Bourbon Barbecue Sauce

BBQGrillBarbecue SauceBourbon

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.

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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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Kansas City Barbecue Sauce here on Simply Recipes

Smoky Barbecue Sauce another favorite from Hank

Bourbon Barbecue Sauce

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

22 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Sandy sayre

    After 30 minutes it still seems soupy and the apple cider vinegar still seems the prominent taste. How do I turn that down for a more musky taste? I thinks that’s what I’m looking for.

    Show Replies (1)
  2. Michael

    This has all the ingredients I love in a good BBQ sauce. The grocery didn’t have serrano peppers, so I subbed jalapeno (seeds removed) as I don’t like things too spicy. So delicious!


  3. Nicole

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

    Show Replies (1)
  4. 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?

    Show Replies (2)
  5. 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.


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