three bbq sauces

I have OD’d on tangy. Making three different BBQ sauces in one day and repeatedly tasting them at different stages has left me with a tongue that feels like it needs a good shave. But I had a lot of mad-scientist kind of fun with it. I went to a local farmers market in the morning and bought these lovelies from a small farm in my area that pasture-raises all their livestock and I was inspired. Short Ribs. Spare Ribs. Oh my.

I came home, out of the 90 million degree heat and within a very short time my kitchen looked like this:

Now, I did not reinvent the BBQ sauce (though my kitchen looks like I invented something, then blew it up), but I took a few recipes that I’ve been meaning to try and because I was in an ambitious mood, decided to fool around with all three. It was worth it! It’s worth it just to avoid the ubiquitous, dreaded corn syrup and preservatives in just about every bottle of commercial BBQ sauce out there, (OK maybe not the 15 dollar kind you buy that comes in a thimble-sized bottle at Au Natural Market, but you know what I mean.) One, I’m calling “Black Forest BBQ” called for cherry preserves that I didn’t have in the house and couldn’t find, so with a bag of pitted cherries in the freezer I just went ahead and made those. I know you are impressed, but really, it’s just tossing the cherries and a little Cherry Herring Liquor in a pot with half a cup of sugar and a cup of water and cooking it down until it bubbles and oozes and there’s no moisture left. Voila. I’m glad there was extra preserves leftover because I want this on ice cream or cheesecake or in a Bourbon Old-Fashion very soon.

So, the sauces. They all started with the basic cup of ketchup. (To avoid corn syrup here, Heinz makes a good organic version that does not have it.)

The recipes shared some ingredients here and there: molasses, brown sugar, onion powder in all of them; Worcestershire, soy sauce and garlic powder in two; Liquid Smoke in two; lemon in two. But the rest of the ingredients were what made all the difference. Here is root beer bubbling on the surface of a sauce that had lemon zest, ginger, and orange juice, and ended up as the lighter and fruitier of the group.

And then there was the “Black Forest” with it’s chipotle, cocoa and cherry preserves that looked and smelled like a rich ganache but also had a smokey, spicy kick.  The Bourbon sauce, well, it had Bourbon. Which, come to think of it is probably why my tongue felt like it grew a beard. That sauce had a manly amount of bourbon in it. I’ll save my method for perfect, fall-off-the-bone ribs for another day. I don’t want to overwhelm. I want to inspire. Make your own BBQ sauce for the Fourth. Just one. You don’t have to be silly and make three all in one day like I did. Any one of these is easy, (even if you have to make the cherry preserves), and you will be rewarded with incredible depth of flavor and the gratitude of your guests. Which is what we do it for, isn’t it. Flavor and flattery. My life’s work!

BTW, my favorite was the cherry, cocoa, chipotle, which I refer to from now on as the Black Forest, (you know, that cake with the chocolate and the cherries and whipped cream that I could eat a whole one of). The cocoa notes, the smokey chipotle and the dark, fruity cherry was so surprising and really complex. It was especially delicious on the short ribs, chased down by a substantial red wine. What are you doing on the Fourth? We are going to watch fireworks over the Delaware River, not far from where George Washington crossed it, making this grand holiday possible. Let me know how you’ll be spending yours!

Black Forest (Cherry, Cocoa, Chipotle) BBQ Sauce
adapted from Steven Raichlen, Francine Maroukian, and The Bon Apetit Test Kitchen 


1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup cherry preserves
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons light molasses
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon lemon zest (microplane)
1-2 canned chipotle chiles in adobo (depending on the heat level you want)
1 tablespoon adobo sauce from the chile can
1 teaspoon liquid smoke (hickory flavor)
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

NOTES: Chipotle chilies in Adobo are usually available in the “ethnic” section of most large grocery stores, or in Latin specialty stores. Liquid Smoke is a smoke-flavored liquid seasoning you’ll find near the bottled BBQ sauces and ketchup in most grocery stores.


1. Place all the ingredients in the blender or food processor. (You can mix it all in a bowl by hand, but I wanted to puree the cherries from the preserves to end up with a smooth sauce that had the cherries distributed throughout…so I blended.) Blend or process until smooth.

2. Pour the mixture into a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer for 10 minutes, over medium-low heat, stirring often. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cool down before refrigerating. May be made up to 1 week ahead. Store in airtight container.

Soda Fountain BBQ Sauce
adapted from Steven Raichlen 

1 cup cola or root beer
1 cup ketchup
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup orange juice
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
1 teaspoon Liquid Smoke
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder


1. Combine all the ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to low heat and simmer until the mixture is reduced to about 1 1/2 cups, stirring as needed for about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cool down before refrigerating. Make ahead and store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

Bourbon BBQ Sauce
adapted from Steven Raichlen 

1/2 cup bourbon
1 cup ketchup
3 tablespoon packed dark brown sugar
3 tablespoon molasses
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Combine all the ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to low heat and simmer until the mixture is reduced to about 1 1/2 cups, stirring as needed for about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cool down before refrigerating. Make ahead and store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

7 responses to “three bbq sauces”

  1. Katherine says:

    Rachel, this is exactly what I needed to see this morning — yum! Do you recommend one over the other for chicken, particularly hot wings?

  2. Keter says:

    Black Forest BBQ … wow! I have a couple of jars of homemade cherry preserves that didn’t set up (the rest did, just these two were weird) and now I have a recipe to use at least one of them! I love chipotle/cocoa and cherry/chocolate flavor blends, so I am really looking forward to making this. I don’t love sweet BBQ sauce so I may cut the sugar depending on how sweet it gets from the cherry preserves.

    I recently ran across a recipe that called for using instant coffee as a flavoring for BBQ sauce. I tried a modified version of it and the coffee flavor played well as a substitute for smoke flavoring (which I do not use). You won’t mistake it for smoke flavor, but it is in the same flavor “spectrum.” If you cook on a smoky grill like I often do, the substitution is not noticeable.

  3. Rachel…
    All three of these look amazing. I will happily try them and make the cherry preserves to boot!

    Here’s a question….I have a dry rub for my ribs…which..sadly, now I can’t seem to live without…chilli pepper, cayenne, cumin, garlic, dried onion, paprika. my dilemma…. an appropriate bbq sauce. I not sure any of the three above are a match. (maybe the bourbon?) I’ve been going with commercial standard (more high end) sauces but am not satisfied. Any suggestions?

    • Eliz,

      Thanks for your comment and question!!

      I used a similar rub on my ribs…pre-baked the ribs with the rub for a couple of hours…(2 1/2 for baby backs, 3 1/2 for spare ribs), then finish them on the grill dousing them with the sauce of choice, turning and dousing (I use a pastry brush) until the ribs are lacquered with the sauce and caramelized…about 12-15 minutes, turning frequently. I used this rub with all three of the sauces and they all tasted amazing…so choose the one that appeals to you the most and go for it!!

  4. Deb Kerns says:

    Black Forest BBQ…wow! The others sound great also, but I can say for certain I will be making the Black Forest! Thanks for another inspiring post!

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