A spicier, less sweet blend than most bottled sauces
Walk into any supermarket in the US, and you can find Kansas City-style barbecue sauce. It’s usually tomato-based and tasty, but definitely on the sweet side. It obviously has appeal — it’s one of the most popular styles of barbecue sauce sold commercially. What shoppers may not know, however, is that KC-style sauce has a long tradition — and a flavor range that goes way beyond sweet.
Back in our early married years, Mrs. Kitchen Riffs and I lived in Kansas City and ate barbecue quite often. But the sauce served at our favorite spots was quite different from the bottled stuff you buy in supermarkets today. It had a hint of sweetness, but was never cloying. Instead, it tended to have a peppery, spicy flavor with a hint of vinegar — and a texture that could be almost gritty.
The sauce I’m making today is a compromise — sweeter than the sauce of my youth, but less sweet than most commercial versions. The sugar nicely tames the spicy flavor in my sauce (which isn’t fiery — though it will get your attention).
Speaking of attention, that’s what you’ll attract when you serve this sauce with your favorite barbecue meat. Your guests will love it! And you, for making it.
Recipe: Tangy KC-Style Barbecue Sauce
This sauce goes with just about anything that you can barbecue: spare ribs, pork steaks, pulled pork, beef brisket, or even chicken. If you can Q it, this sauce works.
This recipe is easy to tinker with (just adjust quantities and ingredients to make your own “house” sauce). In fact, my sauce is very much a work in progress — I seem to make it slightly different every time.
This recipe is adapted from one I found in Smoke and Spice by Cheryl and Bill Jamison — an excellent book about all things barbecue, BTW, and worth looking at if you’re new to Q.
Preparation and cooking time for this recipe is 40 to 45 minutes. It makes about 2½ cups, and will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a week to 10 days.
- 1 medium onion (~¾ cup)
- 2 cloves garlic (or to taste)
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (for sautéing)
- 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
- ¾ cup cider vinegar
- 1¼ cup water (less if you want a thicker sauce, more if you want a thinner one)
- ¼ cup brown sugar (you may want to increase this to 6 tablespoons if you prefer a sweeter sauce; either dark or light brown sugar works fine in this recipe)
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (I sometimes double this amount)
- ¼ cup dried ancho chile powder
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons yellow mustard (the ballpark kind)
- ~2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper (or to taste; see Notes)
- ~2 teaspoons salt (or to taste)
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon celery seed
- 1 tablespoon liquid smoke (optional)
- Peel the onion and cut it into chunks. Place the onion chunks in food processor.
- Peel the garlic and chop roughly; add to food processor. Process onion and garlic until it forms a paste.
- Sauté the onion-and-garlic paste in oil (in a 2-quart sauce pan on medium heat) for about 5 minutes. Turn the heat down if the mixture begins to brown.
- Add the can of tomato paste and sauté for an additional minute.
- Add the remaining ingredients and bring the mixture to a simmer. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. After 10 minutes, taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. If the sauce seems too thick, add some water towards the end to thin it out. If too thin, cook longer to reduce it.
- Cool sauce. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container until ready to use.
- This sauce is better for eating than for basting meat — the tomato and sugar it contains will burn if exposed to heat for too long. If you like to coat barbeque meat with sauce before taking it off the heat, I suggest applying this no more than 10 minutes before you’ll be removing it.
- If this sauce isn’t sweet enough for you, by all means add more sugar.
- If it isn’t hot enough, add some hot sauce, or hotter dried chilies.
- If it’s too hot, cut the amount of ancho chile powder in half, and replace it with sweet paprika.
- I sometimes increase the amount of black pepper in this sauce to a tablespoon (or two). If you like black pepper, this is worth a try.
- Liquid smoke adds a hit of real smoke flavor (it’s a natural product made through a process that captures and distills wood smoke into an extract). If you crave that smoky flavor, and your barbecued meat doesn’t have enough of it, liquid smoke is worth trying.
Cookouts Coming Up!
Tomorrow we celebrate Memorial Day in the US, and many of us will be hosting a cookout or picnic. This barbecue sauce would be a great accompaniment to many cookout favorites, like Slow-Cooked BBQ Spare Ribs or Barbecued Pork Steaks. You could even use it to top Grilled Hamburgers.
But what about the rest of the menu? Well, here at Kitchen Riffs, we’ve got you covered.
Let’s start with potato salad. If you’re brand new to making potato salad, you might want to read my Potato Salad Basics. Then maybe contemplate making a great American (Mayonnaise) Potato Salad or my favorite variation on that, Mustard Potato Salad. Other great potato salads include French Potato Salad and German Potato Salad with Bacon.
Coleslaw is another popular picnic dish. If you like spicy, try my Jalapeño Coleslaw with Pimentón. Worried about vampires? Then my Garlic Coleslaw is the ticket. If you want a more traditional slaw, it’s hard to beat Creamy Cole Slaw.
To round out the menu, you might want to cook up a batch of Southern Green Beans with Bacon or Baked Beans.
Save room for dessert! I’m always ready for a classic Root Beer Float.
And to drink? When the weather turns warm, it’s hard to resist a Pimm’s Cup. This isn’t a drink everyone knows — but you should.
Speaking of drinks, Memorial Day marks the unofficial beginning of summer in the US. And to celebrate, we’re bringing back our Summer Sippin’ Series. Every week, starting this Wednesday and extending through Labor Day, we’ll feature a different, summer-appropriate drink on Kitchen Riffs. There will still be plenty of food posts — at least one a week. But it’s always fun to cut loose in the summer and enjoy an adult beverage. Or two.
I can’t wait! So see you again after Memorial Day (have a great weekend).
You may also enjoy reading about:
Oven Slow-Cooked BBQ Spare Ribs
Barbecued Pork Steaks
Jalapeño Coleslaw with Pimentón
Creamy Cole Slaw
Southern Green Beans with Bacon
German Potato Salad with Bacon
Mustard Potato Salad
French Potato Salad
American (Mayonnaise) Potato Salad
Potato Salad Basics
Root Beer Float
Oh goodness, this will pair incredibly well with your ribs that I plan to try on Tuesday.
Thank you John!! I've been wanting a BBQ sauce recipe for ages now but didn't have a trusted source. I like KC style sauce because I like mine a little sweet but definitely not what comes bottled. Most of that stuff is terrible and hence the hunt for a recipe.
I am definitely going to try this out once I get settled in my new place. We're still at it!
Happy Memorial Day eats!!
Hi Vicki, this sauce goes great with ribs. Have fun with it! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Nazneen, this is a pretty good sauce. I don't think you'll find this too sweet, but if you do it's easy enough to use a bit less sugar. And it has a nice spicy tang to it. Thanks for the comment.
The custom of barbecue sauce is big here but certainly not as big as America - I wish it was because this sauce looks fantastic :)
Choc Chip Uru
A buddy of mine said you can't make bbq sauce with tomato paste and I knew he was wrong even if he did go to culinary school. Definitely trying this.
Hi John, Incredible BBQ sauce, and just what I was looking for. I love Kansas City sauce that they serve with their famous ribs, and you are right, it is completely different from the one in the bottle. And each place has it's own kick to it. I am definitely saving this recipe and will try after we un-pack somewhere sometime this summer. Although, I think I am going to go less on dried ancho chile powder.I think on adding also smocked paprika. Great post, as always. :)
The hubby would like if I'd make ribs every weekend...and now I have a new sauce to slather them with. Thanks!
Hi Uru, it's a delish sauce. Truly worth your time to make. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Bob, good thing I never went to culinary school, otherwise I'd never have made this! ;-) I think you'll enjoy this - it really has nice flavor. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Marina, smoked paprika works well in this sauce - I've done that before. Hope your move goes OK! Thanks for commenting.
Hi Liz, there was a time in my life when I could - and sometimes did! - eat ribs every weekend! Those days are gone - probably a good thing. This is a fun sauce to play with - I think you'll enjoy. Thanks for the comment
Oh wow, I made almost the same BBQ sauce today, only I threw in some chipotle to make it extra spicy. It was so good I ate three giant ribs before the platter even left the kitchen. And I think we might be long lost something-or-others, because I also made green beans with bacon and potato salad (two of our house staples). If you tell me you're having lobster tomorrow, I'm gonna start humming the Twilight Zone theme.
Hi jeri, chipotle is good - I've done that before too! No need to hum the Twilight Zone theme, we're having pork steaks tomorrow. Although I have been thinking of making lobster ravioli lately. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
You are a ribs master, for sure! This sounds amazing, sweet, spicy and so flavorful!
No, never heard of it. No K-C sauce to be found Down Under. I do like the idea of making my own sauce, however. That's because I'm tired of the commercial sauces because they are far too sweet and there's not enough tang. This looks like a wonderful tomato sauce and I can see it pairing well with those ribs xx
I love bbq sauce of all types. This has some great flavors in it. Tomorrow I'm doing a giant pork butt on our Weber and have it rubbed and waiting. Probably will do a more traditional pulled pork sauce but this sounds like it could be in the running! What great sides you have, too!
These ribs look sooooooooooooooo GOOD i am soooo damn hungry right now hehe I want to make this BBQ sauce but what if I end up drinking it! LOL
Hi Chris, it's a great sauce! And perfect with spare ribs, or beef brisket. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Charlie, you don't really want to buy the commercial KC sauce anyway, IMO - too sweet. Mine is the one you want. ;-) Well, maybe you won't after you taste it, but I think it's pretty good. Thanks for the commet.
Hi Abbe, I need to do a pork butt! Pulled pork is so good. I agree that this sauce isn't the best for that (it's OK on pulled pork, but there are better sauces for that application). Have a great time with your Weber! And thanks for the comment.
Hi Daisy, I've actually been known to drink BBQ sauce! Well not actually drink it, but I've certainly slurped up a spoonful or two of the stuff. Thanks for the comment.
Yes, I second Charlie's comments - not that I do not have a bottle of some kind of commercial barbecue sauce in pantry/fridge usually, but few 'thrill'! Have looked at your ingredients and shall definitely have a 'go' at this :) !
Hi Eha, there actually are some good commercial BBQ sauces in the US, though as is usual, homemade is usually better (at least it suits the specific tastes of the person making it). I hope you like this - I certainly do! Have fun with it. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
ive always thought that bottled BBQ sauce is a bit lacking, now i know its the heat! i will defs be trying this one out!
Hi milkteaxx, there are some decent bottled sauces if you look, but one's own is always so much better! Hope you enjoy this, and thanks for commenting.
Thats a really nice barbecue sauce, got to try this sometime
Yummy! I love those flavors and spices. A tasty BBQ sauce.
Hi Raymund, it really is decent - I hope you'll like it. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Rosa, it really has a wonderful, deep flavor - good stuff! Thanks for the comment.
I hope to bbq very soon, I just need the sun to come over and heat :) A good bbq sauce is a must Need to try out yours.
I LOVE BBQ sauce, and I have been searching for a good homemade recipe to try. Thanks!
I'd want to slather that on everything and anything. Great for this holiday weekend, too.
I love a good BBQ sauce!! We have a couple really good BBQ places here in Rochester that have amazing sauce and I've always wanted to try making my own. Happy Memorial Day!!
Hi Marta, I'll eat BBQ even when the weather is cold, but it's better when it's warm, I agree. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Krist, this one is really worth trying - I hope you like it! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Carolyn, I slather this on all sorts of things! The flavor is kinda addictive. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Ashley, it's fun making your own! Even though I do still buy some bottled sauces, I much prefer my own. Thanks for the comment, and Happy Memorial Day!
I'd like to douse this on *everything,* not just the next BBQ grilling session we have. I love your knowledge of all these sauces and histories--adds a nice touch!
I have become a BBQ addict in SC. And always learning different sauces. My favorite is vinegar based but I would definitely like to try this one with peppery tone.
Hi Ala, I'm prone to putting Q sauce on all sorts of things - it has great flavor! Thanks for the kind words, and comment.
Hi Ilke, this is probably as far as you can get from the typical SC BBQ sauce, which tend to be more vinegar and/or mustard based. I think that sauce is the best with pulled pork (and of course tasty on other things as well). That's what's so cool about BBQ - so many different flavors and traditions! Thanks for the comment.
Looks like y'all had a delicious Memorial Day. What a sauce! I actually prefer the less sweet BBQ sauces, so with only 1/4 cup brown sugar, I would be happy. I've heard a lot about KC BBQ sauces, but I don't think I've ever had one. I've never been to KC and if and when I buy BBQ in the bottle, it's usually a smokey Texas sauce. I don't remember seeing a KC sauce in the stores here, but that's probably because of location. I would love to make my own sauce next time, so thanks for this delicious sauce!
I like making my own BBQ sauce too. This one sounds like a winner. I am going to have to try it.
Hi MJ, we did indeed have a nice Memorial Day. ;-) Surprised there isn't a KC-something Q sauce in your grocery stores - I thought KC Masterpiece was everywhere these days, but I guess not. There are some great bottled sauces out there, so we still often buy - but making your own is loads of fun, and the flavor is better. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Dawn, isn't making BBQ sauce fun? Not to mention tasty. ;-) I hope you enjoy this! Thanks for the comment.
Sweet, spicy and smoky deliciousness! Bring on summer for grilling :D
I always make our bbq sauce and every time I say, "next time I'm going to make it less sweet and spicier." Now all I have to do is follow your recipe. Thanks!
That first photo is mouthwatering and conjures up summer barbecues. We have just hit freezing weather from one hour to the next. We even had a hailstorm. So summer and barbecues are now a distant memory. i love the idea of homemade sauces as opposed to store bought. You never really know exactly what's in them.
Never heard of KC style sauce before.
Sounds very tempting-sweet but not to overwhelming and with a spicy touch.
Looks like the perfect BBQ sauce to me.
Thank you for sharing!
GORGEOUS photos!!! What a wonderful sauce to spread on those beautiful ribs. My mother-in-law lives in Kansas City and it is one of my favorite places to visit. Great barbeque . . . and oh that Plaza.
Hi Kiran, I love grilling season! I sometimes even sneak out in the middle of winter to fire up the Weber. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Maureen, this is a decent basic recipe - you can take it in several different flavor directions. Have fun playing! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Suzanne, just think, in a few months you'll be back in BBQ season! ;-) I agree the sometimes ingredients in even the best products can be a bit sketchy. I still use some bottled sauces, but I much prefer my own. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Daniela, it's a great sauce! Kansas City is especially known for barbecue ribs and brisket, and this sauce suits both of those meats perfectly. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Karen, we really enjoyed the few years we lived in Kansas City. Terrific barbecue (and fried chicken), and the Plaza is wonderful. Thanks for the kind words, and comment.
Your sauce sounds divine, John... love the combination of flavours.
Hi Lizzy, it's really a nice sauce - super flavor! Thanks for the comment.
Oh yes, Kansas where you can eat the country's best BBQ's! You put all of the delicious ingredients on this sauce John. Love the shot of that ribs. It is making me really hungry. Thank you and I hope you and Mrs. KR had a wonderful Memorial Day weekend. :)
Ooo now you've officially done it... I was already in need of some serious summer sun but now that I have seen your sauce I just know I have to had it just so I can BBQ and use this sauce! Looks delicious!
Not to fan of the bottled BBQ sauce because of the sweetness factor but you got me on the first sentence, "A spicier, less sweet blend". A must try. Thanks a lot, John.
John, This sauce looks really good, much better than the stuff I normally squeeze out out a bottle. Here in Australia, I've packed away my Weber for the winter, but will soon bring it out again when I come to San Diego for several months!
Lordy Lord ! That sauce is loaded with fun, beauty, taste and oomph factors :)
Hi Ray, ribs are good stuff, aren't they? We had a great Memorial Day weekend, and hope you had the same. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Simone, it's about time we get some warm weather, isn't it?! Sorry to feed your warm weather hunger. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Lail, spicier is better, isn't it? This really is nice - worth trying. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Fran, I actually sometimes pull out the Weber in the middle of winter, but I know I'm nuts! But San Diego always has great weather, so you'll be in BBQ business there. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Suborna, tons of oomph! And darn good, too. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
holy moly what a delicious sauce, this is a must make this summer!
Hi Natalie, it really is good! I hope you enjoy it. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
I have had such an undeniable craving for a real slow cooked brisket. I do believe this sauce just may be the "icing on the brisket." Now all I need to do is find a brisket around here. You would not believe the difficulty I have finding decent cuts of meat around here, especially beef! I may have to visit the Kansas City folk people online!
Thanks for sharing, John...
Great sounding BBQ sauce. Thanks for a new recipe.
Hi Louise, slow cooked brisket is wonderful, isn't it? And this sauce goes well with brisket. ;-) Sorry to hear you have problems finding decent meat. You can always have your butcher order you something, but if they're not decent to begin with, one wonders what you'll get. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Debra, it's really a nice recipe. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Honestly I am not a big fan of BBQ sauce since back in Brazil, BBQ was never served with sauce...but tangy, yes, I would go for it...and need to confess that my mouth was watering going through the ingredients. Thanks for the recipe John and have a a great week :)
Hi Juliana, actually a lot of people in the US don't put barbecue sauce on their BBQ - they think it hides the flavor of the meat. But I'd guess the majority do. I like BBQ without sauce OK (I've never met Q I didn't like!) but given my druthers, I'm in the sauce camp. ;-) Thanks for your comment.
You know John we don't get those sauces here on the other side of the world, so often while roaming about the web I came across some from scratch recipes. I did try some but I was never that satisfied. I know you have neat super delicious recipes so I can't wait to try yours, it's going to be legendary!
Hi Helene, this recipe is worth trying, IMO. Good flavor, and you can easily tinker with it to suit your own taste. Thanks for the comment.
This post has me drooling. I love the recipe for your BBQ and can't wait to give it a try this summer. Finger licking good. Wishing you a super weekend. Take Care, BAM
Hi Bam, this really is finger licking good. And when it's gone, you'll want to lick the inside of the container, too. ;-) I hope you have a great weekend too, and thanks for commenting.
Hi John, EXCELLENT BBQ sauce recipe. This sauce pair with the ribs, I'm sure it taste heavenly and finger licking good. One mouthful sure to blink my eyes 3 times and hear the birds singing. :))
You need extra sister? I'm ready for adoption.....LOL
Thanks for sharing your delicious recipe.
Have a great day.
Hi Amelia, LOL, a lot of our friends want to be adopted, too! And this sauce is wonderful with ribs. Beef brisket and other stuff too, but perfect with ribs. Thanks for the comment.
My taste buds are tingling - I love homemade barbecue sauce and yours sounds delicious. I like to make extra to bring to summer parties as a little gift for the hosts, too. I'll be making a batch of yours soon!
OK, John. Now you're talkin'! I would hate to waste that rub of yours on a store-bought sauce. And I love that your recipe doesn't include a bottle of some brand name bbq sauce or ketchup. I'll gladly invest the time and effort to make a sauce if it's a good one. Thanks, again, John. With your rub, I'm all set for my next slab of ribs.
Hi Hannah, it's a truly nice sauce - hope you enjoy it! Thanks for the comment.
Hi John, this sauce is great with ribs! Other stuff too, but it's magic with ribs IMO. Happy cooking! Thanks for the comment.
Ah, that looks so wonderful. My mouth is watering, just looking at the barbecue sauce and thinking about that potato salad. Is it too late to change my dinner plans?
I've started to save BBQ sauce recipe for this summer and this will go right in to the list! Sounds delicious. Homemade sauce is much better than store bought. Can't wait to try your version!
Hi Beth, well if not for tonight, there's always tomorrow. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Nami, I hope you'll enjoy it! I find it delish, but of course that's me. Thanks for the comment.
Honestly this is to good to be true. I have experimented with making bbq sauce before and yours looks much better and I am sure it also tastes better too. Just need to plan my American BBQ day.
Hi Lizzie, this is a really good sauce, if I do say so myself. Definitely worth trying. And it's easy to adjust to suit your personal taste. Have fun with your American BBQ! Thanks for the comment.
Hubby and I are always looking for new sauces to try, and this one is right up our alley! We love anything with a little extra spice! We always watch the BBQ Pitmasters and learn about the different sauces in different states. I am not as much a sweet bbq sauce, as I am a mustard base, or spicy bbq sauce fan! Looks delicious, Take care, Terra
Hi Terra, some of the mustard based ones are out of this world! Definitely the best for pulled pork, IMO. Thanks for the comment.
Dude you're killing me. This is insanely cool. I must try this asap.
Hi Kim, you definitely do need to try this. Good stuff. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
What would be really interesting is to hear from someone that made the sauce, rather than those that say they want to make the sauce.
Hi Anonymous, alas, bloggers don't often hear from people who've made their recipes! I do know of one or two people who've made this and like it. And I can attest it's pretty good! Why don't you make it and report back? :D And if you do make it, do taste as you mix the ingredients, and don't be afraid to adjust things to your taste. Thanks for the comment.
Thanks for the link back - I will be making this sauce and just may comment at a later date :)
Hi Merryn, glad you found this! Hope you enjoy it. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
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