No liquid smoke in this bourbon bbq sauce recipe. Instead, this recipe uses smoked ketchup in order to impart a subtle smokiness to the resulting sauce. Yes, smoked ketchup. Believe it. Better yet, taste it. Whether by the spoonful or slathered all over ribs that are cooked low and slow. [Editor’s Note: Yes, we know, smoking ketchup may seem sorta fussy. But why not just toss it in the smoker along with your ribs or smoked pork shoulder (or whatever you happen to be making and that you intend to slather this sauce all over) for the first couple hours? And if you do that, you may want to slip a drip pan under the meat and swap out the bacon fat in the recipe below for a tablespoon of the drippings.]–David Leite

Spicy Bourbon BBQ Sauce FAQs

When is the best time to brush on barbecue sauce?

There’s a significant difference between most marinades and sauces. And that difference is usually sugar. A marinade infuses the meat, while a sauce goes on at the end so that it doesn’t burn up in the cooking process. In general, you can start brushing your barbecue sauce on the meat about 20 to 30 minutes before it’s ready to come off the grill, especially if you’re using indirect heat.

If you’ve got a big old fire raging, you might want to wait until the last 10 minutes. With a sauce that’s as tasty as this, you’re likely going to want to slather it all over everything you’re cooking. But restraint is key—brush on just enough to get the flavor and pass more at the table. No burning, just lip-smacking taste.

What type of bourbon should I use in this barbecue sauce?

You don’t need to break the bank when buying bourbon for a bbq sauce, however, do buy something that you enjoy drinking. The flavor will be present in the sauce, and there will be leftover bourbon in the bottle for you to enjoy.

How long will homemade bbq sauce keep?

This sauce will keep for up to 2 weeks when refrigerated in a covered container.

A small pot with a small amount of spicy bourbon barbecue sauce left in it and a spoon resting inside.

Spicy Bourbon Barbecue Sauce

5 / 3 votes
This sauce couldn’t be any easier to make. It makes a bold statement with a hint of spicy, Southern-style, while a lick of bourbon gives it an edge.
David Leite
Servings80 servings | 1 1/2 quarts
Calories39 kcal
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time2 hours 30 minutes
Total Time2 hours 40 minutes


  • 2 to 3 handfuls hickory chips, soaked in water for at least 30 minutes


  • Two bottles ketchup
  • 2/3 cup bourbon
  • 2/3 cup Dijon mustard
  • 2/3 cup dark molasses
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 1/3 cup store-bought or homemade hot sauce
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 4 teaspoons onion powder
  • 4 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon rendered bacon drippings
  • 1 tablespoon salt


  • Prepare a barrel smoker. You want the temperature to be between 225°F and 250°F (107°C and 121°C).
  • Place the ketchup in a large metal bowl, place the bowl in the smoker, and add a handful of the soaked hickory chips to the coals. Smoke the ketchup for 2 hours, stirring every 30 minutes. Be mindful of maintaining a consistent temperature inside the smoker, adding charcoal as needed to keep it in the 225°F to 250°F range (107°C and 121°C). You may need to add more soaked hickory chips to keep the smoke flowing.
  • Dump the smoked ketchup into a large pot. Add the bourbon, mustard, molasses, water, hot red pepper sauce, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, onion powder, garlic powder, bacon drippings, and salt and stir well to combine. Place over low heat and cook, stirring occasionally for about 30 minutes, or until the sugar has dissolved and the sauce has thickened and darkened slightly.
  • Immediately slather the sauce over some ribs or other meat of some sort. Any leftover sauce will keep, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
Cooking My Way Back Home

Adapted From

Cooking My Way Back Home

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Serving: 2 tablespoonsCalories: 39 kcalCarbohydrates: 8 gProtein: 1 gFat: 1 gSaturated Fat: 1 gMonounsaturated Fat: 1 gTrans Fat: 1 gCholesterol: 1 mgSodium: 299 mgFiber: 1 gSugar: 7 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2011 Mitchell Rosenthal. Photo © 2011 Paige Green. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

This bourbon bbq sauce recipe makes a ridiculous amount of barbecue sauce, so if you’re just cooking up a couple of racks of ribs, I’d recommend not just halving but quartering the recipe. Either that or plan to freeze the leftovers. That said, it’s a delicious, very robust sauce, and definitely worth doing if you’ve got the smoker going anyway. Smoking the ketchup is an interesting touch. The ketchup can smoke right alongside your meat, and once that’s done, the sauce comes together quite easily. The resulting sauce is not overwhelmingly smoky but simply tastes more like barbecue. Using liquid smoke instead of actually smoking the ketchup wouldn’t give the same result, so don’t even think about it. This is a very intense sauce, so use it sparingly. You want the meat to be the star.

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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5 from 3 votes (2 ratings without comment)

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  1. Dear Friends I don’t know what a barrel smoker is. I’m sure I don’t have it. Is there a way to make one out of typical kitchenware?

    1. Sharon, I love your spirit of inventiveness! When I lived in an apartment and didn’t have access to a backyard grill, I MacGyvered a stovetop smoker out of a wok and aluminum foil and, because I loved the results, I invested in a Cameron’s Stovetop Smoker which is infinitely easier than the wok and boasts a larger capacity. I’ve smoked chicken, fish, pork butt, even bacon in my Cameron’s. I love it. You could easily smoke the ketchup in this although you’d need to use a shallow dish to contain the ketchup and you need to halve the recipe. Let me know if this helps or if you’d prefer the wok instructions, Sharon.

      1. I would love to hear about the wok technique, please. I have a propane grill but think the “propane” may collide with the smoke.

        1. Ruby, sure, it’s so simple. You take a wok—preferably a cheaper or older wok that you’re not attached to, since it may get marred slightly on the surface—and you wrap a few pieces of aromatic wood or wood chips in foil and puncture the foil in several places with the tip of a knife. Then you toss that in the bottom of the wok. If you have a small half rack that came with the work, you nestle that in the wok. Otherwise you can simply put a small plate or an upside-down bowl in the wok and on top of that you put the food to be smoked. Then rip several large pieces of aluminum foil long enough to extend well beyond the edge of the wok and completely cover the wok with a couple layers, generously overlapping the foil and crimping it close against the upper edge of the wok so it is very well covered. And then you simply turn the burner beneath the wok on low. It will take a little time but the wood should start to smoke from the heat. And then you smoke the food until it’s done. The timing is a little trickier with this homemade smoker setup. If you have a digital thermometer, you could use it here. Beware, if doing this on an indoor burner and not on the grill, that since smoking typically takes a while to cook the food since it happens at a relatively low temperature, that the smoke will permeate the house and infuse everything—çlothes, couch, etc. A word to the wise. My then-boyfriend loved the resulting taste of the food but was not pleased with the lingering, ah, aroma of smoke inside his apartment. Kindly let us know how it goes!

  2. 5 stars
    This has become our favorite barbecue sauce. I can’t believe how much flavor the smoking of the catsup adds to the sauce. Since we are blessed with plenty of freezer space we always make a full batch and freeze the extra.

    1. Lovely to hear, Peg! Thank you. Never would have thought to freeze the sauce, what a swell trick…!