By: Alan Meincke
As a Southern man, I love me some barbecue. I grew up in a small town in middle Georgia, and we oftentimes drove 30 minutes to eat at a hole-in-the-wall barbecue joint. Barbecue is the Holy Grail, and the vinegary, tomato-based sauce I grew up with is the water from which everlasting life flows.
Fortunately, I married a wonderfully cultured woman who knows how to cook some fine barbecue (shout out to my Father in Law for teaching her!). Resulting from our ongoing money-saving grocery escapades, I loftily decided to make my own barbecue sauce because the “local” bottle at Whole Foods costs nearly $5.
In order to go about making my own barbecue sauce, I first looked at the ingredients on the back of my favorite store-bought kind. The ingredients boiled down to this (in descending order): ketchup, vinegar, water, sugar, onion, salt, pepper, bay leaves, chili powder, and garlic. See recipe below for exact measurements. If I’m ever feeling particularly motivated, I might try to make the ketchup from scratch, but that’s for another day.
All those ingredients are things I keep around the house anyways, so I got to work. I decided to caramelize the onion, because that seemed like it would fit the flavor profile of the sauce. If you are not familiar with how to do this, I’ve used this recipe in the past and had good results (the key is to reduce the heat after about 10 minutes so the onions brown, but don’t burn). When the onions were almost done, I minced the garlic and put it in the center of the skillet for about a minute. Then, I blended all the ingredients together minus the bay leaves. Finally, I used a spatula to get all the sauce out of the blender and into a saucepan where I let it simmer for about an hour. I’ve made the sauce three times now (and tweaked it each time), and I’ve had good results only heating the sauce up to a simmer and cooling before bottling it.
Much like anything else you make in the kitchen yourself, this homemade barbecue sauce will make it hard to going back to buying the pre-made kind. Another bonus of making it yourself is that you know exactly what is in it—if you care about that sort of thing.
Georgia Barbecue Sauce:
Prep time: 1 hour (for caramelizing onions)
Cook time: 10 minutes – 1 hour (depending on simmer time)
12 oz ketchup (I prefer the kind without corn syrup)
2 oz distilled white vinegar
4-8 oz water (depending on desired consistency and simmer time)
1 tsp brown sugar (I prefer this to white sugar)
1 medium yellow onion (caramelized)
½ tsp salt
1 tbsp fresh cracked pepper
2 bay leaves (for simmering)
½ tsp chili powder
2 cloves garlic, minced
Directions: Caramelize onions (preferably in a cast iron skillet) according to directions linked above. While onions are cooking, assemble all remaining ingredients (except bay leaves and garlic) into blender and mix together with a spatula. When the onions are nearly done, clear a spot in the middle of the skillet to place the minced garlic. Cook until fragrant (about a minute). Once done, combine all ingredients into blender, except the bay leaves. Blend until smooth (usually a minute or so). Pour ingredients into a saucepan and add bay leaves. Bring to a boil and then down to a simmer for 10 minutes to 1 hour. Monitor the consistency of the sauce. If simmering for a longer period of time—you may need to add water.
Bottle or jar sauce in a glass container and keep refrigerated until ready to use. Feel free to add water back into the sauce if you prefer a thinner consistency.
WARNING: Unless you’re properly canning the sauce, it should be consumed relatively quickly. I’ve kept it in the fridge without issue for a few months, but don’t overdo it!
Have you ever made your own barbecue sauce? How did it go? If you try this recipe, please report back with your results!