Bourbon Barbecue Sauce


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

Photography Credit: 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

Bourbon Barbecue Sauce Recipe

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

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Hank Shaw

A former restaurant cook and journalist, Hank Shaw is the author of three wild game cookbooks as well as the James Beard Award-winning wild foods website Hunter Angler Gardener Cook. His latest cookbook is Buck, Buck, Moose, a guide to working with venison. He hunts, fishes, forages and cooks near Sacramento, CA.

More from Hank

Bourbon Barbecue Sauce


Kansas City Barbecue Sauce here on Simply Recipes
Smoky Barbecue Sauce another favorite from Hank

Showing 4 of 17 Comments / Reviews

  • Nicole

    I like to add maple syrup to a bourbon BBQ sauce, would you suggest I replace the molasses or the brown sugar?

  • Joshua

    What brand of bourbon/whiskey would you recommend? Do I want a rougher whiskey for my BBQ to get a stronger flavor, or will too much of the harshness carry over? Or should I just go with something I enjoy drinking?

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

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