Barbecue sauce is essential for some of the most popular barbecue styles and is an optional condiment for others. When most people refer to barbecue sauce, they mean the sweet and sticky tomato-based sauce used in Memphis and Kansas City barbecue. If you can’t get your hands on any of this sauce, it is relatively easy to simulate or replace. Here are some of the best barbecue sauce substitutes available:
Your best bet: Make your own barbecue sauce
Making barbecue sauce is not as intimidating as it may seem. While some barbecue pros will spend hours on a sauce and include numerous ingredients, it is relatively easy to whip up a decent sauce even at short notice.
You will want to focus on the most important flavors, which are sweetness and acidity. A caramel note, along with spices and seasonings, will be important as well. You will also need a thick, viscous consistency.
Added smokiness may be important if you are cooking on a gas grill or indoors since you won’t be able to get much smokiness from the grill. The sweetness and acidity typically come from a combination of tomato products and sugar.
Ketchup is a convenient option since it provides lots of sweetness from its corn syrup and acidity from tomatoes and vinegar. You can get a ketchup-like effect by combining tomato paste with vinegar and brown sugar. The brown sugar or molasses can be used to provide the caramel note. Seasonings can come from various dry spices or add some of the same rub used on the meat.
Other important additions to homemade barbecue sauce include Worcestershire sauce, which shows up in many recipes. It is important for adding umami and depth.
A decent second choice: Ketchup
Plain ketchup has a very similar consistency and flavor to bottled barbecue sauce. It is one of the most important ingredients in a homemade barbecue sauce. As a barbecue sauce substitute, it will adhere to the surface of the meat just as well as barbecue sauce would and can provide some of the sweetness and acidity that you expect from barbecue sauce.
On the downside, ketchup is not as flavorful as barbecue sauce and will lack the smokiness you might expect from bottled sauces. This means that results might be a little on the bland side, especially if you are cooking on gas rather than charcoal.
In a pinch: Teriyaki
Teriyaki sauce is a Japanese sauce that provides many of the same properties you would get from bottled barbecue sauce. It is sweet and acidic with a flavor profile that can be complex or simple, depending on the sauce. It features soy sauce, which provides a molasses-like caramel note.
Some versions include brown sugar, which enhances both the sauce’s sweetness and its caramel flavor. Most teriyaki sauces include garlic, which goes well with most grilled or smoked meats. It is also viscous and thick. Teriyaki sauce is available in bottled versions but is simple enough to make at home.
Teriyaki sauce won’t have the tomato notes that most people want from barbecue sauce. It will also lack the smokiness.
Yakisoba sauce is another Japanese sauce similar to teriyaki sauce. Its flavor is often likened to that of a popular barbecue sauce ingredient: Worcestershire sauce. Typical yakisoba sauce ingredients include soy sauce, oyster sauce, and hoisin sauce. It may also be sweetened with sugar or honey.
The consistency and appearance of yakisoba sauce are almost identical to those of traditional Memphis- or Kansas City-style barbecue sauces.