This Memphis BBQ Sauce recipe makes the best homemade sauce you will ever taste. Using only pantry staples, this smoky, sweet, and tangy 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.
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. I now make a double batch, so keep some for me.
😊Why you will love this Memphis BBQ Sauce
- This is the best BBQ sauce you will ever try—it would make cardboard taste great.
- Sweet, tangy, and smoky, all in a spicy homemade BBQ sauce that is perfect for pulled pork, ribs, brisket, and chicken.
- Change it to make your own "world-famous sauce" to impress your friends and family with your "secret" homemade BBQ sauce recipe.
- No jar sauce will ever compare.
Based on Fine Cooking Magazine's version of Memphis BBQ sauce (no link available) with some minor adjustments and added options for you.
👨🍳How to make homemade Memphis 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.
- Ketchup–Use 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.
- Mustard—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 liking. I usually go for ⅜ cups.
- Liquid Smoke—Liquid smoke does add something special to this sauce, but some people object to it. I highly recommend it, but please only use good-quality liquid smoke. It should only have smoke and water—no chemicals. I generally use Wright's.
- Pantry ingredients
- Brown sugar—light or dark. 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.
- Others—Worcestershire sauce, salt, black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder
🥣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. Like Memphis BBQ sauce, St. Louis is thinner and less sweet than KC sauce. But Memphis will add some mustard taste and is spicier.
Other common sauces are the Carolina vinegar-based sauce and Alabama white BBQ sauce, which is mayonnaise-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. And there are many more I'm leaving out.
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.
❄️Food safety and how to store homemade Memphis BBQ Sauce
Like other homemade BBQ sauces, there are no food preservatives although the acid from some ingredients may act that way, they are not tested. I suggest no longer than 2 hours at temperatures between 40° and 140°.
Good in the refrigerator for 5-7 days—probably a lot longer, but it has not been tested.
It will store frozen for about 3 months. I like to put small amounts in smaller freezer bags to use as needed.
📖Memphis BBQ Recipes
Marlowe of Memphis BBQ Dry Rub
The Best Grilled Pork Tenderloin – Memphis Style
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 reasonably well, but 30 is better for bringing the flavors together.
Memphis BBQ Sauce—Sweet and Tangy
- 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.
Your Own 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 are discussed in the post.
- The heat (spiciness) here is about 3/10 with ¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Adjust to your taste.
- For food safety, the sauce should not be between 40° and 140° for more than 2 hours.
- 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.
Made a big pork shoulder yesterday and made this bbq sauce this morning for pulled pork sandwiches tonight and this sauce rocked great taste and will start making this over buying bbq this summer. Great flavor and all ingredients are always around the house.
Hello, I live in Belgium (In Europe) and I hesitate for the translation of your ingredients. For the amount of Yellow Mustard, it is marked 1/4 - 1/2 cup. It's 1/4 cup + 1/2 cup OR it's between 1/4 and 1/2 cup?
Thank you very much.
That is a range to adjust for taste. If it is your first time, try in the middle. I'm not the biggest mustard fan so I go for the low end. Most people will want the upper end.
See the comment above on May 8, 2017 from Ron who is an American food blogger living in Sweden.
Let me know if you have other questions.
An update: I did end up making this over the Memorial Day weekend. I may have gotten a little heavy-handed on the vinegar, so to balance it out, I drizzled in some honey. Used it on pork on the crockpot -let it go all day for pulled pork sandwiches. It was delicious!! At the end of the day, my kid was dunking potato chips into the last of the sauce - a true testament to its deliciousness! The leftovers were even better than the original day. No more bottled bbq sauces for me. Thanks for posting this!!
Perfect timing! I am doing crock pot pulled pork sandwiches this weekend and have all ingredients on hand to whip up this sauce. Can't wait!!
Which flavor Hickory Smoke do you use?
I only use Wright's. I have used other brands over the years and really I'm dissatisfied with every other brand. If you can't find Wright's, read the ingredients and if there is anything other than smoke and water then just skip the liquid smoke. It is never required in any recipe.
This looks fantastic, I like the idea of using yellow mustard. With BBQ season upon us, we'll be making a batch of this.
American yellow mustard is bloody expensive here, so we'll use Swedish mustard. we'll let you know how it turns out.
As long as the mustard doesn't have a lot of spices, I would think it is fine. If they have lots of other spices then you many need some adjustments.
I see you pop up on FBP frequently with questions and helping others. Keep it up.
For the readers, Ron is a fellow food blogger who is American but living in Sweden. Check his site, Lost in A Pot, out at https://lostinapot.com.
I remember when you first posted this, I always make it (spices to my taste) and pour it over a pork ribeye roast in the slow cooker to make pulled pork.
I dropped the liquid smoke. No self respecting grill master uses thst. BBQ done right doesn't need that. I also used molasses instead of the brown sugar and added a bit of lager.
Peter E Beckles
Is the liquid smoke really necessary?
No... but it will be a 9.7 not a 10.0 if you can tell the difference...
I used Hungarian paprika and it's awesome
Thank you very much Dan for sharing this recipe, we've used this all the time. Our guests are going crazy and we shared your recipe whit them.
Everytime a succes!
Good luck and greetings from the Netherlands
I am making your recipe in the crockpot following directions but stirring it and then turning it on low so far it's not even done it taste great
I do love this sauce.
Thanks for the note.
Hi, I am sorry, but is there a difference between the little t's and the large T's? Do the large T's mean Tablespoons and the little t's mean Teaspoons?
Wanted to make sure before I made this. Thank you.
T=tablespoon t=teaspoon c=cup
This is one of the older posts... Newer posts have it spelled out and it's in FAQ but not obvious.
You picked a great one to try.
Thanks for the comments. This is one of my favorite recipes. So glad you liked it.
My guests all raved over this and were just about drinking the extra that I placed on the table! I used it on chicken drums and boneless ribs. Great on both, thanks!! (I cut the mustard to a 1/4 cup. I also had no celery salt, so I used a small amount of celery seed and 2 tsp. of regular salt.)
You rocked it with this one!
While some of my neighbors might not like it, I'm in Texas, You've recreated the sweet tangy flavors of Memphis BBQ!
Only thing I changed was I added about a 1/4 cup of brisket juice I always have on hand.
5 stars too ya'
I truly think it is a 1-2 week in the frig and 6 months in a freeze but I have not nor will I be testing so I'm always conservative and I'm sure I toss things that are still ok. I'm going to freeze some later this week after the pork is gone.
The 1/4 t of cayenne is the most my wife will tolerate but it was good for me. You should probably got to 1/2 teaspoon plus some.
I'm not a food safety expert but with all of that vinegar in there, that sauce should hold very well in the fridge or freezer.
I haven't tried a Memphis sauce even though I'm in Tennessee. I might have to give this one a try soon. Wonder how it goes on ribs.
I definitely will try this promising recipe soon. Thanks for all your efforts to replicate this tempting BBQ sauce.
While I've not eaten there for two decades or so, I always liked Zingerman's food!