Make the best homemade BBQ sauce with this Memphis-style recipe. Using only pantry staples, this smoky, tangy, and sweat sauce is easy to make and is the perfect complement to pulled pork, ribs, brisket, or even chicken and burgers. Better than any sauce you can buy. Time to impress your family and friends.
This is the best BBQ sauce you will ever try. I don't use the term "best" lightly, but this qualifies—it would make cardboard taste great.
Change it a little to make your own "world-famous sauce" to impress your friends and family with your "secret" homemade BBQ sauce recipe.
I based this version on Fine Cookings version of Memphis BBQ sauce. I varied the spices and eliminated what I thought was unnecessary oil. I also added some options so you can adjust to your tastes.
We frequently take pulled pork butt to parties and will provide a variety of sauces. The homemade Memphis sauce always is completely gone, while the other sauces are hardly touched.
An absolute 5. As high of a 5 as possible. And my wife agrees. What more is there to say?
🥣Kansas City vs. Memphis Style BBQ Sauce
There are several differences between KC and Memphis BBQ, but I will discuss only the sauces today.
Kansas City-style BBQ sauce is a sweet and thick sauce with a tomato and molasses base. Kansas City-style sauce can be very sweet and tangy but usually not too spicy.
Memphis-style BBQ sauce is different from Kansas City-style barbecue sauce. It isn’t as sweet but is spicier. It also is thinner and has a bit of vinegar.
Memphis and St. Louis sauces are similar, and some experts will classify them as types of Kansas City sauce. But there is a distinct difference. St. Louis is thinner and less sweet compared to KC sauce. Memphis will add some mustard taste and is spicier.
Other common sauces would be Carolina vinegar-based sauce and Alabama white BBQ sauce, which is mayo-based. There is a wide variety of sauces in Texas, and I'm just not getting into that fight, but I will say there are regional variations.
I'd suggest a brand-name household ketchup like Heinz®️ or Hunts®️. I believe you get what you pay for in ketchup. Fancier ketchup is not needed, and cheap ketchup may ruin your sauce.
Plain old yellow mustard. Nothing fancy or with other spices added. The mustard taste is a bit heavy at ½ cup. Cut it down to your taste. I usually go for ⅜ cup.
Liquid smoke does add something special to this sauce, but some people object to it. I highly recommend it, but please only use a good quality liquid smoke. It should only have smoke and water—no chemicals. I generally use Wright's.
All ingredients are listed in the recipe card, but here are a few comments about some other ingredients.
- Light brown sugar vs. dark brown sugar. They can be used interchangeably. The only difference is the amount of molasses is more in the dark. You may detect a more robust taste with the darker version in some recipes.
- Vinegar—apple cider, but white vinegar will do.
- Celery Salt- Celery seed is the spice you are most likely not to have in the pantry (I always do). It will add some aromatic, astringent, earthy taste. It is generally used ground or as a combination with salt. Leave it out if you want—I can tell the difference, but most people will not.
- Chili Powder—there are several variations of chili powder. It is ground chilies with some cumin and garlic. Paprika is just ground chilies and will tend to be less hot and sweeter flavor. You can use some or all paprika and different varieties to make this bbq sauce recipe your own.
- Cayenne Pepper—can be varied to adjust the heat. The heat (spiciness) here is about 3/10 with ¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Adjust to your taste.
👨🍳How to Make Homemade BBQ Sauce
- Add all the ingredients to a medium to large non-reactive saucepan like a non-stick pan.
- Bring to a light boil over medium heat, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.
- Occasionally remove from heat and stir. This sauce is thick, so removing it from heat before uncovering is essential to prevent splatter burns.
Use a non-reactive pan for tomato-based cooking. Some pans are "reactive," meaning they contain metals that might interact with certain foods like tomatoes and change the taste. Cast iron and copper would be typical examples of reactive cookware. Stainless steel and standard non-stick cookware are examples of non-reactive pans.
No, but they will add a special touch—especially the liquid smoke. If you have ground celery seed, you can make celery salt with 2 parts ground celery seed and 1 part table salt.
This recipe should be gluten-free but check the ingredients.
Worcestershire sauce made in the US is usually gluten-free, but imported versions may not be. Ketchup and even liquid smoke should be gluten-free.
As always, check all the labels.
Good in the refrigerator for 5-7 days. Probably a lot longer but not tested.
It will store frozen for about 3 months. I like to put small amounts in smaller freezer bags to use small amounts when needed.
📖Memphis BBQ Recipes
This recipe is listed in these categories. See them for more similar recipes.
🖼️Step-by-Step Photo Instructions
Combine in a medium to large non-reactive saucepan with a glass lid: 2 cups Heinz or Hunts Ketchup, ¼-1/2 cup yellow mustard, ¼ cup apple cider vinegar, ½ cup firmly packed brown sugar, 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, 2 tablespoons chili powder, 1 tablespoon black pepper, 1 tablespoon onion powder, 1 tablespoon garlic powder, 2 teaspoon celery salt, 2 teaspoons liquid smoke, ¼ to ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper.
Place over medium heat, stirring aggressively until starting to boil, being careful to avoid splatter. This stuff is thick and will burn you. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer. Occasionally remove from heat and stir well. Please remove from heat before stirring to prevent splattering and burns.
Simmer for 30 minutes. As little as 15 minutes works fairly well, but 30 is better for bringing the flavors together.
Memphis-Style Homemade BBQ Sauce - A Wonderful Thing
- 2 cups ketchup
- ¼-1/2 cup yellow mustard - Adjust to taste
- ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
- ½ cup brown sugar - firmly packed
- 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 tablespoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons celery salt
- 2 teaspoons liquid smoke - optional but recommended
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper - adjust to taste
- Combine in a medium to large non-reactive saucepan with a glass lid: 2 cups Heinz or Hunts Ketchup, ¼-1/2 cup yellow mustard, ¼ cup apple cider vinegar, ½ cup firmly packed brown sugar, 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, 2 tablespoons chili powder, 1 tablespoon black pepper, 1 tablespoon onion powder, 1 tablespoon garlic powder, 2 teaspoon celery salt, 2 teaspoons liquid smoke, ¼ to ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper.
- Place over medium heat, stirring aggressively until starting to boil, being careful to avoid splatter. This stuff is thick and will burn you. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer. Occasionally remove from heat and stir well. Please remove from heat before stirring to prevent splattering and burns.
- Simmer for 30 minutes. As little as 15 minutes works fairly well, but 30 is better for bringing the flavors together.
My Private Notes
- Use ketchup you love. I prefer Heinz or Hunts only.
- Be sure to use a non-reactive pan to avoid a metallic taste.
- Adjust the mustard to your taste. A full ½ cup will give a heavy mustard taste. I usually use a ⅜ cup.
- If you wish, skip the liquid smoke and celery salt. Both will add some to the taste, but it is still excellent without them. Other options discussed in the post.
- The heat (spiciness) here is about 3/10 with ¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Adjust to your taste.
- Good in the refrigerator for 5-7 days.
- Spoon some into small baggies and freeze for 3-4 months.
To adjust the recipe size:
You may adjust the number of servings in this recipe card under servings. This does the math for the ingredients for you. BUT it does NOT adjust the text of the instructions. So you need to do that yourself.
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Originally Published April 19, 2010. Updated with expanded options, refreshed photos, and a table of contents to help navigation.