This sweet and tangy Memphis barbecue sauce is the perfect complement to pork, beef, or chicken. With a touch of spice, it is the best homemade bbq sauce for special occasions, or make it your everyday sauce.
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 around a little to make your own "world-famous sauce" to impress your friends and family with your "secret" homemade BBQ sauce.
This is a copycat recipe from an Ann Arbor institution, Zingerman's Roadhouse. The pork is great, but the sauce is even better. Their "Red Rage"- Memphis barbecue sauce is wonderful. It was sweet and spicy, all at once.
There are several variations of Memphis sauce floating around. I chose the version from Fine Cooking as the inspiration recipe. I varied the spices a bit and eliminated what I thought was unnecessary oil. I also added some options so you can adjust to your tastes.
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 in general, but today I will discuss only the sauces.
Kansas City-style BBQ sauce is a sweet and thick sauce that is tomato and molasses base. Kansas City-style sauce can be very sweet and tangy but not too spicy.
Memphis-style BBQ sauce is different from Kansas City-style barbecue sauce. It isn’t as sweet and 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.
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 is regional variation.
I'm specifying Heinz or Hunts Ketchup. I believe you get what you pay for in ketchup. Any other than Hunts or Heinz will never come into my house.
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.
Listed in recipe card but no comments needed—all typical BBQ sauce ingredients.
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 common examples. Stainless steel and normal non-stick cookware are examples of non-reactive pans.
No, I will add a special touch.
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. 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 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-high heat, stirring aggressively until starting to boil, being careful to avoid splatter. This stuff is thick and will burn you. Reduce heat to low and cover with a glass lid to see the action.
Occasionally remove from heat and stir well. Please remove from heat before stirring to prevent splattering and burns.
Memphis Barbecue Sauce
- 2 cups ketchup - Heinz or Hunts
- 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 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 tablespoon 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-high heat, stirring aggressively until starting to boil being careful to avoid splatter. This stuff is thick and will burn you.
- Reduce heat to low and cover with a glass lid so you can see the action
- Occasionally remove from heat and stir well. Please be sure to remove from heat before stirring to prevent splattering and burns.
- Simmer for about 30 minutes.
My Private Notes
- Use ketchup you love. I prefer Heinz or Hunts only.
- Adjust the mustard to your taste. A full ½ cup will give a heavy mustard taste. I usually use a ⅜ cup.
- 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. Probably a lot longer but not tested.
- 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.