Smoky Barbecue Sauce

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.

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


  • 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 Sauté the grated onion in butter: Heat the butter in a heavy pot over medium-high heat until it 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 Mince the chipotle chile: 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 chipotle and remaining ingredients to the onions: 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 1 hour: Simmer the sauce gently, uncovered, for 1 hour. Before serving, taste one more time for salt and chile.

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  • Nicole

    I like the chiles, but I had to half the amount because my kids can’t handle spicy.

  • TMS

    Beware, not all “liquid smokes” are actually liquefied smoke. Many ( most) have additives such as sugars (corn syrups) and other ingredients. A true liquid smoke should be nothing more than water and concentrated, liquefied smoke. Wright’s Liquid Smoke, the one I use, has as its listed ingredients “Water, Natural Hickory Smoke Concentrate”. There should be nothing else added to a true liquid smoke.

  • Peter Nappi

    Great sauce, Hank. Tried it tonight on oven – baked ribs, and it was a total success. Not much chance of building a smoker in my Brooklyn apartment, so your good work is doubly appreciated.

  • Steve

    Your sauce sounds delicious. I’m looking forward to making it. Do you think it would be work to substitute the butter for lard?

    • Elise Bauer

      Hi Steve, I think lard, or even bacon fat, would work fine here.

  • Sam

    Seriously delicious bbq sauce. We used 4 chipotles, and it wasn’t too spicy. Loved it!

  • Amanda

    I have a mild obsession with homemade BBQ sauce and will be adding this to my list of favorites! I only used one chipotle, as I will be using this recipe for kids and didn’t want it to be too spicy, but will definitely add more to the next batch, which I’ll be making soon!

  • Kailey

    I have been looking for a good smoky BBQ recipe for ages and finally stumbled upon yours.

    Made it tonight and it is perfect, made a few adjustments like adding garlic and only used paprika as my kids hate anything hot.

    I adapted the recipe for a “Thermomix”, and have posted my version of your recipe here with a link back to you. Hope that’s OK.

  • Cat

    This looks fantastic! Thanks! I’ve been using Liquid Smoke for decades and no health problems here!

  • Willom Samuel

    I just made this sauce. It’s good. However, I found, for my taste, that the 4 T of butter was excessive. The sauce has an oily quality and there is a congealed layer of fat on the cooled sauce. Next time I would use 2, or perhaps even 1, T of butter or oil.

  • Mike

    This sauce is fantastic. Just made it, and it was a huge hit.

  • Roger

    We love BBQ sauce and usually opt for the “sweeter” styles. This one sounded great. The whole family loved it and the kids wanted seconds. We didn’t have Chipotle chilis and substituted jalapenos and it turned out great. We served with turkey tonite and will have with beef tomorrow. We found the putting it in the blender was a great final touch for a smooth, creamy texture. Deeeelicious!

  • Sam Cornwell

    Love it, used it on burgers along with homemade onion rings.

    I found the sauce a little chunky for dipping, so i took a hand blender to it today for use with some chicken nuggets.

  • rebecca

    Hank, Abita Turbo Dog is an ale, could almost be construed as a stout though, just not quite heavy enough….it’s the chocolate tones that lend so well to the sauce, however. If you aren’t familiar with Abita beers, they are worth checking out.

  • jay

    Hank, your sauce rocks!and works well with all dishes. I recently returned from a chef job cooking on a yacht in Alaska, as the Halibut Salmon and Yellow eye were beeing pulled in, I needed to make daily changes to flavor. So I used your base and added seasoning to vary depending on my theme for the day, well I found a new love for liquid smoke and chipolte in adobo sauce. Thank You.

    You’re most welcome! Glad to hear the sauce works with fish, too. I need to get up to Alaska to fish one of these days, although it will probably not be on a yacht! ~Hank

  • rebecca

    I made this over the weekend exactly as written except for adding a bottle of Abita Turbo Dog beer….I’ve made a similar recipe from a NOLA website calling for the Abita but lacking this one’s heat. They melded very well together. For those of you not familiar with Turbo Dog, it has chocolate undertones that really put some extra flavor into this already wonderful sauce. A keeper for sure.

    Interesting idea! Sounds like Abita is a stout, yes? ~Hank

  • brian

    For those of you(myself included) who want to add a hint of smoky flavor but are uneasy about using liquid smoke, try using whiskey instead. The barrels used in the aging process of whiskey making are charred on the inside to give whiskey its smokey color and flavor. This gives a more “authentic” smokey flavor to BBQ sauce, and goes very well with the attitude of BBQing.

    Fiirst, there is nothing wrong with liquid smoke. It is simply condensed water that has been taken from a smoker. Look up Alton Brown’s show on it for more detail.

    Second, whiskey is a decent choice, but only if you get a peaty Scotch. I’ve used many, many different bourbons and whiskies in my BBQ sauces, and they are all good — but they absolutely do not add much in the way of smoky flavor. The Scotch Laphroaig would be the exception.

    So use whiskey if you want, it’ll taste good, but know that it’s no substitute for liquid smoke. If you are really opposed to using it, cook this sauce over a real wood fire — that will do the trick. ~Hank

    • Jarle Bergersen

      The chrring of the barrels does NOT give Whisky the smoky flavour, usig peat while drying the malted barley does. If the charing was what gave whisky the smoky flavour all bourbons would taste Smokey and they do not.
      This is also why all Smokey whisky is described as peaty.

  • Janice Forse

    is there any way you could give me some Brand Names of the product chipotle chiles in Adobo sauce. I live in the Toronto Ontario Canada area and would appreciate the names of some brands so I might find this product. We do have some big grocery stores here…Real Canadaian super store. Costco. Sobeys. Loblaws so I can certainly look around if I know some brand names. Any help will be appreciated. If no luck here I can always look when I go on my shopping trips to Buffal NY. Thanks Janice

    Hi Janice, there are several brands available at, any of which would work fine for this recipe. ~Elise

  • malinda

    I’ll have to give it a try. How does it work with smoked beef? Should I omit the liquid smoke if the meat already has a smoke flavor?

    It’ll work fine with smoked beef, and no, don’t omit the liquid smoke unless you really want to — both together should be fine. ~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

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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