Smoky Bourbon BBQ Sauce is tangy, with smoky flavors, spicy and sweet! An easy, quick and totally mouthwatering BBQ sauce recipe for all your saucin’ needs. Enjoy with Vegetarian Baked Beans, and BBQ Chickpea Veggie Burgers! This recipe is vegetarian and vegan friendly and easily gluten free.
This post was updated June 2019 with new photography and additional notes.
Homemade BBQ Sauce is the Best!
Have you made homemade BBQ sauce? I wasn’t a believer, until I tasted it and then learned how to make BBQ sauce from scratch. It’s soooo good drizzled on BBQ Cauliflower Ranch Bowls, as a dip with Crispy Oven Fries, or drizzled on Chickpea Veggie Burgers.
I have my standard go-to store-bought sauce… and it’s a good one when in a pinch. However, I found that I can control the flavors and ingredients easily when I make homemade barbecue sauce. And, I really love a sweet and spicy, whiskey BBQ sauce.
Hey, my Texas roots are showin, y’all!
And it’s so easy to whip up a batch of barbecue sauce, so why not? IMO, homemade BBQ sauce is the best BBQ sauce!
How to Make Homemade BBQ Sauce from Scratch
It takes a few pantry staples and 15 minutes of simmering for saucy BBQ sauce heaven to be made. In summary, here’s how to make this smoky BBQ sauce (see recipe card for details):
- First, in a sauce pan, whisk the ketchup, brown sugar, adobo sauce, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, Balsamic vinegar, liquid smoke, yellow mustard, apple juice, Bourbon whiskey (see note***) and salt.
- Second, bring the mixture to a boil, then turn the heat down.
- Third, simmer the mixture for 15 minutes or until the sauce begins to thicken.
- Last, remove from heat and it’s ready to be used, or chilled for later.
The mixture will be smooth and will thicken as it cools. Use right away in your favorite BBQ recipe or store in the refrigerator or freezer for later.
A Combination of Mouthwatering Flavors
My favorite part of this smoky BBQ sauce recipe? The whiskey and smokiness of the adobo and liquid smoke. Although the alcohol cooks off, the bourbon flavor remains. Combine the interest of bourbon with the smokiness adobo sauce and liquid smoke, the subtle sweetness of apple juice and brown sugar, and the tang from vinegar, you’ll be slathering this on anything to savor this mouthwatering Smoky Bourbon BBQ Sauce.
A spoon will work too, if inclined…
How Long will Bourbon BBQ Sauce Last?
A long time, unless you devour it all! I typically double batch and freeze for later. It’s really nice to have BBQ sauce on hand when you need it.
- Store BBQ sauce in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
- Freeze barbecue sauce for up to six months!
Can Vegetarians and Vegans Eat BBQ Sauce?
Absolutely yes! But if following a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, you’ll need to pay attention to the ingredients. For this recipe, one ingredient in particular.
I’ve formulated this Bourbon BBQ Sauce recipe to be vegetarian and vegan friendly with only one easy swap: vegetarian Worcestershire instead of traditional Worcestershire because traditional Worcestershire has anchovies in it. That’s the only ingredient that needs special attention if vegan or vegetarian! Vegan BBQ sauce tastes just as delicious as its original self.
A Few BBQ Sauce Recipe Notes
- Worcestershire sauce: the original is not vegetarian because it contains anchovies. So, to be sure you’re making vegetarian and vegan homemade barbecue sauce sauce, look for vegan friendly Worcestershire sauce. I like Annie’s and Wizard’s. Their flavor is remarkably similar to the original!
- Coconut Sugar may be used instead of brown sugar in this recipe. However, the sauce will not be quite as thick, and it’s a little less sweet.
- Find chipotle peppers in adobo sauce in the Mexican ingredient section of the grocery store. It comes in a 7 oz can. Look for gluten free if needed. The leftovers freeze beautifully!
- If gluten free, make sure the Worcestershire is gluten free. Wizard’s is.
- This barbecue sauce freezes with ease. I typically make a double batch and freeze for use through the summer. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight when ready to use.
Things to Slather Smoky Bourbon BBQ Sauce on
- Grilled BBQ Cauliflower Ranch Bowls
- Portobello BBQ Sandwiches
- Black Bean Burgers with Saucy Onions
- Vegetarian BBQ Baked Beans
- TOFU BBQ with Summer Veggies
- Black Eyed Pea Collard Rolls
- Black Eyed Peas with Smoky Collards
Smoky Bourbon BBQ Sauce Recipe
- 1 cup (175 grams) Light Brown Sugar*
- 2/3 cup (160 grams) Apple Juice
- 2/3 cup (195 grams) Ketchup
- 1/3 cup (65 grams) Bourbon Whiskey (see note for gluten free)***
- 3 tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Sea Salt
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce vegetarian friendly, gluten free if needed
- 2 teaspoons Adobo Sauce** look for gluten free if needed
- 2 teaspoons Yellow Mustard
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Liquid Smoke optional but bumps up smokiness!
- 1/4 teaspoon Tabasco optional - to turn up the heat!
- In a small saucepot, whisk together the brown sugar, apple juice, ketchup, bourbon, vinegar, salt, worchestershire, adobo, and mustard together on medium-high heat. As soon as it starts to boil, turn the heat to medium-low and bring the sauce to a simmer. This sauce will boil over and make a mess if left to boil, so watch it closely.
- Simmer for 15 minutes. Whisk as needed to incorporate all the ingredients. The sauce will start to thicken. Remove from heat and allow to cool. It will continue to thicken. Add the optional liquid smoke and tabasco. Adjust Tabasco heat to taste.
- Store for up to two weeks in the refrigerator in a lidded container or up to six months in the freezer (be sure to leave at least a 1/2" head space if freezing).
This is a relatively easy to make (we had all the ingredients on hand) and a very tasty BBQ sauce! We did not need it to be vegetarian or vegan, but I am sure those are equally good. We used Maker’s Mark bourbon and added 1/8 tsp of Scorpion Tabasco Sauce instead of the 1/4 tsp of regular Tabasco. The liquid smoke was pecan-flavored, and we used Chipotle Adobo. We are pairing it with the Black-eyed Peas and Smoky Collards and Cheesy Grits recipe for our New Year’s Day good-luck meal. This sauce would go great on pork or used many other ways!
Hi Liz! Thank you for your note… oh my, yes, that BBQ sauce! Your New Years good-luck meal sounds delish! A versatile indeed!
This is a great tasting bbq sauce I substituted my favorite hot sauce for the Adobe and Texas pete cooked it down till it was much thicker that the recipe called for.
The Bette bourbon you use the better your sauce will be I used Buffalo Trace it was great this sauce is worth you trying out
Thank you for your tips, David, and giving the sauce a go! Happy to hear you enjoyed it!
I just made bbq sauce to go with the pulled portabella sandwiches…. Its delicious I left out the adobo peppers and reduced the smoke and used dark brown sugar (thats all I had) … Thanks for the great recipes !
Mmmmmm drooling! That sammie is sooo good with homemade BBQ sauce! Thank you for your note, Grace and sending a smile!
Excellent excellent Barbecue sauce. My guy and I were in awwwwwwww.
Hooray! Thank you for your note Kimberly! A perfect pairing with that Pulled Portobello Sammie!
Fellow Texan here! I have a 4lb beef brisket that I’m going to cook in the crockpot. Blasphemous, I know but unfortunately we need a new smoker. Should I cook the sauce first or can I put all sauce ingredients in the crockpot & mix together? Can’t wait to try this!!!
HI Sheri…. thank you for your note! I’ve not tried making this in the crock pot, so I’m not sure how much it will cook down while in with the brisket. I’m sorry I’m unable to help more.
How many racks does this cover?
One of the best bbq sauces I eve tried and the first one I ever made. I used molasses instead of apple juice because mom used this for her baked bean sauce. I prefer cayenne pepper over tabasco sauce and i didnt have the adobo. i want to try a few combos but its pretty darn good the way it turned out. Thanks for this recipe. BTW I love my bourbon.
Hi Randy! Thank you so much for coming back and leaving note! I have made a similar sauce with molasses and absolutely love it! Thank you for sharing your molasses tip!
Could I use a mixture of molasses and OJ to sub for the apple sauce? I also don’t have Adobe (so I know it won’t be smoky) but this recipe looks amazing!
Hi Maya! I’ve not tried that combo of molasses and OJ but it sounds like it could work! Taste as you go… If you want a bit more smoky, feel free to bump up the liquid smoke!
I wanted to make this for a BBQ I’m having this weekend, but found myself without any apple juice on hand. I did have some frozen mango, however. Throwing caution to the wind, I decided to give it a try. I ended up with a delightful variation of your already delightful recipe! I threw about a cup of frozen cubed mango into a pot with a few tablespoons of water, then simmered until the mango had thawed and softened. Then I crushed the fruit with a masher, added the rest of the ingredients (I cut the sugar by half since mango is already so sweet), and simmered for about 15 minutes. The result was a thick, sweet, smokey, spicy, fruity delight that I am so excited to serve. The mangoes did make the sauce quite chunky, so I might hit it with the immersion blender. Or I might just leave it :)
Thanks for a delicious recipe!
Oh wow! Heather thank you for coming back to leave a note! The mango addition sounds rich and I love how you improvised. This is the fun of cooking! I hope you and your guests enjoy the BBQ sauce… I just whipped up another batch yesterday. We love it too! Thank you, Heather!
I’m very excited to try this! Sounds amazing! How long will it last in the fridge? Can it be frozen?
Hi Jennifer! Thank you for your note.. looks like I need to add a few things to the recipe! It will last several weeks in the fridge and is easily frozen! I usually make a double batch and freeze the rest. I hope this helps! :D
I read once “Clay pots are supposed to be the very best vessel for cooking beans; supposedly they impart a smoky, richer flavor. ” And luckily living on Whidbey I own a Cooking on Clay vessel., that is made here. However with the summer heat I hate to have the oven on more than necessary. Can I make this recipe in a crock pot? I definitely plan on making this recipe with home made bbq sauce this 4th of July!
Hi Heide! Sooo happy to have you here, a fellow Whidbey Islander! I’m familiar with Cooking on Clay but do not own one. I wouldn’t have any reservations about cooking this in a slow cooker, although I’ve not tried it. If I did, I think I would cook the beans first, then add them to the slow cooker with the rest of the ingredients. Your house is going to smell amazing! Oh – I’ve also made these in a toaster oven – to avoid turning on the oven! :D I hope you enjoy these Heide! :D
Thank you and I will let you know how they turn out. I was turned onto your site by my friend Marianne B, another foodie.
Best wishes for continued success!
This looks fabulous! Could it be waterbath processed and canned?
LOL!! Perhaps! Oh now that would be good… bourbon canned peaches with a pinch cinnamon… you’re on to something Karna!
Geraldine | Green Valley Kitchen
Wow, Traci – you made you own BBQ sauce! Extremely impressive – I bet it is sooo much better than store bought. Love the addition of bourbon!
Awh, thank you Geraldine! It’s tasty for sure.. and the adobo and bourbon really makes it great! :D
I can see why my daughter, Julia, is friends with you. Your site looks great and your recipes all seem to maximize flavor without getting overly complicated.
This particular entry is such creative mix of ingredients. I have no doubt that they play off one another well. And once I saw adobo sauce as one of them, I knew it would be one I’d like. You native Texans seem to know a whole lot about smoky flavors, and the beans from your next post look like the ideal target for this sauce.
Well hello, Steve! Thank you for stopping by! :D No doubt Texans know their BBQ. I think it’s a right of passage when first eating solid food! LOL!
Haha, from Texans I know, I could almost believe it!
Kristen @ The Endless Meal
I totally agree with you that homemade BBQ sauce is so much better. Homemade anything, actually. I love the bourbon and adobo in here … it sounds incredible!
Couldn’t agree more, homemade everything! I say more bourbon and adobo please!! :D
Katalina @ Peas and Peonies
Making this, it’s just perfect for grilling and barbecue parties, hubby will go crazy for it!
Woot Woot! Hope you two enjoy it, Katalina! :D
Natalie @ Tastes Lovely
You have totally inspired me! I have never made my own BBQ sauce, but now I absolutely must. Love that there is bourbon in here too, woo hoo!
Oh you and Shawn would love it! Go for it Natalie!! :D
Beeta @ Mon Petit Four
Yay, I’m so glad you shared this recipe, Traci! I usually don’t buy BBQ sauce or order items that contain it because they’re never smoky or spicy enough. I feel like they’re usually just plain sweet, as if they were made entirely with ketchup. Yours looks beautiful and perfect – I’m imagining some delicious brisket with this sauce and caramelized onions…yum!! Thank you for sharing the recipe with us! <3
Oh yeah, that’s the beauty of making your own… slather away and make more, increase or decrease the spicy, smoky or sweet! It’s all good!
I typically don’t like BBQ very much, at least Memphis pulled BBQ.. though when I lived in Austin I could DEVOUR some brisket, man. But it’s the sauce, I swear! It always seems just smoky + sweet, and that leaves something to be desired in my mind. This is the ticket, Traci!! Adobo makes everything–*everything*–better, and how amazing would this be with my chipotle coleslaw?! Uh.. blogger cookout potluck, my house, this weekend! Be there!!
Oh yes… it’s really all about the sauce! Chipotle is a pantry staple for me… that adobo sauce too… there’s nothing like it; spicy, smoky adding just the right punch to so many recipes! Uh, I need to track down your chipotle slaw, genius. Potluck? Yesssss!!!! <3
Medha @ Whisk & Shout
Love your action shots! Such great photos :)
Thank you, Medha! :D
Sarah | Broma Bakery
We’ve been grilling at least once a week, and I’ve been on the lookout for a BBQ sauce. You know how I feel about bourbon, so naturally I love the sound of this!
Oh my! Yessss… I do, my dear! Bring on the bourbon! WHy is it soooo good? I’m not grillin yet.. but it’s time to get my grill pan on!
Abby @ The Frosted Vegan
I LOVE a good homemade BBQ sauce! Sometimes the store bought ones are too sweet or salty for me, but this looks perfect!
No doubt… mostly too sweet for me and not enough spice.. and while this one is sweet, it’s not overpowering! Thank you Abby! :D
I have never made barbecue sauce at home. My husband loves it and will be so happy to see me experiment with your recipe.
Thanks for sharing. Cheers!
Oh good!! So fun to try new things! Enjoy, Aysegul!
Yum! Can’t wait to see what you slather!
Oh my this sounds wonderful! I love a good homemade BBQ sauce – it makes everything you use it on so much better. Thanks for sharing!
Agreed, Jolena! Thank you, my dear! :D
Lisa @ Healthy Nibbles & Bits
Oh my gosh, YESSS! Bring on the BBQ sauces (especially when there’s bourbon involved). Can’t wait to see what you’ve cooked with this sauce!
Yessss!! And there’s so many delicious recipes to try, like your cherry BBQ sauce, ahem, Cherry Bourbon BBQ Sauce! :D
Mary Ann | the beach house kitchen
Traci this sauce sounds like a winner! Can’t wait to see what you slather in on! Love the bourbon!
Oh there’s so much I could say about bourbon! Thank you, Mary Ann! :D
I have never made a sauce with bourbon and I do not drink bourbon but I am hosting a pig roast and would love to try this recipe. What type of bourbon do you recommend?
Hi Becky… I like Makers or Bulleit. I hope this helps!