Bourbon Barbecue Sauce

Outrageously good homemade barbecue sauce with molasses, chili, onion, lemon juice, tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and bourbon.

Bourbon Barbecue Sauce
Elise Bauer

All barbecue cooks have their own "secret sauce," but for the most part, each relies on some sort of sugar, something acidic like vinegar, fat – typically butter – and something else to make it special.

This sauce uses molasses, lemon juice, bourbon and Worcestershire sauce as its main flavors.

It has that tart, sweet, salty, rich and spicy combination that I think all great barbecue sauces need. Use this barbecue sauce with ribs, pulled pork or even tri-tip.

Bourbon Barbecue Sauce
Elise Bauer

Bourbon Barbecue Sauce

Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 30 mins
Total Time 35 mins
Servings 4 to 6 racks of ribs

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.


  • 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. Add the bourbon:

    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.


Kansas City Barbecue Sauce here on Simply Recipes

Smoky Barbecue Sauce another favorite from Hank

Bourbon Barbecue Sauce
Elise Bauer