The Ultimate BBQ Sauce Guide to Upgrade Your Grilling Game

Consider this the ultimate guide for cooking with BBQ sauce, including recipes, basting tips, and more.

Featuring both savory and sweet ingredients for depth of flavor, BBQ sauces make our taste buds go wild, not to mention how versatile this condiment can be! We'll dive into the many ways to use BBQ sauce, how to customize your DIY BBQ sauce to make it your own, the methods to achieve your dream consistency, and more. BBQ sauce isn't limited to grilled foods; you can add it as a meatloaf glaze, use it to dunk your air-fried french fries into, and other delicious ideas we'll share with you.

marinating ribs with barbecue sauce on grill
Blaine Moats

How to Brush on BBQ Sauce Safely

First, and most importantly, let's talk food safety. Separate portions of your BBQ sauce for brushing onto raw meat and for serving at the table so you don't cross-contaminate. To avoid any mix-ups, we recommend using different colors or sizes of bowls for each.

Use a BBQ sauce brush to apply the sauce to the meat and then wash the brush thoroughly before using it again.

Classic BBQ Sauce Ingredients

Stock up on these pantry staples so you don't have to make a special supermarket run the next time you're craving a sauced-up BBQ recipe.

  • White or brown sugar
  • Liquid sweetener (honey, molasses, corn syrup, maple syrup)
  • Jam, preserves, or spreadable fruit
  • Fruit (dates, fresh berries)
  • Fruit juice
  • Soda
  • Liquor (tequila, bourbon, rum)
  • Tomato sauce
  • Ketchup

How to Thicken BBQ Sauce

If you find that your homemade or store-bought BBQ sauce is too thin to stick to your meat or mix well into your recipe, mix 1 cup of BBQ sauce with one of these two quick-fix thickeners:

  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch + 1 tablespoon water
  • 2 tablespoons flour + ¼ cup water

Either should increase the viscosity of your BBQ sauce without affecting the flavor.

Curious how to thicken BBQ sauce while making the flavor richer? Add a splash of heavy cream or melt a pat of butter into your sauce.

How to Thin BBQ Sauce

On the flip side, if you can't brush on BBQ sauce or use it in recipes because it's too thick, mix 1 cup of BBQ sauce with one of these easy thinning agents:

  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon citrus juice
  • 1 tablespoon broth or stock
  • 1 teaspoon tequila, bourbon, or rum
  • ¼ cup ketchup

When and How to Brush on BBQ Sauce

Sauces high in sugar (many are since they feature molasses, honey, or brown sugar) can cause a sauce to burn on the meat's exterior before the meat is fully cooked. Sugar burns quickly, at about 275°F and higher, and may impart a bitter flavor to a sauce if this occurs.

So if you're curious about when to put BBQ sauce on steak, when to add BBQ sauce to chicken, or when to slather ribs with sauce, our general rule is to wait until the final 10 minutes of grilling to get saucy. This allows enough time for the sauce to infuse into the meat and plenty of time for layers of sauce to be applied to build up a glaze, but it is not enough time for the sugars to scorch.

How Long Does BBQ Sauce Last?

Unopened store-bought BBQ sauce can be used until the best by date. Once you've opened purchased BBQ sauce, store it in the refrigerator and use it within four months (many additives are added to bottled varieties to preserve it and keep it safe longer than DIY recipes). How long does homemade BBQ sauce last? About a week to 10 days, although we find it challenging to make a batch last that long because we work with such delicious BBQ sauce recipes!

10 Bonus Uses for BBQ Sauces, Beyond Brushing on Meat

Think beyond pork chops and petite filets with these unique recipe ideas using BBQ sauce.

  • Use as pizza or spaghetti sauce (we currently have this slow cooker BBQ-Chicken Pineapple Pizza recipe on repeat).
  • Use in place of ketchup for burgers, fries, hot dogs, and meatloaf.
  • Mix with ground meats, cheese, and sour cream to use as a taco or potato filling
  • Spice up tomato juice or Bloody Mary cocktails
  • Blend with sour cream or cream cheese to use as a vegetable or chip dip
  • Use as a dressing for potato, corn, and bean salad
  • Add smoky flavor to chili or shepherd's pie
  • Combine with your favorite protein for a quesadilla filling
  • Spike baked beans or bean dip
  • Drizzle it over pulled meat-topped nachos

Never let another BBQ go by without an enticing BBQ sauce. These pointers give you everything you need to make and adjust sauces for any recipe.

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