Kansas City Barbecue Sauce

Homemade Kansas City barbecue sauce! A rich tomato-based sauce that is just as sweet as it is spicy.

Kansas City Barbecue Sauce
Elise Bauer

Please welcome Hank Shaw as he continues on his tour through barbecue sauces, this time with a Kansas City style barbecue sauce. ~Elise

Sweet and Spicy

To me, Kansas City barbecue sauces are thick, tomato-based sauces that are just as sweet as they are spicy. Endless variations are possible, but the sweet-thick-tomatoey elements need to be there for KC BBQ.

This is a sort of apple-y version, with sweetness from both brown sugar and apple juice as well as an acid kick from cider vinegar. I add a little smoky chipotle powder, too, just because I like it; chipotle is not generally used in traditional KC barbecue.

Some Like It Hot

The cayenne added at the end is purely optional: I like things hot, but if you really can’t take heat, omit the cayenne and cut the chili powder down to 1 teaspoon instead of a tablespoon.

Kansas City Barbecue Sauce
Elise Bauer

Matures as It Cooks

This sauce will mature as it cooks. It needs at least 30 minutes to come together, but can cook for hours if you simmer it gently enough. Taste it periodically, and adjust the salt and heat as you go: Remember it’s easy to add more salt and spice, impossible to remove it.

Slather this sauce on slow-cooked chicken, ribs, pork or even beef. Don’t put it on until the end of the cooking process, though, because the sugar in it will caramelize fast... and the burn. Leave it to the final 10-20 minutes of cooking. Then brush a little on right when you serve.

Kansas City Barbecue Sauce

Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 35 mins
Total Time 40 mins
Servings 8 servings
Yield 2 1/2 cups

This makes enough sauce for 10 to 20 chicken legs or thighs, 4 racks of ribs or a regular pork shoulder.


  • 5 tablespoons butter

  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped

  • 4 finely chopped garlic cloves

  • 2 cups tomato sauce or ketchup

  • 1/2 cup apple juice

  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar

  • 3 tablespoons paprika

  • 2 tablespoons chili powder

  • 1 tablespoon chipotle powder, optional

  • Kosher salt, to taste

  • Cayenne, to taste


  1. Melt the butter and sauté onion and garlic:

    Heat the butter in a pot over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the onion and sauté until it begins to brown. Add the garlic and sauté for another 2 minutes.

  2. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer:

    Pour in the remaining ingredients and stir well to combine. Simmer slowly for at least 30 minutes, and up to 2 hours.

    Adjust the heat and salt levels with the cayenne and salt right before you plan to use this sauce, which is great on ribs, chicken and pork shoulder.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
150 Calories
8g Fat
20g Carbs
2g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 8
Amount per serving
Calories 150
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 8g 10%
Saturated Fat 5g 24%
Cholesterol 19mg 6%
Sodium 451mg 20%
Total Carbohydrate 20g 7%
Dietary Fiber 3g 10%
Total Sugars 16g
Protein 2g
Vitamin C 11mg 56%
Calcium 39mg 3%
Iron 2mg 9%
Potassium 344mg 7%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate. In cases where multiple ingredient alternatives are given, the first listed is calculated for nutrition. Garnishes and optional ingredients are not included.