Classic Barbecue Rib Sauce

Classic Barbecue Sauce
The Spruce
Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 15 mins
Total: 25 mins
Servings: 24 servings
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
44 Calories
1g Fat
9g Carbs
0g Protein
See Full Nutritional Guidelines Hide Full Nutritional Guidelines
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 24
Amount per serving
Calories 44
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 1g 2%
Saturated Fat 0g 1%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 191mg 8%
Total Carbohydrate 9g 3%
Dietary Fiber 0g 1%
Total Sugars 7g
Protein 0g
Vitamin C 1mg 6%
Calcium 9mg 1%
Iron 0mg 1%
Potassium 82mg 2%
*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.)

Our classic, easy, and quick-to-make rib sauce makes a great rack of barbecue ribs. Whether the ribs 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.

There is no consensus on which sauce is the best for ribs because it all comes down to personal taste and on how your local traditions use sauces on meats. But there is no denying that Kansas City-style sauce, like ours, brings a flavor that you'll love and think of when eating barbecue. This type of sauce is, without a doubt, a strong contender for favorite rib sauce. It has a prominent amount of tomato, sugar, fragrant spices, and liquid smoke—used to ensure the coveted smoke flavor, indispensable if you are not smoking the ribs or if you want that smoky flavor when using it as a table sauce.

Because the sauce has a generous amount of sugar, this sauce should not be used at higher temperatures because charred sugar is not what you want on your ribs. Use the sauce only at the end of cooking, when the temperature is lower, or the meat won't be on the heat much longer. For an extra-hot kick, add cayenne pepper to your liking.


  • 1/4 cup (60 ​ml) minced onion

  • 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

  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) cayenne pepper, optional

  • Freshly 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 rest of the ingredients, and cayenne if using. 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.

When to Apply the Sauce to the Ribs

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, there is a choice for how to finish them:

  • For crisp ribs: Take the ribs out of the smoker, turn up the heat on the grill, or use the broiler to crisp them up at high heat for two minutes. Put the barbecue sauce on the ribs, and return them to the smoker or medium-low heat on the grill or oven to allow the sauce to sink in. Alternatively, simply apply the sauce after crisping up the ribs, cut, and serve.
  • For non-crispy ribs: If you've wrapped your ribs in foil and 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.

How to Use Barbecue Rib Sauce

Don't limit barbecue sauce just to glazing ribs or being a table sauce. Here are a few suggestions for alternative uses of this delicious recipe:

  • Add a few tablespoons to chili stews or lentil and bean soups.
  • Add 2 tablespoons per each 1/2 cup of white wine to marinate chicken or flank steak.
  • Mix 1/2 cup of sauce, 1/2 cup of mayo, and 1/4 cup of dill relish to make a creamy sauce to top burgers, hot dogs, and for dipping fries or chips; use this preparation as a dressing for pasta salads.
  • Thin out 1 cup of sauce with 1/2 cup of vegetable broth, and mix with already-cooked pulled pork.
  • Pour sauce on already-cooked turkey, chicken, or beef meatballs.
  • Use it on deep-fried chicken wings; once the wings are ready, coat them with sauce and serve.
  • Use it on pulled-pork and cheese sandwiches, adding the cheese of your liking.
  • Add a few tablespoons of sauce to your meatloaf mixture before baking.
  • Use the sauce as a flavor enhancer in pork and pineapple dishes.
  • Use it on tostones, adding cheese and shredded meat on top.