Quick and Easy

Best Kansas City–Style Barbecue Sauce

May 27, 2022
0 Ratings
Photo by Julia Gartland
  • Prep time 5 minutes
  • Cook time 10 minutes
  • makes 1 cup
Author Notes

When most people think of barbecue sauce, they probably imagine a thick brown sauce that’s sweet like sugar with a hint of smokiness and maybe, just maybe, a little heat. And while the reality is that there are so many different styles of barbecue sauce—Alabama white sauce (a mayonnaise-based barbecue sauce), Carolina gold (a mustard-heavy sauce), and Memphis-style (tangier and thinner than its western neighbor)—Kansas City BBQ is by far the most popular and most replicated style of barbecue across the U.S.

I grew up in Connecticut, so I arguably have zero stock in knowing what constitutes good barbecue. So I looked towards those who did—Gates BBQ, Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que, Q39, Arthur Bryant’s—and studied their sauces. Who used liquid smoke and who didn’t? Who relied on a dozen and a half different ground spices and who kept it to just a handful? Whose sauce had a red ting to it and whose was a true dark brown color?

I took my favorite elements of each sauce and developed, what I think is, a delicious representation of Kansas City-style barbecue. I used a combination of light brown sugar and honey for sweetness and just six ground spices (I liked the little bit of heat that ground cayenne pepper brought to the sauce but if you prefer a sweeter sauce, you can omit it altogether). Liquid smoke was necessary and surprisingly easy to find in my local grocery store, and using smoked paprika, rather than sweet paprika, added another layer of, well, smokiness that’s an essential part of good barbecue.

Barbecue is wildly loved and definitely divisive—I’m sure there will be people who tell me that this Nutmegger has no business making barbecue sauce. I won’t make any claims that this is authentic or better than what you’ll find in the midwest, but I can promise you that it’s cheaper than a plane ticket to Kansas City and that’s worth something. —Kelly Vaughan

What You'll Need
  • 10 3/4 ounces canned tomato purée, such as Hunt’s
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons liquid smoke
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon ground mustard
  • 1 teaspoon ground smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (optional)
  1. Combine all ingredients in a 1½-quart saucepan and whisk to combine. Cook over medium heat until bubbles break across the surface, about two minutes. Continue to cook for 5 to 7 more minutes until the sauce has thickened, whisking frequently. Cool completely before transferring to an airtight container or mason jar. Store in the refrigerator for up to seven days.

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