Indulge in your grilling endeavors with this delectable Tennessee BBQ sauce recipe that you can easily make at home. Unleash your inner pit master with this simple and tangy BBQ sauce.
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As we all know, people take their BBQ seriously. From Texas to North Carolina, BBQ styles are as unique as the people who man the grill!
Tennessee is known for pulled pork and the Memphis area is known for its amazing ribs. This regional style of BBQ combines both dry rubs and BBQ sauce. This technique allows for the flavors to fully penetrate the meat and create a rich and smoky taste.
🌟Why This Recipe Works
One of the key ingredients is vinegar, which gives the sauce a tangy and acidic taste. Tennessee BBQ sauce also commonly includes molasses, which adds a sweetness to balance out the acidity. But I have a trick up my sleeve.
Use Brown Sugar or Molasses- This recipe can be used with either ingredient. I like to use brown sugar because it gives a light sweetness and doesn't overpower any dry rub I use. If I am just using the sauce and not smoking any meat I use molasses.
Apple Cider Vinegar- You can use any type of vinegar but apple cider and red wine vinegar are the two I recommend for this recipe.
Brown Sugar- You need to use bark brown sugar here. Light brown sugar will not have the most robust flavor. Or you can use an equal amount of old fashion molasses. If you like a sweet BBQ sauce try this apricot barbecue recipe.
Ketchup- Out of ketchup? Try a small can of tomato paste plus water. Or a little tomato sauce. Either way, increase the brown sugar. And if you use molasses instead of brown sugar I still recommend an extra tablespoon or two of brown sugar, not more molasses.
Butter- If you use unsalted butter definitely taste for salt at the end. You may need more.
White Onion- You can use yellow onion, and yes this is one of the few times you can use a sweet onion. I don't recommend using onion powder in this recipe.
Fresh Garlic- I don't recommend using garlic powder in this recipe but you can use roasted garlic if you like.
Worcestershire Sauce- Note that this product contains fish so if you want to keep this recipe vegetarian try soy sauce instead,
Dijon Mustard- I used to use mustard powder in the original recipe but I found that Dijon mustard adds a more complex flavor. You can also use regular yellow mustard.
See the recipe card for exact quantities.
Tennessee Whiskey BBQ Sauce- Add ½ cup of Whiskey or Bourbon (not from Tennessee). Cook to burn off the alcohol and reduce the sauce to your desired consistency.
Spicy BBQ Sauce- Make it spicy by adding hot sauce, a diced jalapeno, or cayenne pepper. Or try making this spicy jerk BBQ sauce.
🍲How to Make Tennessee BBQ Sauce
If you have been buying BBQ sauce, you are going to be amazed at how quick this Tennessee barbecue sauce recipe is! Definitely worth making a double batch.
To begin making the BBQ sauce, melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add the onion and cook until it becomes soft and translucent.
This usually takes about 5 minutes. After the onion is cooked, add the garlic and red pepper flakes to the saucepan and continue to cook for an additional 30 seconds.
This will allow the red pepper to be toasted until fragrant and release its oils, which will ensure that the BBQ sauce has the desired level of spiciness right from the start.
Add the ketchup, brown sugar, vinegar, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and chili powder to the saucepan and stir until everything is well combined.
Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and let it cook for 10 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. This will allow the flavors to meld together and the sauce to thicken to the desired consistency.
It is a wide range because you really can get it as thick as you like. But remember once we puree the sauce the texture will thicken slightly. And you can always reduce it back down after that.
Carefully transfer your sauce to a blender. Place the lid on tight and hold a hand towel down over the top. I always do this when blending warm liquids to prevent an unwanted blender eruption.
Puree the sauce until it is smooth. Season to taste with sea salt and cracked black pepper.
You can also use an immersion blender.
If you want to thin or thicken out you can. Add a little warm water to thin it. And pour it back into the pan and simmer it to reduce it to your desired thickness.
🍲 How to Use BBQ Sauce
This homemade BBQ sauce is as good warm as it is cold. You can use this sauce for all the typical grilled and smoked meats including ribs, chicken, and brisket. But here are some other ways I like to use up the leftover sauce.
- Add 1 cup to a crockpot with 1 sliced onion and a 2 to 3-pound roast beef. Simmer on low for 6 hours to make BBQ-pulled beef. Make sandwiches and top them with a vinegar-based coleslaw or cheddar cheese sauce.
- Use in baked beans or chili for an extra zingy flavor.
- Mix 50/50 ranch and BBQ sauce. Use as a salad dressing or smokey dip for cut veggies.
- Drizzle on chicken to BBQ nachos or pizza.
- Swap out bland tomato ketchup and used it for homemade meatloaf.
- No time to grill? Use as a marinade on chicken before baking in the oven
- When brushing the BBQ sauce on like a glaze you need to reduce the sauce until it is thick. This is also the perfect thickness for dipping.
- To use as a mop sauce keep it thin so you can brush it on frequently to keep your meat moist.
Homemade BBQ sauce should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It will last for up to a month. Let the sauce cool to room temperature before transferring it to your container. A mason jor works great!
The sauce can also be frozen for up to 6 months. Thaw the sauce in the refrigerator overnight. You may need to heat the sauce on low heat and whisk it to incorporate it if it has separated.
❤️More Easy Sauce Recipes
💬Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, you can add liquid smoke. I tend to leave it out because I use this sauce on smoked meats. But you can make the saucy smoky by adding up to a ½ teaspoon of liquid smoke or rehydrating ancho chili peppers (will require a longer cooking time).
Tennessee Barbecue Sauce
- Medium Saucepan
- High Speed Blender
- ½ cup salted butter
- 1 small white onion diced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 cups ketchup
- ½ cup apple cider vinegar
- ⅓ cup dark brown sugar or molasses see notes
- 3 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 Tablespoon chili powder
- 1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
- Melt butter in a medium sized saucepan over medium heat, add the onion, and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.½ cup salted butter, 1 small white onion, 2 cloves garlic, 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- Add the remaining ingredients to the pan. Bring to simmer, cook 10 minutes over medium low heat.2 cups ketchup, ½ cup apple cider vinegar, ⅓ cup dark brown sugar or molasses, 3 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, 1 Tablespoon chili powder, 1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
- Transfer to a high-speed blender and process until smooth. Or use an immersion blender to smooth out the onion. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- I recommend using brown sugar when pairing with meat that has a dry rub on it and molasses when making it for general use.
- Processing in a blender will give you the smoothest results. Always use caution when pureeing hot liquids.
- Once cooled, store the BBQ sauce in a jar with an airtight lid in the refrigerator. The sauce will last 2 to 4 weeks when properly stored.
- You can also freeze the sauce in a plastic container or glass jar. Just be sure to lease 1 inch of headroom (i.e. space at the top). It will last 4 to 6 months in the freezer.