Barbecue Sauce – Culinary Hill

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Here’s a homemade one Barbecue Sauce recipe that’s every bit as delicious as Sweet Baby Ray’s famous sauce. It’s all natural, made by you, and only takes a few minutes.

A bowl of barbecue sauce with a spoon resting next to it.

There are four major styles of barbecue in the United States: Carolina, Kansas City, Memphis, and Texas. I’ve always been partial to the tomato/molasses-based Kansas-style barbecue because, like many Midwesterners, I like a little sugar with my meat.

Sweet Baby Ray’s is a cult classic: It’s thick and sweet and wholly in the Kansas-style camp. It’s my personal favorite. But never content with store-bought, I had to make my own.

The homemade version is awesome! It’s more than a substitute: It’s an upgrade. You can dial the spicy factor up or down and you can high-five yourself for making it from scratch.

Table of Contents
  1. Recipe ingredients
  2. Ingredient notes
  3. Step-by-step instructions
  4. Recipe tips and variations
  5. Recipe FAQs
  6. Barbecue Sauce Recipe

Recipe ingredients

Labeled ingredients for barbecue sauce.

At a Glance: Here is a quick snapshot of what ingredients are in this recipe.
Please see the recipe card below for specific quantities.

Ingredient notes

  • Molasses: Substitute ¼ cup dark corn syrup, honey, or maple syrup, or 3 tablespoons firmly-packed brown sugar (the flavor of the sauce will change).
  • Cayenne pepper: Add to taste (I like ½ teaspoon) or omit entirely.

Step-by-step instructions

  1. In a non-reactive saucepan over medium-high heat, whisk together the ketchup, brown sugar, pineapple juice, molasses, liquid smoke, mustard, garlic powder, onion powder, and chili powder.
Ingredients for barbecue sauce in a saucepan before being mixed.
  1. Bring the sauce to a low boil; reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until flavors have blended, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Ingredients for barbecue sauce being stirred in a saucepan
  1. Stir in vinegar, then season to taste with cayenne, salt, and pepper (I like ½ teaspoon cayenne, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper).
A bowl of barbecue sauce with a checkered towel under it.

Recipe tips and variations

  • Yield: This Barbecue Sauce recipe makes about 4 cups (1 quart) of barbecue sauce.
  • Storage: Large leftovers covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
  • Freezer: Cool the sauce completely, then pack into freezer-safe containers (I like to use pint jars). Label, date, and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
Air fryer chicken wings covered in barbecue sauce on a wooden cutting board.
Air fryer chicken wings with barbecue sauce.

Recipe FAQs

What are the 4 styles of barbecue in the United States?

The 4 main styles of American barbecue are Carolina (which is further subdivided into Eastern and Lexington-style barbecue), Kansas City, Memphis, and Texas (Texas is divided into 4 regions also, the most popular being Southern Texas barbecue).

What style of barbecue sauce is Sweet Baby Ray’s?

Sweet Baby Ray’s is thick, sweet, and based on Kansas City barbecue. In Kansas City, the barbecue sauce is tomato-and-molasses based, just like SBR.

Barbecue ribs on a wooden cutting board.

More barbecue recipes

Barbecue Sauce

Here’s a Barbecue Sauce recipe that’s every bit as Sweet Baby Ray’s famous sauce. It’s all natural, made by you, and only takes a few minutes.

Prep Time 3 my s

Cook Time 17 my s

Total Time 20 my s

Servings 16 (¼ cup) servings

Course Pantry

Cuisine American

Calories 81

  • In a non-reactive saucepan over medium-high heat, whisk together the ketchup, brown sugar, pineapple juice, molasses, liquid smoke, mustard, garlic powder, onion powder, and chili powder.

  • Bring the sauce to a low boil; reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until flavors have blended, about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in vinegar, then season to taste with cayenne, salt, and pepper (I like ½ teaspoon cayenne, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper).

  1. Molasses: Substitute ¼ cup dark corn syrup, honey, or maple syrup, or 3 tablespoons firmly-packed brown sugar (the flavor of the sauce will change).
  2. Cayenne pepper: Add to taste (I like ½ teaspoon) or omit entirely.
  3. Liquid smoke: In a pinch, substitute 2 teaspoons smoked paprika (the flavor of the sauce will change).
  4. Yield: This Barbecue Sauce recipe makes about 4 cups (1 quart) of barbecue sauce.
  5. Storage: Large leftovers covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
  6. Freezer: Cool the sauce completely, then pack into freezer-safe containers (I like to use pint jars). Label, date, and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator.

Serving: 1tbspCalories: 81kcalCarbohydrates: 20gProtein: 1gDish: 1gSaturated Fat: 1gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 1gSodium: 282mgPotassium: 195mgFiber: 1gSugar: 18gVitamin A: 164IUVitamin C: 2mgCalcium: 23mgIron: 1mg


Meggan Hill is the Executive Chef and CEO of Culinary Hill, a popular digital publication in the food space. She loves to combine her Midwestern food memories with her culinary school education to create her own delicious take on modern family fare. Millions of readers visit Culinary Hill each month for meticulously-tested recipes as well as skills and tricks for ingredient prep, cooking ahead, menu planning, and entertaining. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the iCUE Culinary Arts program at College of the Canyons.


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