mains, sauces

classic barbecue sauce.

greco's barbecue sauce.

It occurred to me the other day that it is, once again, summer. It’s hot and humid here, my Arizona friends and relatives are posting about near-Hades-like temperatures in the Southwest (but it’s a dry heat!), and the rabbits in my yard have eaten through chicken wire approximately 39 times already trying to lay waste to my garden. Also, Mr. Table gave up trying to fix the old barbecue grill (it was time) and bought a shiny new charcoal one. All of this means one thing.

Barbecue sauce.

Now friends, I have never made barbecue sauce from scratch before, for several reasons. One: I rarely eat meat. I’ve said before that I have nothing against meat, but when you’re running around with a toddler all day, it’s easier to throw vegetables, fruit, or a few eggs else together rather than handle and cook something meat-like. I don’t miss it, either, so going out of the way for it seems slightly ridiculous most days. Two: I can’t grill anything effectively. I would say it’s not for lack of trying, but it really is for lack of trying. I’m going to work on learning some things about the grill this summer, but Mr. Table had a gas grill before, and I’m not super into either the flavor or accidentally blowing up the house. I feel more confident with charcoal, so I plan to give it a go this year. Finally: I am very specific in terms of barbecue sauce flavor. It can’t be super sweet, almost gelatinously thick brown-sugar laden variety, but it can’t be the really mustardy sort either. I’m a tomato-based sauce girl, so I like things tangy, with a slight sweetness to balance it. I realize this is a regional thing, but I consider this type of sauce like this to be what classic American barbecue is all about.

Please forgive me, good people of Kansas City, the Carolinas, and everywhere else who has a differing opinion: I do not mean to ruffle your feathers. But I am from Saint Louis, and I grew up on Maull’s, and much to Mr. Table’s chagrin, it’s still the only one of the barbeque sauces I really enjoy.

Until now. Because now there’s this one, which I made myself from a recipe out of Andrew Carmellini’s American Flavor cookbook, which is very much like my childhood favorite, only completely amped up in terms of flavor layers. Andrew Carmellini is like the Saucemaster General as far as I’m concerned, but you know this already from last year, when I made his potato salad, slaw (a favorite in my household, and I should really fix that photo because I make it much prettier now) and greek dressing (sitting in my fridge right now, as a matter of fact). The man knows his flavors, and this sauce is no exception. The recipe is simple, as you caramelize some onions, throw them in all the other ingredients, and then simmer, simmer, simmer until your entire house smells like a cookout.

You can easily adjust the spice factor in this to suit your taste (I’m talking to you, who just skimmed the ingredients and found the 5 chipotles in adobo) if you’re concerned about heat. It’s pretty zippy with those chipotles in there, so dial it down by using only 1 or 2 versus the entire amount. If you’re still nervous, try using just the adobo sauce; I do that sometimes to get the chipotle flavor versus without all the heat. Beyond the chipotles, there’s nothing else in the sauce which is terribly spicy, so that’s what will determine how much of a kick your end result has. My adjustments were extremely minimal, because why mess with perfection. Or an Andrew Carmellini sauce. You know, I don’t talk about him enough because I don’t do tons of savory on the blog, but in terms of cookbooks, I do consider this one of my most favorites. If you take out all the Nigella books, it’s easily in my Top 5. He really is like, a master of flavor without being a prima donna about it, and I dig that.

barbecue sauce.

As I finished typing this, I happened upon a new post on sweet and spicy chipotle barbecue sauce Willow just did over at her blog, Will Cook for Friends. Ours are similar, but different enough for me to say that you have two pretty great options for barbecue sauce this year. Go check it out. Better yet, make both and hold a Sauce-Off for your friends some evening.

Adapted, but very minimally, from the recipe for Greco’s Barbecue Sauce from American Flavor by Andrew Carmellini. I love this book just as much as I love a prepositional phrase. Which is a lot.

Classic Barbecue Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons corn or vegetable oil
  • 1 large Vidalia or sweet yellow onion, sliced
  • 2 28-ounce cans good quality crushed tomatoes (I like Muir Glen)
  • 1 12-ounce bottle amber beer of your choice
  • 1 12-ounce can of Dr. Pepper (NOT diet, people. no.)
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar*
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • up to 5 canned chipotle peppers in adobo**
  • 6-7 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • juice of 1-2 lemons

*the original recipe calls for dark brown sugar. I keep light brown sugar on hand versus the dark, so I subbed in a bit more molasses because of this. if you use dark brown sugar, you may want to scale back the molasses to the original 1/4 cup. Or not, but that’s up to you. 

**I’ll warn you again: 5 chipotle chiles pack a significant amount of heat. if you want a good kick with less heat, or want a more family friendly/I don’t want small children to cry sauce, scale the chipotles down to 1-2 versus 5. Want to control it more? Add a few tablespoons of the sauce, simmer, and if you feel like it needs more heat when it’s finished, add a wee bit more. 

Make the sauce:

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Add the onions to the pan and caramelize them for 10-15 minutes (use your eyes here), stirring occasionally so they caramelize evenly. Mine took closer to the 10 minutes, so watch them as you go to make sure you don’t scorch them.

In a large saucepot or dutch oven, stir together all the other ingredients except the lemon juice. Add the onions, and set your heat to medium high to bring to a boil. Once it begins to boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer until your mixture has reduced by about half, which should take an hour or so. By “or so,” I mean it’s more important to wait until the sauce has reduced than it is to watch the time, because you don’t want to rush it. Stir the sides and bottom of the pot occasionally to keep things from sticking.

Once it has reduced, pull it off the heat and use a stick blender to blend everything together. Take your time with this also, because you want everything to be completely smooth, and you have a lot to blend up in there. Once your sauce is thoroughly blended, stir in the lemon juice until combined into the sauce. Let cool in the pot for a little bit, then pour into big Mason jars.

This keeps for up to 2 weeks in the fridge, or up to 6 months in the freezer. Unless you’re using this daily or giving some away to friends (and ahem, this would make a lovely Father’s Day gift, right?), you’re going to need to freeze some, so plan accordingly with proper storage containers.

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  • Reply Amy @ Elephant Eats June 7, 2013 at 8:52 am

    Mmm, I love a good bbq sauce. I’m with you in liking the tomato-based variety- a little sweet and a little tangy. That reminds me, I have the BBQ meatloaf recipe that I have been meaning to post for.e.v.e.r and I really should get on that. I know you’re not a lover of meat, but I think you would totally love it! I usually make it with ground turkey, and the sauce on top is kind of sweet and sour and just so so good. I usually put extra sauce on top.

    But anyway, this recipe has so many interesting ingredients! I can’t wait to give it a try. Bbq chicken for dinner sounds perfect 🙂

    • Reply shannon June 9, 2013 at 5:58 am

      funny you mention that: in the Andrew Carmellini cookbook i got this from, he mentions that this sauce is fantastic on his own meatloaf recipe (found earlier in the book). So try it! I’d love to know how it works with yours. I”m not a lover of meat, but i’m a lover of trying meat dishes and liking them, and i think i’d love a ground turkey version. post that recipe, girl!

  • Reply Abbe@This is How I Cook June 7, 2013 at 9:28 am

    Shannon, this must taste incredible. And I’m glad I’m not the only one having problems with rabbits.

    • Reply shannon June 9, 2013 at 5:57 am

      Oh Abbe, are you having issues too? They’re horrid. I got so angry at them the other day that i basically chicken-wired my garden into a vegetable Fort Knox. i mean, i am SO OVER them.

  • Reply Willow (Will Cook For Friends) June 7, 2013 at 9:37 am

    Haha, this is so awesome! I can’t believe you mentioned me (thank you!!) — I jumped over here the second I saw you had written about barbecue sauce. Apparently it really is bbq season, because right after I posted my recipe several others started cropping up.

    I am seriously intrigued by the doctor pepper in your sauce. I’ve had dr. pepper glazed meats before, and they are so good! I’ll bet that sauce tastes awesome with it. The bottle of beer probably doesn’t hurt, either (another thing I love to use when cooking meat).

    Also, I’m with you – I’m not very good at barbecueing, and it is for lack of trying. We don’t actually have a grill, which is absurd, because it gets so hot in the summer we can’t cook in the house at all. Having a grill would mean delicious food all year round, instead of surviving solely on cold cereal and ice cream all summer. Definitely on my wish-list!

    • Reply shannon June 9, 2013 at 5:56 am

      like it’s a big deal to mention you; girl, you are awesome! you’re welcome, and thanks for making me giggle with our almost-twin sauces.

      the dr. pepper really adds a great flavor to the sauce, for sure; you can detect it if you’re paying attention. i like additions like that because all those flavors things like dr. pepper bring to a party would be impossible to replicate otherwise in a dish. And the beer: certainly that’s an ingredient which is completely customizable, and that’s nice if you have a favorite beer you’d like to echo in a sauce.

      get a grill! even a little one; you know it doesn’t need to be a mega-huge one to be perfect. I was thankful b/c this new grill Mr. Table purchased is easily 1/3 of the size as the old gas one; so much nicer to work with.

  • Reply Faygie June 7, 2013 at 11:11 am

    I have a simple bbq sauce from Everyday Food that’s my go-to, but I am really going to have to try this one. It sounds incredible!

    • Reply shannon June 9, 2013 at 5:51 am

      we’ll have to trade bbq sauce recipes: i love things from Everyday Food, and i wouldn’t mind having more than one perfect sauce, for sure.

  • Reply sara June 7, 2013 at 12:42 pm

    This looks fantastic! I love homemade BBQ sauce…so yummy. 🙂

    • Reply shannon June 9, 2013 at 5:50 am

      thanks, sara! I’m just sad i didn’t make this a year ago when i wanted to; i’ve wasted all that time without it! 🙂

  • Reply Brianne June 7, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    My mom had a top secret barbecue sauce recipe when I was a kid that I’m pretty sure was ketchup, Western dressing (which I have not seen in stores for like 10 years), and Worchestershire sauce. I…was not that into it. (But she’ll never know!) This…I am SO into. You know how chipotles in adobo last forever because you only ever use one at a time plus maybe a bit of the sauce?! Perhaps I can finally finish the jar I have that’s too old to talk about. And there’s Dr. Pepper in there?! YES. I like all kinds of barbecue sauce, but that might be because Wisconsin doesn’t have a signature version. Nothing wrong with a little hometown pride! I can’t wait to hear about your adventures with the new grill!!

    • Reply shannon June 9, 2013 at 5:50 am

      “western dressing” sounds like one of those really odd dressings you occasionally happen upon in old cookbooks? like “cooked” dressing or one of the other ones commonly made during the 50’s and 60’s. You may not have been into it, but props to your mom for making her own! 🙂
      omg yes: they do last forever! in fact, this sauce used up the last of the chipotles in adobo i had leftover from my use of one in a prior recipe…so ridiculous, but it’s definitely true that a little goes a long way with them.
      i can’t wait to make adventures with the new grill: like i do NOT know how to grill things at all, so it’ll be a learning process, for sure.

  • Reply Amrita June 7, 2013 at 2:34 pm

    Yum! I never really enjoyed BBQ until I moved to St Louis and discovered Pappys and Bogarts… The bf and I go through phases of making ribs but we usually just get some sauce from one of those places, it never occurred to me to make my own until now. And of course, our place is way too tiny and we definitely have no place for a grill, so we’ve only ever baked ’em. Looking forward to more grillin’ recipes to bookmark for our future home 🙂

    • Reply shannon June 9, 2013 at 5:41 am

      we have some pretty great barbecue here, right? It never occurred to me either, probably because we really do have quite the selection of bbq sauces to choose from around stl, all of them wonderful. I bet baking things in this would be pretty good, too; although someday when you get that grill, it’s going to be AWESOME.

  • Reply Jen @JuanitasCocina June 7, 2013 at 6:58 pm

    All I need is a spoon. Screw the meat.

    • Reply shannon June 9, 2013 at 5:39 am

      I”m not going to lie: it’s pretty good with just a spoon. And i know your penchant for eating sauce-like things with a spoon, so i won’t stop you.

  • Reply natalie @ wee eats June 8, 2013 at 4:47 pm

    Marry me.

    With all 5 chipotles and all.

    What’s that? You’re taken? Ok, a jar of sauce will do then, I suppose…

    • Reply shannon June 9, 2013 at 5:39 am

      done. i will marry you, but only if it means you also will cook for me, too. Also, you have to move up here, or we have to move somewhere more temperate than where you are. then, i accept.

  • Reply Wendy June 9, 2013 at 9:41 am

    I also have never taken the time to make my own bbq sauce because my bbq sauce eaters have been pretty satisfied with what I bring home from the store. I rarely eat red meat but I do eat quite a bit of chicken. I am going to give this a try. In my house the spice factor is the opposite of your family friendly recommendations (probably due to the age of my “child”). I will make the sauce with a mild kick and then my son will drown his food in Siracha sauce! I am the griller in our house, though I am only passably good at it. Charcoal grills definitely give the food more flavor but the whole process of lighting them and getting the appropriate heat level is beyond me. I LOVE my gas grill (a very basic model) and literally use it year round for meats, tofu, veggies, pizza, and the occacional s’more. 🙂

    • Reply shannon June 13, 2013 at 5:35 am

      Certainly it depends on who will love and appreciate the sauce, i think. I’ll say Mr. Table has been perfectly happy with store-bought barbecue sauce in the past and also presently, but every so often he tries to make his own, which is why i knew this one would be eaten: he can appreciate a from-scratch sauce also.
      Someday they’re going to find drug-like qualities in Siracha. mark my words. because Mr. Table? the same.
      Bravo for being the griller in your house! That’s pretty awesome to even know the basics of it. Gas grills certainly have some big benefits (and can be great, or else why would there be SO many choices of gas grill?), and it’s what we had for years before this one. Tofu, you say? interesting…i never thought to try that. we’ve done meat and pizza before, but tofu would be good i bet. same with the s’mores (a must this summer, i feel).

  • Reply Katherine {eggton} June 9, 2013 at 6:20 pm

    I love that it has cumin in it! And that picture of the splat of sauce is just SO PERFECT. It mirrors your tone and sums up the whole atmosphere of BBQ, which is get messy and have fun, right?

    • Reply shannon June 13, 2013 at 5:44 am

      that was a reality splat, too; not even for photos, but rather because i am messy with the sauce when i’m trying to pack it into jars. i saw it and thought the same thing; how appropriate.

  • Reply Sarah June 10, 2013 at 10:26 am

    I so need to make my own barbecue sauce. I am never quite satisfied with the stuff in the grocery store. Thanks!

    I am so tired of rabbits. Last year I planted lettuce three times ( I never said I was smart) and the rabbits ate it every time. This year I planted garlic all around the edges of my raised bed and the varmints have left my lettuce alone. I was ready to build a rabbit proof fence (if such a thing exists), but the garlic is working this year. I also thought about rabbit stew…

    • Reply shannon June 13, 2013 at 7:20 am

      yay! i hope you like this one; it’s funny, because i felt okay with store-bought until i tried this. it’s like you never know what you’re missing until you do. 🙂

      RABBITS: they are a SCOURGE! lettuce is like bunny crack, too. garlic is a good idea! i’m going to try that next year because i’ve had it. they’re like ninjas and at this point, i have zero idea how they’re even getting in there. they seem to really like my peppers: half of my pepper plants are gone. i’m thinking about rabbit stew, too. 🙂

  • Reply Ashley June 10, 2013 at 1:08 pm

    When I was a young ‘un, my favorite dish to make was “ribs + bbq sauce”. Now….we’re talking uninformed, didn’t really know better young me, so I took those boneless ribs (like McRib style, which now makes me cringe and heave simultaneously) and cooked them in my own homemade bbq sauce. That sauce was tomato puree, tomato sauce, worchestershire and just about any dried seasoning I could lay my eager little paws on (alas, these were the days before I know about the glory of chipotle in adobo…). Oh, I thought I was such a clever little chef… So I’m loving your homemade bbq sauce with chipotle (I’d totally use 5!) and Dr Pepper and molasses! I’ll give real meat + bbq another go.

    Also, a great resource for grilling basics is Alton Brown’s cookbook, I’m Just Here For More Food (it’s the second one and it’s about cooking more savory stuff). He has a whole section with awesome diagrams on grilling. It’s a fave and I’m hoping to put some of my new knowledge to use this year (though I’m also terrified of turning on the gas grill sans explosions…hehe).

    • Reply shannon June 13, 2013 at 7:33 am

      HA! but hey: unlike most kids, you were in the kitchen with a recipe when you wre little, and that’s great! everyone needs a starting point. my first “recipe” was when i was very little, and it was cottage cheese and pineapple – from a can – with JUST the right amount of juice, and a maraschino cherry on top. ALWAYS the cherry. my high school recipe was “chicken caeser” which basically involved bottled dressing over romaine and then i skillet-grilled chicken with, like you said, all the spices and dried seasoning i could get my hands on.

      honestly, i’m surprised i didn’t kill anyone. because that was chicken, and i had ZERO IDEA what i was doing. no one was hospitalized because of it, however,!

      You’ve told me about the AB books in the past (one of which is on my cookbook list) so i’m adding this one also. he’s great; like legit low-key awesome, and talk about knowing what you’re doing. When i watch cooking shows, i think there are many celebrity chef people i wouldn’t be that intimidated by. When i see Alton, however, i start to sweat: there would be no bs-ing that man. Thank you so much for the recommendation! Love hearing about new books i would love. 🙂

  • Reply movita beaucoup June 12, 2013 at 7:59 am

    Mother of pearl. This looks and sounds so amazing. 2.0 cooks on the grill. It’s the only cooking he does, really. So, during our short summer, I get to kick back on many a night as he takes charge of the meal – or at least, part of the meal.


    • Reply shannon June 13, 2013 at 7:40 am

      What sort of barbecue sauce does my sweet Canada enjoy? I haven’t seen any preferences listed for my neighbors to the north, or is it just a conglomeration of different ones? Maybe there’s less pressure there because you’re not all regionally divided over the subject of barbecue.

      I want you to make this sauce so much for 2.0’s grilling needs.

  • Reply Carole June 13, 2013 at 6:41 pm

    Hi Shannon, Carole’s Chatter is collecting BBQ related things today. This is a nice one. I do hope you pop over and link in. This is the link . Cheers

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