The chef explains how to make a barbecue sauce that is better than store-bought

  • As an experienced chef and cooking instructor, I love my recipe for homemade barbecue sauce.
  • My sauce calls for tomato paste, yellow mustard and spices to give it a subtle smoky flavor.
  • Everything comes together in one pot and it takes less than 15 minutes from start to finish.

It’s barbecue season, and everything from corn on the cob to brisket tastes better with a little barbecue sauce.

It comes in many flavors inspired by regions across the United States, from a mayonnaise-based sauce in Alabama to a tangy mustard-based take in South Carolina.

Barbecue sauce makes everything it touches taste big, fat and juicy with a zest that holds up to the heat of an open fire.


There are countless store-bought versions, but I prefer to make my own.

A good barbecue sauce starts with tomatoes, sweetener, mustard and spices

ingredients for homemade barbecue sauce on the kitchen table

I like to use tomato paste and yellow mustard in my recipe.

Alyssa Fitzgerald

Most homemade barbecue sauces start with ketchup, but I prefer to strip it back further and start with a small can of tomato paste.

It’s usually under $2 and is easy to keep stocked in your pantry. Plus, adding your own sugar, instead of using sugary ketchup, gives you control over the sweetness of the sauce.

hand pours blackstrap molasses into a pot of tomato puree

Blackstrap molasses is packed with nutrients.

Alyssa Fitzgerald

I also like to add blackstrap molasses, an unrefined byproduct of sugar production that is rich in antioxidants, calcium, phosphorus and more. But it can be exchanged for extra sugar or honey.

Instead of using dried mustard for a sharp kick, I use the bottled variety.

Feel free to sub Dijon if you prefer, but be sure to start with half the amount, taste and adjust as it has more of a wasabi-like bite than yellow mustard.

hand pouring yellow mustard into a pot of barbecue sauce ingredients

Yellow mustard has a milder taste.

Alyssa Fitzgerald

Mustard also acts as a tenderizer, helping your meat stay juicy inside even if it gets a little charred on the grill.

For smoked meats, mustard can be the ingredient to create bark (the dark, flavorful crust). Pitmasters are always looking for the perfect bark and often rely on yellow mustard over other varieties.

Finally, a little smoked paprika goes a long way to add a subtle smoky flavor to the sauce.

The sauce couldn’t be easier to throw together, just make sure to taste as you go

whisk ingredients for barbecue sauce in a pan over the stove

Everything goes together in one pot.

Alyssa Fitzgerald

Mix all ingredients and cook gently on the stove, but make sure to taste as you go.

The amount of salt may seem excessive, but it balances the sugar and vinegar.

If in doubt, add 1 teaspoon at a time, mix and taste.

homemade barbecue sauce in a metal pan with a wooden spoon

It takes less than 15 minutes to make the sauce.

Alyssa Fitzgerald


  • 6 ounces (one small can) tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 2 pinches crushed red pepper flakes to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon salt, reserved


  1. Add all ingredients, except the salt, to a medium saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Combine with a whisk and reduce heat to a simmer, stirring often.
  3. Cook for five to 10 minutes until the mixture looks uniform and bubbles slightly.
  4. Add 1/2 cup water and 1 teaspoon at a time of the salt, taste and add more salt or water if needed. Use 1 cup water for a thinner sauce.