Classic Barbecue Rib Sauce

Classic Barbecue Sauce
The Spruce
  • Total: 25 mins
  • Prep: 10 mins
  • Cook: 15 mins
  • Yield: 3 cups (serves 24)
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
52 Calories
1g Fat
11g Carbs
1g Protein
See Full Nutritional Guidelines Hide Full Nutritional Guidelines
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 3 cups (serves 24)
Amount per serving
Calories 52
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 1g 2%
Saturated Fat 0g 1%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 193mg 8%
Total Carbohydrate 11g 4%
Dietary Fiber 0g 1%
Protein 1g
Calcium 18mg 1%
*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 sauce certainly produces a great rack of barbecue ribs. Whether they are smoked low and slow or baked in the oven, this barbecue rib sauce will add a touch of heat, a bit of smoke, and a lot of flavor. If you like it even hotter, you can add cayenne pepper to reach your spice level.

What makes this a classic barbecue sauce is that it is in the Kansas City style that dominates bottled barbecue sauce. It's the flavor you think of when you think of barbecue. It has a prominent amount of tomato and sugar along with the spices. Liquid smoke is used to ensure you get smoke flavor, especially if you are not smoking the ribs or if you want that smoky flavor when using it as a table sauce.

As this sauce has plenty of sugar, it should not be used at higher temperatures or you will get charred sugar. Use it only at the end of cooking when the temperature is lower or the meat won't be on the heat much longer.


  • 1/4 cup/60 ​mL onion (minced)
  • 2 tablespoons/30 ​mL water
  • 2 tablespoons/30 ​mL olive oil
  • 2 cups/475 ​mL ketchup
  • 1/3 cup/80 mL brown sugar
  • 3 cloves garlic (crushed)
  • 1 tablespoon/15 mL apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon/15 mL tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon/15 mL Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon/5 mL liquid smoke
  • 1 teaspoon/5 mL dry mustard
  • Optional: 1/2 teaspoon/2.5 mL cayenne pepper
  • Fresh ground pepper (to taste)

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Classic Barbecue Rib Sauce Ingredients
    The Spruce 
  2. Blend the minced onion and water into a puree.

    Chopping onions in a food processor
    The Spruce
  3. Heat a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Add the olive oil. When the oil is warm, pour in the onion puree. Simmer for 2 to 3 minutes.

    Onion going into a wok
     The Spruce
  4. Add the remaining ingredients (ketchup, brown sugar, crushed garlic, apple cider vinegar, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, liquid smoke, dry mustard, fresh ground pepper, and optional cayenne). Mix thoroughly and simmer on low for 12 to 15 minutes.

    Barbecue sauce ingredients in a pan
     The Spruce
  5. Once cooked, allow the sauce to cool to room temperature before using, about 30 minutes. 

  6. If you are making the sauce ahead of time, place it in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to one week.

    Classic Barbecue Rib Sauce
     The Spruce
  7. Enjoy as a marinade for your favorite meats!


  • The right way to add sauce to pork ribs is to wait until the internal temperature is 170 F when the ribs are close to being done. Now you have a choice about how to finish them.
  • For a crisp surface coated with barbecue sauce, take them out of the smoker or turn up the heat on the grill to crisp them at high heat for two minutes. Now you can put the barbecue sauce on and return the ribs to the smoker or medium-low heat on the grill to allow the sauce to sink in. Or, you can simply apply the sauce after crisping and cut and serve.
  • If you have wrapped your ribs in foil and you are not crisping the surface, apply the sauce when you take off the foil and continue to smoke the ribs. The sauce will take on more of the smoke and cook onto the surface, making the ribs sticky.