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Basic All-American Barbecue Sauce Recipe

Total Time: Half Day
Skill Level: Easy
Cost: Inexpensive
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 Basic All-American Barbecue Sauce

Photo by: Joseph De Leo

I define barbecue sauce as a traditional American sauce, usually made with ketchup, that is used on grilled chicken, ribs, pork, etc. There are many other sauces in this book that can be applied to grilled items, but only this one is your genuine, down-home All-American Barbecue Sauce.

Being a barbecue purist, I believe that the sauce in itself has been totally overrated as it relates to the whole of a plate of barbecue. Barbecuing is a method of cooking, not a sauce. Whether you’re talking about brisket, sliced pork, spareribs, or chicken, the sauce is an accompaniment to the barbecued meat, a condiment rather than an essential ingredient. The sauce has been given prominence only as people pay less attention to the process. In North Carolina, for example, barbecued pork is served plain, either chopped or shredded, on a sandwich. The sauce—in the case of eastern North Carolina, white vinegar and red pepper flakes, in western North Carolina, a sweet-and-sour ketchup and Italian dressing mix—is served on the side to be put on the barbecue at the last minute. (For this reason, barbecue aficionados call it a “finishing sauce.”) In Kansas City, where the barbecue of choice is pork spareribs which are served dry, they serve a grainy, thin, ketchup-based sauce on the side. Likewise in Texas, where the sauce for the sliced barbecued brisket is applied to one’s liking just before, eating. In fact, since barbecue sauce usually has some sugar in it, if you apply it during the grilling process, the sugar in the sauce will burn.

What I’m saying is that when you hear people talking about how they have some extra special, supersecret barbecue sauce, I would be highly doubtful that I was going to be eating any type of real honest-to-God barbecue. In fact, I’ve seen a lot of real barbecue pros just doctor up some ketchup with sugar, vinegar, and spices, or even take store-bought sauce and change it a little.

Yield: 1 gallon of sauce


Basic all-american barbecue sauce:

  • 4 large onions, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil for sautéing
  • 1 28-ounce can tomato purée
  • 3 28-ounce cans tomatoes with Juice
  • 2½ cups white vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 4 tablespoons molasses
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons Liquid Smoke
  • 8 tablespoons brown (Dijonstyle) mustard


  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 4 tablespoons lime juice (about 2 limes)
  • 10 cilantro sprigs


  • 2 teaspoons minced ginger
  • 8 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 4 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil


  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons pineapple juice
  • 4 tablespoons dark rum
  • 4 tablespoons Caribbean hot sauce
  • Juice of 1 orange
  • Pinch of allspice

honey mustard:

  • 1 cup brown (Dijon-style) mustard
  • 8 tablespoons honey


  • 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large chunk of fresh tomato chopped
  • 4 tablespoons lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
  • 1 cup combined fresh herbs such as basil, thyme, sage, parsley, oregano, or rosemary


1. In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, sauté the onion in the oil over medium-high heat until golden brown, about 7 to 10 minutes.

2. Add all the remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer uncovered at the lowest possible heat for 4 hours. (This long cooking removes as much acidity as possible from the tomatoes.)

3. Purée sauce in 2, 3, or more batches to prevent it from spilling out of your food processor or blender.



To 1 pint of your Basic All-American Barbecue Sauce, add these other ingredients for different variations of it. These additions should be made after the sauce has cooled to room temperature or has been refrigerated. These sauces all keep 2 weeks, covered, in the refrigerator.

© 1990 Christopher Schlesinger and John Willoughby

Editor's Note

Nutritional information is based on 64 servings of Basic All-American Barbecue Sauce.


Nutrients per serving (% daily value)

37kcal (2%)
22mg (2%)
8mg (13%)
15mcg RAE (1%)
0mg (0%)
300mg (12%)
0g (0%)
1g (1%)
1mg (4%)

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