Bourbon Barbecue Sauce

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.

  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Cook time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: Makes enough for 4-6 racks of ribs


  • 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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  • 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!


  • 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?

    • Elise Bauer

      Hi Joshua, I only have on hand what I like to drink, so I use Maker’s Mark. But use whatever you want!

  • 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.


  • craig simm0ns

    I added a habanero pepper and WOW It’s the best

  • Amber

    Hi Elise — Any thoughts on whether this would freeze well? I love this sauce, and thought maybe I’d make a big batch and then freeze extra to have on hand when needed, but wasn’t sure how it would hold up. Thanks!

    I’ve never frozen it, but I have kept the BBQ sauce in a jar in my fridge for a month and it was fine. There’s a lot of acid in there that will preserve it for a while… ~Hank

  • Maxine

    Can you use any whiskey (Scottish or Irish) instead of bourbon?

    Yes, but it won’t taste quite the same. ~Elise

  • kellypea

    My husband made this last night for his Father to celebrate Father’s Day. It’s probably one of the best BBQ sauces I’ve had. The butter is what I think makes it unique. We used jalapeno and it gave a nice kick without overpowering the other flavors. Because we were a bit short on the molasses, we added some pomegranate glaze. I’m sure that puts our version in the “everything but the kitchen sink” category. Thanks for a terrific recipe!

  • Smoked Ribs Mom

    Hank, I tried this one and it really turned out good. Did not have to add additional salt so I may have gotten too much worcestershire because I didn’t measure anything exact. I did add the additional cayenne as you suggested and the sauce came out really, really great. Served it warm over some bunless burgers – was great, thanks!

  • ben

    I have a vat of this simmering now (I doubled the recipe) for some ribs tomorrow. The smokey-spicy-sweet-salty combination is perfect.

    I have a half-gallon of homemade cider vinegar that had been waiting for a chance like this. I substituted the bourbon with a little home-made 114-proof licker that’s also made from apples. Well, mainly apples.

    I firmly believe that ribs are best slow-barbecued dry, with maybe a rub of paprika, cloves, and whatever other spices you like. I’ll make this sauce and a simple North Carolina vinegar-and-pepper sauce available for the victims to add as they see fit. If I have time I’ll make a mustard-based South Carolina sauce, too.

  • Nathan

    I’ve made two batches so far. First using the original recipe. It tasted overly vinegary and to balance it off I added 5 tbsp espresso.

    Second batch, I took Bruce Allen’s suggestions and halved the apple cider vinegar, added 1-2 tbsp brown sugar (not the recommended 1 tsp, but it still worked) and 2 tbsp molasses. Also added 4-5 tbsp espresso. It tasted too strong of molasses, but did have a sweeter flavor. A little bit too sweet for my tastes.

    I’m going to make a third batch somewhere in between vinegary and sweet, this time with half the apple cider vinegar and +1 tbsp brown sugar, but leaving the molasses on par with the Hank’s recipe, and keeping my 4-5 tbsp espresso addition. I’ll write back with results.

  • Bruce Allen

    I served this sauce yesterday (July 4) on low and slow pulled pork sandwiches in competition with two other sauces. This one won hands-down! Great recipe! I did cut the cider in half, added an extra tsp of brown sugar and 2 extra tbl of molasses. I will definitely keep this recipe front and center at my BBQ’s

  • Adrian

    FYI, for beginners, do not salt to taste before the final 20 minute cooking, the sauce will cook down and be too salty. Just something to keep in mind. Actual recipe looks very good though.

  • Eileen

    ~YUM! I picked up some ribs and just made this sauce for our 4th of July BBQ. The taste-testing promises a flavorful & spunky sauce with a kick! I can’t wait to try it on the ribs! Thanks!

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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