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Two summers ago, my husband and I bought a smoker and started a weekly tradition of smoking meat whenever the weather allowed. Occasionally, we try something new like pork shoulder or brisket. But our favorite has always been (and will always be) pork ribs!

Grilled pork ribs with bbq sauce on black slab

The key to making a truly flavorful rib begins with the perfect rub and BBQ sauce. The pre-made sauces in the stores have a fake smoky flavor and contain way too much sugar. If you opt for the brands in most natural food stores, you will find less preservatives and synthetic flavorings, but you usually still see added sugar in some form. You might not think of BBQ sauce as having so much sweetness,  some popular brands even contain up to 16g of sugar per serving – phew!

So, with all that in mind, I decided to make my own. I also decided I wanted to go completely from scratch and start with fresh, summer tomatoes instead of ketchup. This helps further reduce the added sugar and chemical content, and I really get to develop my own flavors.

Today, I’m sharing the recipe I created—and I’m not above saying I’m pretty proud of it! I hope you like this sauce as much as we do. Try it on ribs and other grilled meats. Then, let me know what you think in the comments below. This recipe is best when made a day ahead, as the sauce gets better as it sits.

Happy grilling!


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Ultimate Summer BBQ Sauce

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  • Author: Andrea Sprague
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 35 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
  • Yield: 3 cups 1x


This BBQ sauce is a homemade alternative to preservative-filled grocery store sauces. You’ll find this on my proteins through most of the summer months – hope you enjoy it as much as I do!


  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped, about 1 ½ cups
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped, about 1 Tbsp.
  • 6 oz. tomato paste
  • 1 cup diced, canned tomatoes
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • ½ cup molasses
  • ¼ cup Worcestershire sauce (I recommend Robbie’s All Natural – gluten free and vegan)
  • ¼ cup tamari
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • ¼ cup apple juice
  • 1 Tbsp. paprika
  • 1 Tbsp. cumin
  • 23 tsp. mustard powder
  • ½ tsp. chili powder
  • ¼ tsp. cayenne
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ⅛ tsp. allspice
  • Bacon fat (to preference)


  1. Place a large saucepan or pot over medium heat and add the oil. When hot, add the onions and sauté until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir for another 30 seconds.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and bring close to a boil. This should take about 2-3 minutes. You will see bubbles along the edges of the sauce.
  3. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Stir intermittently.
  4. Remove from the heat and let sit for 30 minutes to cool.
  5. Pour into a food processor and process for 1 minute or until the larger pieces are broken down. It will still be a little thick. If you want a completely smooth sauce, pour into a blender instead. If it’s still too thick, add a little water or chicken stock.


  • If using this on meat that is going in a smoker, use regular paprika. If you don’t have a smoker and are cooking the meat on a grill or in the oven, replace it with smoked paprika to add that smoky element.

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