Smoky Barbecue Sauce

This smoky barbecue sauce from Hank Shaw is one of the best bbq sauces I have ever tasted. Smoky, spicy, and rich in flavor. Seriously good. ~Elise

Yep, I’m back with another barbecue creation. This time it’s a dark, rich sauce loaded with smoky flavor. I designed this to go with red meat, preferably beef, venison or bison, but I bet it’d work with pork or poultry, too.

The two key ingredients in this sauce are chipotles in adobo and liquid smoke. Liquid smoke, which is essentially distilled smoke collected from moisture added while burning hickory – and it’s hickory smoke I use here — is available in most supermarkets.

Chipotles in adobo are easy to find in Latin markets, but if you cannot find them use chipotle powder instead. And if you can’t find chipotle powder, try using Spanish smoked paprika. If all else fails, use chili powder.

This sauce needs to be cooked slowly for at least 45 minutes, and 1 hour is better.

Use it on barbecued beef brisket, beef ribs, or on a burger.

Smoky Barbecue Sauce Recipe

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
  • Yield: Makes 2 cups.

When handling the hot chiles in adobo, use gloves, or a plastic bag to protect your hands. After handling chiles wash your hands thoroughly in hot soapy water. Do not touch your eyes for several hours.



  • 4 Tbsp butter (can substitute vegetable oil)
  • 1/2 grated onion
  • 1 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1-4 chipotle chiles in adobo (depending on how hot you want your bbq sauce)
  • 1 teaspoon liquid smoke
  • 1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh sage
  • Salt to taste


1 Heat the butter in a heavy pot over medium-high heat until if froths (or heat vegetable oil until hot), then add the grated onion. Sprinkle a little salt over the onion. Sauté until the onion just begins to color, about 4-5 minutes.

2 While the onions are cooking, finely chop the chipotle chiles in adobo. They are hot, so start with one chile. You can add as many more as you want later.

3 Add the chipotle to with the onions, then add the tomatoes, vinegar, molasses, sugar, liquid smoke, and chopped sage. Stir to combine and let this simmer for 5 minutes. Taste it and add salt and more chipotle if you want.

4 Simmer the sauce gently, uncovered, for 1 hour. Before serving, taste one more time for salt and chile.

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Showing 4 of 20 Comments

  • Julie

    Can you leave out the chiles and not totally destroy the flavor of the sauce? (I’m not too sure about hot BBQ sauce…)

    The chiles are pretty important to this dish. Without them, it would be unbalanced. You can of course try it – let us know how it goes if you try it. ~Hank

  • Paul

    Liquid smoke supposedly removes some of the unhealthy compounds created by actually smoking food. But the jury’s still out whether it’s as safe as not using liquid smoke. The European Food Safety Authority has questioned the safety of FF-B, a smoke flavoring. But chipotles have a smokey flavor by themselves.

  • Mandy Frielinghaus

    Liquid Smoke? Can’t say I have ever come across this in South Africa or Mauritius – could I replace it with something else or alternatively leave it out?

    I’d say leave it out. If you want to get a similar flavor without liquid smoke, cook this sauce over a wood fire – the woodsmoke will infuse into the sauce as it cooks. ~Hank

  • Stefanie

    This sounds fantastic. How long will it keep in the refrigerator?

    Easily a week, and probably longer than that. I’ve kept some BBQ sauces that were fine after a month. ~Hank

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