Smoky Barbecue Sauce


It's smoky! Rich, spicy, smoky barbecue sauce. Perfect for burgers, ribs, or beef brisket.

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

This smoky barbecue sauce from Hank Shaw is one of the best bbq sauces I have ever tasted. Smoky, spicy, and rich in flavor. Seriously good. ~Elise

Yep, I’m back with another barbecue creation. This time it’s a dark, rich sauce loaded with smoky flavor.

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I designed this to go with red meat, preferably beef, venison or bison, but I bet it’d work with pork or poultry, too.

The two key ingredients in this sauce are chipotles in adobo and liquid smoke. Liquid smoke, which is essentially distilled smoke collected from moisture added while burning hickory — and it’s hickory smoke I use here — is available in most supermarkets.

Smoky BBQ Sauce

Chipotles in adobo are easy to find in Latin markets, but if you cannot find them use chipotle powder instead. And if you can’t find chipotle powder, try using Spanish smoked paprika. If all else fails, use chili powder.

This sauce needs to be cooked slowly for at least 45 minutes, and 1 hour is better.

Use it on barbecued beef brisket, beef ribs, or on a burger.

Smoky Barbecue Sauce Recipe

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
  • Yield: Makes 2 cups

When handling the hot chiles in adobo, use gloves, or a plastic bag to protect your hands. After handling chiles wash your hands thoroughly in hot soapy water. Do not touch your eyes for several hours.


  • 4 Tbsp butter (can substitute vegetable oil)
  • 1/2 grated onion
  • 1 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1-4 chipotle chiles in adobo (depending on how hot you want your bbq sauce)
  • 1 teaspoon liquid smoke
  • 1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh sage
  • Salt to taste


1 Sauté the grated onion in butter: Heat the butter in a heavy pot over medium-high heat until it froths (or heat vegetable oil until hot), then add the grated onion. Sprinkle a little salt over the onion. Sauté until the onion just begins to color, about 4-5 minutes.

2 Mince the chipotle chile: While the onions are cooking, finely chop the chipotle chiles in adobo. They are hot, so start with one chile. You can add as many more as you want later.

3 Add chipotle and remaining ingredients to the onions: Add the chipotle to with the onions, then add the tomatoes, vinegar, molasses, sugar, liquid smoke, and chopped sage. Stir to combine and let this simmer for 5 minutes. Taste it and add salt and more chipotle if you want.

4 Simmer 1 hour: Simmer the sauce gently, uncovered, for 1 hour. Before serving, taste one more time for salt and chile.

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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

27 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. DK

    Fantastic Sauce – made a couple of modifications. Added a pinch of garlic powder and smoked paprika (my favorite ingredient). Didn’t have liquid smoke so added the smokiest scotch I had – Laphroaig Rare Quarter Cask -which is super peaty and smokey (as indicated in the comments below). An ounce and a half of that mixed in at the start made for a delicious, sticky pork back rib sauce. Also went with 3 chilis in adobo – I love the heat and would’ve added 6 if it were just for me, but wife and daughter don”t deal well with that much heat. 3 created a nice “medium” sauce.

    Ribs were done in the oven for 2.5 hours with a rub with complementary flavors then sauce basted on the grill for 25 minutes or so at low heat.

    Show Replies (1)
  2. Kim

    Beats Bone Sucking Barbecue Sauce, hands down.
    Like noted in the recipe, most important is liquid smoke (unless you grill the meat outdoor) and chipotle in adobo sauce. “Chipotles in adobo are smoked and dried jalapeños rehydrated and canned in a sweet and tangy purée of tomato, vinegar, garlic, and some other spices, for a ruddy sauce that packs wicked heat but with plenty of balance and body.”


  3. Nicole

    I like the chiles, but I had to half the amount because my kids can’t handle spicy.

  4. TMS

    Beware, not all “liquid smokes” are actually liquefied smoke. Many ( most) have additives such as sugars (corn syrups) and other ingredients. A true liquid smoke should be nothing more than water and concentrated, liquefied smoke. Wright’s Liquid Smoke, the one I use, has as its listed ingredients “Water, Natural Hickory Smoke Concentrate”. There should be nothing else added to a true liquid smoke.

  5. Peter Nappi

    Great sauce, Hank. Tried it tonight on oven – baked ribs, and it was a total success. Not much chance of building a smoker in my Brooklyn apartment, so your good work is doubly appreciated.


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