How To Make Store-Bought Barbecue Sauce Taste Better

Photo: yvonne lee harijanto, Unsplash

Barbecue sauce is such a polarising condiment. Just as with the act of barbecuing, variations in style across the country can lead to heated arguments, scathing polemics, and outright ad hominem attacks. But, similar to pizza, I don’t really have any loyalty to one style or another. I like it all. One thing I cannot abide, however, is a cloying, one-note sauce.

Not everyone wants to make their sauce from scratch, and that’s fine. There are some decent store-bought sauces out there, but I almost always tweak mine a little, and I have developed a list of excellent sauce savers. Will they change the world? No, but they can turn a too-sweet, dull-tasting condiment into something you’ll actually want to slather on chicken legs and ribs.

To add tang

Straight-up apple cider vinegar works well here but, when battling extreme sweetness, I’ll reach for the white stuff. For something less expected, I like Japanese umeboshi vinegar (or paste) which brings salty, funky, tangy, fruity notes. You can also employ mustard, either yellow or Dijon, to add a bit of bite.

To add umami

In small amounts, fish sauce adds a surprising amount of dimension without making your BBQ taste like anchovies. Soy sauce and liquid aminos can add similar, savoury dimension without the fish, though you won’t get the funk that ferment fish sauce delivers. (If you crave funk but don’t eat our finned friends, reach for a dark miso.) If it’s pure umami you’re looking for, nothing will get the job done faster than MSG.

To add heat and smoke

If you want smoke flavour without the smoker, a couple of drops of liquid smoke is your fastest, easiest route.

If it’s a spicy sauce you’re after, a vinegar-forward, Louisiana-style sauce can pull double duty by bringing heat and acid.

Red pepper flakes are another good source of heat, but if you’re looking to clear out your sinuses, get some fresh or prepared horseradish.

What’s your favourite BBQ sauce, and do you ever tweak the store-bought stuff?


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