimidating as it looks! Most of these things you probably already have in your pantry. If you don’t, buy them for this recipe and you will be amazed at all the uses you will find for them. But even if you don’t find another use, you’ll have them on hand for this sauce and that’s all that matters! A note: I didn’t realize the brown sugar was going to look like that until after I was done with the recipe and I was going through the pictures. Sigh. So the little plastic corners that are sticking out behind Kroger spices is the brown sugar. Pitiful. Lesson learned. Moving on!


Yes, there is a fair number of ingredients. But all you have to do with most of them is dump them in a pan. This recipe is so ridiculously easy that you will kick yourself for having ever bought BBQ sauce. You may even be mad that the major companies have the nerve to charge so much for bottled sauce with an obscene list of ingredients that you may or may not be able to pronounce. But it’s ok- that’s all behind you now because you’re making your own from now on!

The only real prep work in this recipe is the garlic. The first couple of times I made this sauce I tried mincing the garlic very fine with my chef’s knife. It worked, but I did still end up with a few little hunks of garlic. Not a bad thing really, but I was going for a nice, smooth consistency. So I now use the garlic mangler- known to most of you as a garlic press. Normally I hate garlic presses. They do nothing for your knife skills and they are a nightmare to actually get clean unless you have a brush that can get into the holes. But for me the mangler (press) works best for this recipe so I’ll let go of the anger for now 😉 So mangle your garlic and cook it over low heat in about 2 teaspoons of oil in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan. Cook the garlic for about a minute- you only want to get the raw strongness (ha- I just made up a word!) out of it. After a minute add the tomato sauce and the ketchup to stop the garlic cooking. Then you can add the rest of the ingredients as you open the containers. It really is that simple. You end up with something that looks nothing like BBQ sauce:


Yeah. Nothing like BBQ sauce. But not to worry! It will get there! Yes, there are clumps of spices. Those will work themselves apart, I promise! Take note of where your sauce level starts out. Put the pan over medium low heat (maybe a scosche lower) and simmer until the sauce reduces by half. It will be thick, rich, smooth (mostly), and glossy. Like this…



Aside from the tiny chunk of garlic, does that not look like the sauce you get from the store? The taste though… it’s out of this world. Truly. You will never go back to store bought sauce after this. I know I never will!

A tip: Make this sauce at least 24 hours before you need it. Technically it’s edible the same day but the vinegar flavor will be very strong and the spices will not have had enough time to permeate the sauce. The longer this stuff sits the better it tastes!

The Recipe:

2-3 Cloves Garlic, minced

2 t Oil of Choice

1 C Ketchup

1 C Tomato Sauce

1/2 C + 2 Tbsp. Brown Sugar

1/3 C + 1 T Red Wine Vinegar

¼ C Unsulfured Molasses

2 t Liquid Smoke

1/4 t Garlic powder

1/4 t Onion Powder

1/8 t Chili Powder

1/2 t Paprika

1/8 t Celery Seed

1/4 t Cinnamon

1 t Salt

1/2 – 1 t White Pepper (I use the full 1 teaspoon and honestly the sauce isn’t that spicy)

The Method:

Mince the garlic extremely fine or put through a garlic press. Saute over medium low heat for one minute. Add the ketchup and tomato sauce, then the rest of the ingredients. Simmer over medium low or low heat until reduced by half, stirring frequently.

I always double this recipe and it fills a quart canning jar with a little bit left over. The measurements here will fill a pint jar with some left over. Store in the fridge. (Since I perfected this recipe I’ve only made double batches because everyone loves it so much it never lasts long!)

2 thoughts on “(Actually) All-American Food: BBQ Sauce

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