Simple BBQ Chicken Sauce

BBQ chicken sauce being brushed onto grilled chicken pieces

The Spruce Eats / Eric Kleinberg

Prep: 3 mins
Cook: 8 mins
Cool Time: 45 mins
Total: 56 mins
Servings: 6 to 8 servings
Yield: 2 cups
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
79 Calories
2g Fat
16g Carbs
1g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 6 to 8
Amount per serving
Calories 79
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 2g 3%
Saturated Fat 0g 2%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 304mg 13%
Total Carbohydrate 16g 6%
Dietary Fiber 1g 4%
Total Sugars 12g
Protein 1g
Vitamin C 1mg 7%
Calcium 18mg 1%
Iron 1mg 4%
Potassium 162mg 3%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

This easy BBQ sauce imparts moisture and flavor to grilled chicken, and it can be used on beef, pork, and even tofu or tempeh. With the perfect combination of tang and sweetness, the sauce isn't overpowering and won't drown the charred and smoky profile of your grilled meats. Made with simple ingredients, our recipe doesn't have high levels of sugar or sodium like store-bought sauces do. Experiment with the seasoning to find your favorite balance, more cayenne and chili powder for a spicier version, or more sugar and paprika for a sweeter and stickier sauce.

Make the sauce on the day of your cookout in less than 15 minutes, or save some time and prepare ahead; the sauce will keep in the fridge for up to a week.

Our recipe uses simple seasonings and spices. If you want to go one step beyond, make the ketchup at home to ensure that all ingredients are natural and no additives or preservatives are in it. By doing so, you can also be sure the BBQ sauce free of soy and gluten, as most regular kinds of ketchup do contain wheat or soy.


Click Play to See This Simple BBQ Chicken Sauce Come Together

"The best part about making your own BBQ sauce is it allows you to modify it as you like. If you want a little more kick, add some additional cayenne pepper. If you’re watching sugar, reduce the sweetness if needed. Add it onto chicken and meat before they finish cooking for a fresh bite." —Tracy Wilk

A Note From Our Recipe Tester


  • 1 cup ketchup

  • 1/4 cup white vinegar

  • 1/4 cup brown sugar

  • 2 tablespoons paprika

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1 tablespoon chili powder

  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder

  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for BBQ chicken sauce recipe gathered

    The Spruce Eats / Eric Kleinberg

  2. Heat up a medium saucepan on medium-low. Add all of the ingredients, but just 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne powder. Allow the mixture to simmer for 5 to 8 minutes.

    Ingredients added to a saucepan

    The Spruce Eats / Eric Kleinberg

  3. Taste for flavor and add the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne if you'd like a spicier sauce.

    Smooth sauce being stirred with a wooden spoon in a saucepan

    The Spruce Eats / Eric Kleinberg

  4. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely before using.

    Thick smooth BBQ sauce in the saucepan

    The Spruce Eats / Eric Kleinberg

  5. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to a week.

    BBQ chicken sauce filled in to swivel-top glass jar

    The Spruce Eats / Eric Kleinberg

When Do I Apply the BBQ Sauce?

The right time to brush the chicken with the barbecue sauce is about 10 minutes before the chicken is ready. By doing so, the sauce has enough heat and time to caramelize but not scorch. Many cooks baste their chicken or meat too early, causing the sauce to burn. Because BBQ sauces have sugar, if you add them too early they will burn and impart a nasty flavor to your meats. Other cooks add the sauce after the food is off of the grill so it doesn't have enough time to penetrate the meat and flavor throughout. The right time is when the chicken is almost done but not quite ready to come off the grill.

How to Use BBQ Sauce

This sauce can be used in a variety of ways, not just to brush chicken or other meats. Here are some ideas: