Bourbon Barbecue Sauce

Note that most (not all) of the alcohol from the bourbon will boil away while the sauce reduces, leaving bourbon's distinctive caramel-flavored tang.

  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Cook time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: Makes enough for 4-6 racks of ribs.


  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil, such as canola or peanut
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 chopped chile pepper, such as a serrano
  • 1 medium yellow or white onion, grated
  • 1 cup bourbon or Tennessee whiskey
  • 1/2 cup ketchup or tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup dark molasses
  • 1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 2-3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • Salt to taste


1 Heat the butter and oil in a sauce pan over medium-high heat.

2 Grate the onion through the coarse grate of a box grater, or finely mince the onion if you don't have a grater.

3 Add grated onion and chile to the oil/butter combination and cook over medium heat for 3-4 minutes, or until onions turn translucent. You do not want the onions to turn color.

4 Take the pan off the heat and add the bourbon. Return to the stove, turn up the heat to medium-high again and boil down the bourbon for 5 minutes.

5 Add the ketchup, lemon juice, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, molasses, and the sugar. Mix well and return to a simmer.

6 Cook the sauce for a few minutes to combine the flavors and then taste test it. Is it salty enough? (It should be from the Worcestershire sauce). If not, add salt. Is it spicy hot enough? If not, add a little cayenne powder. Is it sweet enough? If not, add some molasses.

7 Let the sauce cook down slowly until it thickens, about 20 minutes. Keep it on low heat while your ribs cook. Alternatively, you can make this sauce ahead of time and reheat it when you cook the meat. It will stay good in the fridge at least a week; I've held mine for two weeks with no problem.

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  • Jana

    Made this today; loved it! My changes…
    – used a chipotle in adobo sauce instead of the seranno
    – subbed kaluah for the bourbon; used half as much (in case it was too weird)
    – nixed the lemon juice
    – added 1/4 tsp. liquid smoke

    It came out more like a glaze than a sauce, but it is dee-lish! And easy. And I love being able to control the sugar.

  • craig simm0ns

    I added a habanero pepper and WOW It’s the best

  • Amber

    Hi Elise — Any thoughts on whether this would freeze well? I love this sauce, and thought maybe I’d make a big batch and then freeze extra to have on hand when needed, but wasn’t sure how it would hold up. Thanks!

    I’ve never frozen it, but I have kept the BBQ sauce in a jar in my fridge for a month and it was fine. There’s a lot of acid in there that will preserve it for a while… ~Hank

  • Jane@ Winnipeg BBQ Pork Roast

    This is exactly what I’m looking for. The sauce does magical tricks with the dish and I always wanted to learn new flavors, I can’t do it myself you know.

  • Maxine

    Can you use any whiskey (Scottish or Irish) instead of bourbon?

    Yes, but it won’t taste quite the same. ~Elise

  • SoonerLater

    I don’t often get mad at a recipe, but I’m dadgone sure mad at this one.

    Too much vinegar. WAY WAY WAY too much lemon juice. While I was able to mellow the vinegar, I could do nothing to mellow the lemon.

    Considering the ingredients (especially the bourbon) this was a very expensive failure.

    I don’t expect to touch this recipe again, but if someone else reading this is thinking about trying it I’d suggest cutting the vinegar in half and adding only a couple tablespoons lemon juice to start with and adding more to taste when you season in the final steps. Half a cup is ridiculously overwhelming.

    I would like to point out that everyone’s taste is different. Apparently the amount of acid in the recipe was too much for you. But as you can see by reading other commenters’ comments, they found it just right for them. Recipes are guidelines. Adjust to your taste. ~Elise

  • kellypea

    My husband made this last night for his Father to celebrate Father’s Day. It’s probably one of the best BBQ sauces I’ve had. The butter is what I think makes it unique. We used jalapeno and it gave a nice kick without overpowering the other flavors. Because we were a bit short on the molasses, we added some pomegranate glaze. I’m sure that puts our version in the “everything but the kitchen sink” category. Thanks for a terrific recipe!

  • Smoked Ribs Mom

    Hank, I tried this one and it really turned out good. Did not have to add additional salt so I may have gotten too much worcestershire because I didn’t measure anything exact. I did add the additional cayenne as you suggested and the sauce came out really, really great. Served it warm over some bunless burgers – was great, thanks!

  • ben

    I had some leftover Hank’s Barbecue Sauce, and I used it where it says “sauce” in part 2 of this recipe:

    Pulled Pork Sandwich

    It was one of the best things that has ever happened on this earth.

    I fail on the coleslaw, though. I need coleslaw help.

  • ben

    I have a vat of this simmering now (I doubled the recipe) for some ribs tomorrow. The smokey-spicy-sweet-salty combination is perfect.

    I have a half-gallon of homemade cider vinegar that had been waiting for a chance like this. I substituted the bourbon with a little home-made 114-proof licker that’s also made from apples. Well, mainly apples.

    I firmly believe that ribs are best slow-barbecued dry, with maybe a rub of paprika, cloves, and whatever other spices you like. I’ll make this sauce and a simple North Carolina vinegar-and-pepper sauce available for the victims to add as they see fit. If I have time I’ll make a mustard-based South Carolina sauce, too.

  • merd

    I really love this recipe build. It has all of the things I love about bbq sauce in it and have made similar builds myself, but have been known to throw in a bit of paprika, chile powder, and cayenne as well. If anyone’s looking for a good bourbon for this recipe (or simply pouring over a couple cubes of ice on a summer night to sip on), I recommend Old Rip Van Winkle 12 years. The sweet and warm flavors blend nicely with smoke and meat. It also has a wonderful nose on it that will contribute to the tanginess of this blend. I am going to try this recipe verbatim with my ORVW.

    Going to read Hank’s slaw recipe now ;)
    Thanks to you both!

  • Nathan

    I’ve made two batches so far. First using the original recipe. It tasted overly vinegary and to balance it off I added 5 tbsp espresso.

    Second batch, I took Bruce Allen’s suggestions and halved the apple cider vinegar, added 1-2 tbsp brown sugar (not the recommended 1 tsp, but it still worked) and 2 tbsp molasses. Also added 4-5 tbsp espresso. It tasted too strong of molasses, but did have a sweeter flavor. A little bit too sweet for my tastes.

    I’m going to make a third batch somewhere in between vinegary and sweet, this time with half the apple cider vinegar and +1 tbsp brown sugar, but leaving the molasses on par with the Hank’s recipe, and keeping my 4-5 tbsp espresso addition. I’ll write back with results.

  • mary

    This recipe makes me wish for a grill. I might have to give up my city apartment for a backyard soon!

    Thanks for the great instructions on the smoker. I’ll be back to this website when I finally get an egg.

  • Bruce Allen

    I served this sauce yesterday (July 4) on low and slow pulled pork sandwiches in competition with two other sauces. This one won hands-down! Great recipe! I did cut the cider in half, added an extra tsp of brown sugar and 2 extra tbl of molasses. I will definitely keep this recipe front and center at my BBQ’s

  • katie

    I love the sound of all that lovely bourbon in the sauce… But I’ll have to use some Scotch or Irish. One can never have too many barbecue sauces in the library.

  • Adrian

    FYI, for beginners, do not salt to taste before the final 20 minute cooking, the sauce will cook down and be too salty. Just something to keep in mind. Actual recipe looks very good though.

  • Eileen

    ~YUM! I picked up some ribs and just made this sauce for our 4th of July BBQ. The taste-testing promises a flavorful & spunky sauce with a kick! I can’t wait to try it on the ribs! Thanks!

  • Mark - Sacramento

    A substitution for the molasses (or other sweetener) in any barbecue sauce recipe is root beer syrup. Bring a 2-liter bottle of root beer to a boil in a wide pan and reduce to a strong simmer. Simmer until the root beer is a fairly thick syrup. It adds an interesting depth of flavor and herbal notes.

    Great idea, Mark! I’ll have to give this one a go. I bet it’d be a fantastic glaze for a smoked turkey. ~Hank

  • Cathy

    What I’ve noticed is that no one has actually tried any of the recipes, but will send comments that say, sounds good, can’t wait to try this, etc. If I’m missing a link to Simply Recipes where recipes have been tried and judged, someone please let me know.

    Hi Cathy, Usually it takes a few days after a new recipe posts in order for people to try it and report feedback. On the front page of Simply Recipes are the most recently added recipes. This recipe was actually just added less than a day ago (at the time of my writing these words). What you should do then, is check back in a few days, or look at any of the recipes in the archives. The longer the recipe has been out there, the longer people have had a chance to try it and report feedback. Scroll down the comments, as the most recent comments are at the bottom of the page. ~Elise

  • Debbie

    Can’t wait to try this. Just bought some Jack Daniels!

  • David

    This sauce looks amazing and if I didn’t already have my ribs marinading for tomorrow’s bbq, you can be sure I’d be simmering up a batch of this.

    I can’t wait for the next bbq…

  • Dragon

    I have to quick coming to this site around lunch hour. Man, those ribs look great and having me drooling. Now, where to find some bbq ribs for lunch…….

  • Just a Plane Ride Away

    This looks delicious–thanks for sharing your sauce recipe, Hank! Question about molasses, though. I live in England (orginally from Texas) and I have yet to find molasses. Is there a good substitute?

    In England, the best thing to use is treacle as a substitute for molasses. ~Elise

  • Mrs. L

    This sounds like a great BBQ sauce, I’ll have to give it a try.

  • Katie

    I can’t wait to try this sauce. We’ve been looking for a great homemade sauce recipe and this one looks like it could be a winner! Thanks Elise and Hank :)

  • Jesse Gardner

    This looks absolutely mouth-watering! Thanks for the great tip, Hank. I’ll pass it along to my tong-wielding father-in-law who loves to grill ribs!

  • JimK

    Alcohol boiling away is a bit of a myth. You have to cook things for *many* many hours to evaporate the booze. Even then, some can remain. Using the times in this recipe, 35 to 40% of the booze remains.

    That can be deadly to those with allergies.

    Hi Jim, You’re right, not all of the alcohol will boil away. If you are allergic to alcohol, you should not use this recipe. ~Elise