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Our perfectly balanced, sweet and tangy BBQ sauce is great on chicken, ribs, meatloaf, and so much more. Make it in under 10 minutes with ingredients you probably already have in your pantry.

sweet and tangy bbq sauce in a bowl with a spoon
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Why we love this recipe

Whether you’re making wings, baked chicken, chicken fingers, ribs, meatloaf, tofu, or anything else that could use a gorgeous sticky glaze, this sauce is your best move. It’s:

  • Perfectly balanced in flavor — smoky, sweet, tangy, and smooth
  • Made from a handful of common pantry ingredients
  • Just right for a wide variety of meals
  • SO easy and ready in five minutes
  • Plus, it’s vegan and gluten-free, if you’re into that sort of thing

Psst: Here’s a brief history of BBQ.

What you’ll need

Here’s a glance at the short list of pantry ingredients you’ll need to make this recipe.

ingredients in bowls
  • Your favorite brand of ketchup is great here. I usually use Heinz or Annie’s Organic, whichever I have on hand.
  • Apple cider vinegar adds depth and tang to this recipe. It doesn’t need to be unfiltered or fancy.
  • Light brown sugar adds just enough caramelly sweetness. If you want to make the recipe vegan, make sure you use a vegan brand.
  • Worcestershire sauce is an umami powerhouse that contributes lots of depth to this simple recipe. Here, too, use a vegan and gluten-free brand if you need to meet those requirements in the final product.
  • I like to use sweet smoked paprika, but you can use hot smoked paprika instead if you want to add heat to the sauce.

How to make it

It really couldn’t be easier to make a great batch of sweet, tangy, sticky sauce. You can see the steps in action in the video that accompanies this post, and get all the details in the recipe card below.

step by step
  • Place all the ingredients into a small to medium-sized pot. The sauce may spatter a little bit while simmering, so feel free to err on the larger side to minimize mess.
  • Place the pot over medium high-heat and bring to a boil.
  • Immediately reduce the heat to medium or medium-low, whatever it takes to maintain a simmer. Stir frequently.
  • Simmer for four to five minutes, until thickened slightly, keeping in mind that the sauce will thicken up a bit when cool. Your BBQ sauce is ready to use.

Expert tips and FAQs

How much BBQ sauce does this recipe make? Can I double the recipe?

It makes about 1 1/2 cups of sauce, which I find is the perfect (generous) amount for a family dinner.

If you’re making a big mess of ribs or serving tons of BBQ chicken at a party, you may want to double the batch. Use a bigger pot, but otherwise follow the instructions as written.

Can I make honey BBQ sauce with this recipe?

You sure can. All you need to do is swap in an equal measure of a basic honey (think the one in the squeeze bear) for the brown sugar. You don’t need to make any further changes.

Can I make this recipe in advance?

Yes. Once cool, BBQ sauce will keep well in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two weeks, or in the freezer for up to a year.

How to serve it

This recipe is versatile, and you can use it anywhere you’d typically use a BBQ sauce. Some of our favorite options:

sweet and tangy bbq sauce in a bowl with a spoon

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sweet and tangy bbq sauce in a bowl with a spoon
4.72 from 7 votes

Sweet and Tangy BBQ Sauce

By Carolyn Gratzer Cope
Our perfectly balanced, sweet and tangy BBQ sauce is great on chicken, ribs, meatloaf, tofu or tempeh, and so much more. Make it in under 10 minutes with ingredients you probably already have in your pantry. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
Prep: 3 minutes
Cook: 7 minutes
Total: 10 minutes
Servings: 24
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Ingredients 

  • 1 cup (272 grams) ketchup
  • ¾ cup (177 ml) apple cider vinegar
  • cup (71 grams) light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Instructions 

  • Add all ingredients to a small- to medium-sized pot. 
  • Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. 
  • Reduce heat to medium or medium-low, whatever it takes to maintain a simmer. 
  • Cook, uncovered, until thickened slightly (about 5 minutes), stirring frequently. Keep in mind that the sauce will thicken up a bit as it cools.

Notes

  1. Sauce may spatter a bit while it simmers, so feel free to err on the side of a slightly larger pot.
  2. Use your favorite brand of ketchup. I usually use Heinz or Annie’s organic, whatever I have on hand.
  3. You don’t need an unfiltered or otherwise fancy apple cider vinegar for this recipe.
  4. If you want to make this recipe vegan and gluten-free, make sure to choose a vegan brand of brown sugar and a vegan and gluten-free brand of Worcestershire sauce.
  5. I like to use sweet smoked paprika, but if you want to add an element of heat, you can use the hot variety.
  6. For a honey BBQ sauce variation, feel free to substitute an equal amount of honey for the brown sugar. A basic honey works best — you don’t need anything fancy.
  7. You can easily double this recipe if you’d like to make a bigger batch. No further changes are needed.
  8. You can make this recipe in advance. It will keep well in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two weeks, or freeze it for up to a year.
This recipe is adapted from The New York Times.

Nutrition

Serving: 1, Calories: 2kcal, Carbohydrates: 1g, Sodium: 102mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Course: Sauces and Condiments
Cuisine: American
Tried this recipe?Mention @umamigirl or tag #umamigirl!

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Carolyn Gratzer Cope Bio Photo

About Carolyn Gratzer Cope

Hi there, I'm Carolyn Gratzer Cope, founder and publisher of Umami Girl. Join me in savoring life, one recipe at a time. I'm a professional recipe developer with training from the French Culinary Institute (now ICE) and a lifetime of studying, appreciating, and sharing food.

4.72 from 7 votes (7 ratings without comment)

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2 Comments

    1. Hi Chris, all liquids thicken somewhat as they cool — it’s just science. Viscosity increases pretty dramatically with a reduction in temperature. If your sauce didn’t thicken as much as you’d like, you can just return it to the heat and keep simmering until it reduces a bit more.