How to Spice up BBQ Sauce

Rack of baby back ribs on the grill.
Getty Images/mphillips007

Typically, store-bought barbecue sauce flavors are too tomatoey, a bit too sweet, some are either too smoky or not at all, and usually they all lack spice. Even the sauces that claim to be spicy tend to lack in heat and definitely flavor. There's only one thing to do: spice up that barbecue sauce! (You could also start with a batch of homemade sauce and spice it up from there.)

A Quick Fix

A quick and easy solution to the too-bland problem is to reach for a bottle of your favorite hot sauce.

To make sure that the hot sauce will improve the taste of the barbecue sauce, you need to mix a little of the two together and taste. If you like the results, pour the bottle of barbecue sauce into a bowl and slowly mix in the hot sauce. The important thing here is that it be done slowly, to avoid offsetting the flavors. 

Another great solution is adding ground up chile flakes or powder. Common peppers such as cayenne, habanero, or plain red chile powder can work wonders on boring sauces. If you have access to more exotic ground chile peppers, like Aleppo and Urfa Biber, you can create some truly unique flavors. Again, just slowly mix in the pepper flakes or ground up chilis into the barbecue sauce. 

Adding a Bit of Smoke

If your barbecue sauce is lacking in both heat and smokiness try chipotle peppers. You can purchase these chiles ground into a powder, dried pods, or canned. Typically the canned chipotles come in what is called an adobo sauce, which is simply a spiced tomato sauce.

To use the powder all you need to do is mix it into the ready-made barbecue sauce. The dried pods first need to be soaked in hot water until they're rehydrated, then drain and process in a blender with the barbecue sauce. As for the canned chipotles, they too would simply need to be blended with the barbecue sauce.


Ground mustard powder is another great and spicy ingredient that can be added to barbecue sauce. While you won't get the same type of heat (mustard does not contain capsaicin) as a hot pepper, it is still a delicious spice for so many foods. 

Additional Spicy Tips

Once you've decided on what you'll be using to spice up your barbecue sauce, you may keep working on improving the taste. If your store-bought sauce is too sweet, add heat or a bit of vinegar to try and balance out the flavors. Start off by adding a teaspoon at a time, mixing until well combined, taste, and if needed repeat until you achieve the desired taste.

For a smoky touch without the heat and flavor of chipotles try adding a pinch or two of ground cumin seed. Other spices like garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and freshly ground black pepper can also come in handy. Just make sure that you've mixed them into the sauce until they are well combined, taste and if needed keep adjusting the amounts and ingredients.

After you've incorporated any additional ingredients to the barbecue sauce, leave your concoction to sit for at least 30 minutes. After this time the flavors will have come together nicely. Lastly, a nice long marination time is key, which allows the sauce flavors to seep into the meat (or vegetables) that you are cooking.

A minimum of 30 minutes of marination is recommended, but ideally overnight is best.