Kansas City Barbecue Sauce

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

  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Cook time: 35 minutes
  • Yield: Makes about 2 1/2 cups


  • 2 cups tomato sauce or ketchup
  • 1/2 cup apple juice
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 5 Tbsp butter
  • 3 Tbsp paprika
  • 2 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1 Tbsp chipotle powder (optional)
  • 4 finely chopped garlic cloves
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • Salt to taste
  • Cayenne to taste


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

2 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.

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  • saif

    very good

  • Gregory

    Ketchup or tomato sauce? They don’t seem remotely interchangeable………world of difference in sweetness. Which do you recommend?

    • Tom

      I wouldn’t. Those 2 are a world apart. The other issue was a tsp of chipotle is optional. Do you substitute 1 of the Chile powder or add 1 more tbs of Chile powder. Way to vauge of a recipe.

  • James Stroud

    Good sauce. Very KC style, that’s for sure. I just made this recipe.

    The chipotle is a bit dominant, though not bad if you like the flavor (like I do). I packed the brown sugar, so mine came out pretty sweet this time. Sauce I just had in KC was sweeter (SmokeHouse Bar-B-Que), but I would have preferred it less sweet and more hot, which your sauce would be with loosely packed brown sugar.

    I’m not going to cook this one longer than 45 min. I’ve noticed that longer cooking times rob these BBQ sauces of their nuances, which I enjoy.

    I think next time I make this sauce, I’m going to add some lemon zest and about a Tbsp of black pepper.

  • angela

    So good! I had a good bit of leftover roast chicken so I made this sauce to use on a BBQ chicken pizza. Yum! Thanks for the burn warning, I didn’t put the sauce on until the last couple minutes.

  • valarie moffett

    will this recipe work if I sub brown sugar with Splenda brown sugar. We are eating low carb and want a good sauce recipe.

    No idea. I have never used Splenda in my life. I don’t see any reason why it would not work, though. I say give it a go and let us know how it went. ~Hank

  • Georgia

    Love your recipes. Please can you tell me if this sauce can be kept in a jar and if so for how long.

    Yes, you can keep this in a jar in the fridge for a couple weeks, maybe even a month — although I have never kept it that long. ~Hank

  • Mirescu

    Molasses is a defining flavor in most of the KC Style sauces I’ve had. Brown sugar helps, but doesn’t give the same depth of flavor.

    Then again, I assume there are as many versions as there are cooks who’ve made the sauce.

    I am a big fan of using molasses, and I almost used it here, but I wanted a redder sauce — molasses would darken it a bit too much. But I will often use molasses if I have it handy – just sub it in for the brown sugar. ~Hank