Culinary Arts

Aaron Franklin's BBQ Rib Sauce Recipe

Written by MasterClass

Jun 24, 2019 • 2 min read

American barbecue has no shortage of debates, and one of the questions at its core is which barbecue sauce reigns supreme? Should it be thick and sweet, or tangy and thin? Here we present one of the thick and sweet varieties: make homemade barbecue sauce with Chef Aaron Franklin's Texas-style rib sauce recipe.

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What Is Barbecue Sauce?

Barbecue sauce is used as a marinade, condiment, or topping for barbecued meats such as pulled pork, baby back ribs, beef ribs, brisket, and chicken. It is a staple condiment in the southern US and varies by region, with the main styles coming out of six US locales: Memphis, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kansas City, Alabama, and Texas.

The ingredients in barbecue sauce vary widely, but most include different ratios of tomato and vinegar for the base, and any combination of liquid smoke, onion powder, garlic powder, spices such as dry mustard, chili powder, and black pepper for seasoning, and sugar or molasses for sweetness.

How to Apply BBQ Sauce to Ribs in a Smoker or Charcoal Grill

After the second hour of cooking, combine equal parts warm barbecue sauce and apple cider vinegar in a squeeze bottle and shake thoroughly. Mixing the two will make the sauce thinner and reduce the overall amount of sugar (which is liable to burn in the smoker).

Two and a half hours into the cook, spritz the rack of ribs thoroughly so the surface is wet to the touch. Squeeze the diluted barbecue sauce on top of the ribs in an even layer parallel to the bones, in the same way you distributed the rub. With your hand, work the sauce around the sides and surface of the ribs until the entire presentation side is coated. Give it one more light spritz, then close the lid and allow the sauce to set for approximately 10 minutes. Flip the ribs over and repeat the saucing process on the other side.

See barbecue pitmaster Aaron Franklin's full smoked pork ribs recipe here.

Aaron Franklin’s BBQ Rib Sauce

Prep Time
5 min
Total Time
30 min

Aaron prefers to use organic or all-natural ketchup that isn’t made with high-fructose corn syrup, as the lower sugar content makes the sauce less likely to burn in the smoker.

  • 2 tbsp fat (beef tallow, vegetable oil, lard, or bacon fat)
  • 1/3 large yellow or white onion, roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 cups organic or all-natural ketchup
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp mustard powder
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
  • 4 dashes Worcestershire sauce
  1. Heat a saucepan over medium heat, then add the fat. Once the fat has coated the pan and begins to shimmer, add onion and cook until soft and translucent, about 6–8 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to cook over medium heat until the onion has started to brown and the garlic has started turning crisp, about 3 minutes more.
  2. Add the brown sugar and cook, stirring frequently until the sugar melts and starts to form a glaze, about 2–3 minutes.
  3. Stir in the apple cider vinegar, ketchup, paprika, mustard, salt, and pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook for 3–5 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened slightly, then add the Worcestershire sauce and simmer for 1 more minute.
  4. Transfer the sauce to a blender and blend at high speed until the sauce is smooth and takes on an orange hue, approximately 1 minute. Be careful, as hot liquids are liable to splatter in a blender. Pulse once or twice before proceeding to a full blend. Transfer to an airtight container and allow to cool to room temperature. Store in a refrigerator for up to 1 month.

Learn more Texas barbeque recipes and techniques in Aaron Franklin’s MasterClass.