Easy Barbecue Sauce

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I’ve always loved the tang of barbecue sauce, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I discovered how easily it can be made at home.  Barbecue sauce, it turns out, can be made using pantry staples — ketchup, molasses, vinegar and a mixture of several common spices — which means, of course, that making your own is almost as convenient as using a commercial brand.

The key is to figure out the proper proportions of ingredients to achieve your preferred balance among the four basic flavor profiles:  sweet, sour, bitter, and salty.  (A fifth flavor profile, umami, has recently been identified. Its name is derived from a Japanese word that describes a meaty or savory taste, and it is found in foods such as soy sauce, Parmesan cheese, and mushrooms.)

In my case, ketchup serves as the base of the sauce and provides the majority of its sweetness.  Molasses contributes additional sweetness and some bitterness, while vinegar is the primary sour component.  Salt is, well, salty.

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However, it’s when the spices are added that things get really interesting.  There are two reasons for this.  First and foremost, spices are about adding flavor to food, and the more spices you add, the more interesting the overall flavor becomes. Cinnamon, allspice, and paprika all contribute their own styles of sweetness to the sauce. Chiles, peppercorns, and turmeric do the same with bitterness.

Equally important, spices are nutrient-rich foods.  Cinnamon contains substances that may help control blood sugar levels after eating.  Capsaicin, the ingredient in chiles that makes them spicy, is believed to do everything from fighting inflammation to boosting immunity to providing cardiovascular benefits and lowering the risk of diabetes.  Both allspice and black pepper have been shown to improve digestion and promote intestinal health.

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But it’s turmeric that reigns as the nutritional rock star of the spice world.  Its active ingredient, curcumin, is believed to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and anticancer benefits, making it a potentially potent weapon in the fight against many nutrition-related diseases.

All you have to do is whisk the ingredients together. That’s all there is to it. You can heat the mixture on the stove, which may help the flavors blend a bit more. But that’s not necessary. The sauce is ready to use regardless.

(Regarding the spices, I recommend grinding your own, which you can do using an old coffee grinder. They’re cheaper that way and fresher tasting. But if you don’t have a coffee grinder, you can use equivalent amounts of spices that you buy pre-ground).

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So, while it may seem more convenient to buy a commercial brand of barbecue sauce, the reality is that the small amount of extra effort needed to make your own barbecue sauce is more than outweighed by the extra flavor and nutritional benefits that come from being able to vary the type and amount of spices in your barbecue sauce.

So, go on. Give homemade barbecue sauce a try. I think you’ll find the effort entirely worth it.

Easy Barbecue Sauce

  • Servings: about 1¾ cup of sauce
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This is a recipe I’ve been making for several years.  It is so easy.  Two tablespoons of a spice mix (which can be made ahead) blended with some pantry staples results in the best and freshest barbecue sauce you’ll ever taste.   And the bonus?  It’s filled with six kinds of nutrient-rich spices.

Ingredients for Spice Mix*

3 large or 4 small (approximately 1 ounce or 35 grams) ancho chiles (or
3 teaspoons whole allspice
3 teaspoons whole peppercorns
3-inch stick of cinnamon
3 teaspoons turmeric
3 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon sea salt

Ingredients for Barbecue Sauce

1 cup ketchup**
⅓ cup molasses
¼ cup distilled white vinegar


1.  Make the spice mix***:  Starting with the chiles and using a knife or scissors, cut each one open and then remove and discard the stem, seeds and any membranes.****  Tear the cleaned chiles into smaller pieces and place the pieces in a spice or coffee grinder dedicated to grinding spices.  Grind the pieces until they have become a powder and no whole pieces of chile remain. Transfer the ground chiles to a bowl.  Next, grind the allspice, peppercorns, stick cinnamon and salt in the coffee grinder until they have become a powder and no whole pieces remain, and then transfer the ground spices to the bowl with the ground chiles. Add turmeric and paprika to the same bowl and gently whisk until the components of the spice mix are thoroughly blended. You should have about 10 tablespoons of spice mixture.

2.  Make the barbecue sauce:  In a saucepan or medium bowl, whisk the barbecue sauce ingredients together with 2 tablespoons of the spice mix (3 tablespoons if you prefer your barbecue sauce spicy) until thoroughly blended.  Use immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to a month.

*This recipe makes enough spice mix for several batches of barbecue sauce.  What you don’t use can be stored in a jar in your pantry for up to six months and can be used to make more batches of barbecue sauce or even as a quick rub for meat similar to the one here.

**To make a less sweet version, you can swap out some of the ketchup with an equal amount of tomato paste.  If the resulting mixture is too thick, you can thin it out with a little water.

***Although freshly ground spices are almost always fresher than pre-ground, you can using pre-ground if you wish. Just use an equivalent amount. For the whole chiles, use about 3 tablespoons of pre-ground chiles (not chili powder, which has other spices in addition to the ground chiles), and for the cinnamon stick, use 3 teaspoons of pre-ground cinnamon.

****Many instructions for handling dried chiles recommend using gloves to prevent the transfer of heat-inducing compounds to other surfaces (such as your skin or eyes!).  As long as I am careful not to touch anything other than the chile, knife, and cutting board while I am preparing it, and I wash my hands thoroughly afterwards, I have not had any problems contaminating other surfaces.

Copyright© A Busy Mom’s Kitchen

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