How to Make Barbecue Sauce That Goes With Chicken, Beef, and More

Take your pick among four types of barbecue sauce and slather it on all of your go-tos.

Flat lay composition with barbecue sauce on white wooden table
Photo: New Africa/Adobe Stock

Let's agree on one thing, barbecue sauce is a hero ingredient that makes almost anything it touches even better. Whether it's a rack of juicy ribs, a pulled pork sandwich, brisket, or used as a marinade or condiment, barbecue sauce is highly versatile and packs a ton of flavor. And just like there are regional barbecue styles, like Memphis, Texas, Carolina, or Alabama, to name a few, there is also an array of barbecue sauces that go beyond the well-known and irresistible tomato-based barbecue sauce. Other popular barbecue sauce styles are vinegar-based barbecue sauce, mustard-based barbecue sauce, and mayonnaise-based barbecue sauce.

Tomato-based barbecue sauce is the most easily recognizable, and most accessible in grocery stores too, if you're looking for a shortcut. The base of the sauce can be ketchup, tomato paste, or tomato purée, and it's linked to Kansas City barbecue, although other regional styles like Texas and Memphis also embrace it. While tomato-based barbecue sauce tends to be thick and glossy, vinegar-based barbecue sauce is on the thinner side, and with a spicy kick to boot. Mustard-based barbecue sauce, like its vinegar-based acquaintance, is also thin, sharp, and spicy, and is more commonly found in South Carolina barbecue. And lastly, to really change things up, in comes mayonnaise-based barbecue sauce, which is really just linked to the one and only Alabama white barbecue sauce. Vinegar, lemon, and seasonings give this unique barbecue sauce its delicious flavor, plus its creaminess is undeniably welcome on grilled chicken.

Keep reading to discover how to make barbecue sauce four different ways for all of your grilling needs!

How to Make Tomato-Based Barbecue Sauce

Tomato-based barbecue sauce is sweet and tangy and often made with molasses, brown sugar, vinegar, and spices in addition to the tomato product. It plays nice with just about any meat—try it on chicken, lamb, beef, and pork preparations on and off the grill. Give it a go on pizza, meatloaf, and sandwiches too. Brush it on toward the end or after cooking to avoid burning.

  • 1 cup ketchup
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  1. Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring often, for about 5 minutes.
  2. Let cool completely. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.

How to Make Vinegar-Based Barbecue Sauce

Vinegar-based barbecue sauces may or may not include ketchup. Some, like those hailing from Eastern North Carolina, might be free of any tomato product, but others, like Piedmont or Lexington-style sauce, might include just a touch of ketchup which softens the vinegar tang. Thanks to its acidity, this type of sauce balances out rich and fatty cuts of meat, like pork, so slather it on as it grills. Don't be shy to try it on grilled chicken too, but skip pouring it over any beef. The spicy kick comes from cayenne, crushed red pepper, or even hot sauce. For a variation to the below, add 2 tablespoons ketchup.

  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons hot sauce
  • ¾ teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  1. Whisk all ingredients in a medium bowl until sugar dissolves. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.

How to Make Mustard-Based Barbecue Sauce

Do like they do in South Carolina and try this zingy and thin barbecue sauce on a pulled pork sandwich. Or divert and try it on chicken. Traditionally, it's thinned with vinegar and infused with spices. Historically, German settlers brought the use of mustard with them and to this day it's stuck to barbecue history.

  • 1 cup yellow mustard
  • ¼ cup honey
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  1. Whisk all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium, stirring throughout, until honey and sugar dissolve, about 5 minutes.
  2. Let cool completely. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.

How to Make Mayonnaise-Based Barbecue Sauce

The base of Alabama white barbecue sauce is mayonnaise, and it's quite different from the other popular BBQ sauce varieties in the best way. It's creamy and incredibly flavorful thanks to a mixture of spices, lemon juice, pepper, and sometimes even horseradish. Give it a whirl on grilled or smoked chicken. Apply it at the very end of cooking or serve it alongside. Pro tip: it also makes a great dip.

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1¼ teaspoons prepared horseradish, optional
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon sugar, optional
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  1. Whisk all ingredients in a medium bowl. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.
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