Essential Sauces of Summer: Homemade KC-Style BBQ Sauce

Reader Contribution by Laura Poe
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Even though the barbecues and picnics this summer are likely looking a little different from those in the past, I do hope you get to do some outdoor cooking, enjoying the beautiful weather and celebrating summer with delicious food. Unfortunately, many of our favorite cookout foods are often super processed and loaded with unwanted ingredients, which is where they DIY spirit can really save your next barbecue. Making foods from scratch is such a great way not only to ensure your foods are made with the best, most natural ingredients, but they also tend to be even more delicious than their store-bought counterparts. A perfect example of this is in sauces, which have the potential to elevate any item at your next cookout when you go the homemade route. For me, one homemade sauce that is essential for summer is my Kansas City-Style BBQ Sauce.

As a Kansas City native, I take barbecue and its many sauces seriously. While there are many styles of BBQ and sauce out there, this one is tomato- and molasses-based as is part of the Kansas City style. It also has a kick of smoke and heat to balance out the acidity and sweetness. This recipe is inspired by the sauce we made at a restaurant I worked at in college, called Main Squeeze, where brewed coffee was added to our BBQ sauce, imparting a nice bitter quality for another layer of flavor. In my recipe, I use natural sweeteners instead of processed sugars: Molasses and maple syrup are used here, which are both unrefined and rich in minerals.

This also adds a Wisconsin twist, an homage to my current home, as both sorghum molasses and maple syrup are local foods to our region of the country. The lack of high fructose corn syrup or preservatives typically found in store-bought BBQ sauces makes this healthier and allows me to use local ingredients in the recipe as well.

This goes great slathered on smoked meats such as ribs or brisket, but is also tasty on grilled chops, brats, or burgers, or even tossed with slower cooker pulled pork or chicken. However, it also can be used on grilled veggies and, mixed 50/50 with some mayo, makes a pretty stellar dip for oven fries. If you have some delicious local meat (or veggies) to cook up this summer, be sure to give it the proper treatment with some homemade BBQ sauce. Party on.

KC-Style BBQ Sauce

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 40 minutes

Makes 3 cups


  • 1 tbsp. olive oil, avocado oil, or cooking fat of choice
  • 1 cup yellow onion, diced
  • 2 tbsp. garlic, minced
  • 1 cup tomato paste
  • 2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup sorghum molasses (can use blackstrap if sorghum is unavailable)
  • 1/3 cup real maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup Dijon mustard
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 Tbsp. soy sauce (can sub coconut aminos for soy-free version)
  • 1/3 cup brewed coffee
  • 1 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin powder
  • 1/2 tsp. chipotle powder or smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne, or to taste
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper


1. In a medium pot, heat oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onions and cook for about 5 minutes, until they begin to sweat.

2. Add the garlic and cook 3 to 5 more minutes until becoming fragrant.

3. Add all remaining ingredients, whisking well to combine. Let the mixture come just to a boil, stirring often, and reduce the heat to low.

4. Let simmer for 30-45 minutes until thickened slightly. Check on the sauce, stirring regularly to prevent sticking during the simmering period.

5. Let cool slightly, then puree until smooth; I use an immersion blender straight into the cooking pot, but you could transfer the sauce, working in batches, to a blender for pureeing instead.

6. Once blended, transfer to a storage container and move to the refrigerator. This is even better a few days after making it, if you can wait that long to dig in! Stored in the fridge, this will keep for about 1 month, or can be frozen for longer-term storage.

See also: Essential Sauces for Summer: Herbaceous Chimichurri

Laura Poeis a Registered Dietitian and traditional foods instructor. She homesteads in Wisconsin where she regular contributes to Edible Madison. Connect with Laura atLaura Poe, RD, for private practice appointments (distance consults available), upcoming classes, newsletter subscriptions, and more. Her nutrient-dense recipes can be found on Laura’s blog,Brine & Broth, and you can see what she has been cooking and creating on her Instagram @brineandbroth. Read all of Laura’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS postshere.

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