Top 10 Rib Sauce Recipes

Rib sauces are fascinating. A truly American condiment, they range from very to fairly easy to make. You may want to experiment with new ideas, enhance the recipe you usually use or get away from that bottled stuff for the first time ever. We'll get you there.

These sauces vary widely from region to region. Eastern Carolina style sauces are very high in vinegar and contain no tomato sauce. Kansas City style is very sweet, thick and dense with tomatoes. Texas style sauces vary somewhat from north to south but are tomato based, sweet, and spicy, and the choice of chilies is very important.

Remember, grillers, this list is not in order of which is best. The regional styles vary too much for that. Some attempt is made to sort them according to how frequently they appear at barbecues, but we don't want to start any fights! And we've seen some doozies.

About these recipes: Many of these recipes call for either chopped garlic and onion, sauteed, or powdered onion or garlic. These are usually interchangeable. Fresh lends more flavor but calls for a little extra work and takes more time. If you want a completely smooth sauce, you may want to put it in a blender when it's done.

Many people like to add liquid smoke or smoked salt to their sauces. None of these recipes include it. They are written presuming you will be barbecuing or grilling with some wood chips. If you are not, or if you just like the extra smoke flavor, you can add some. Be careful with the salt.

Yes, there is an important technical distinction between grilling and barbecuing, but we use the words interchangeably here, as we aren't discussing cooking the meat at all.

1. All American:

While BBQ sauces are extremely regional, they are now enjoyed in every state, even 'dry rub' areas. Soul food and the diaspora that created it had a lot to do with this culinary blending of styles. This sauce not a competition winner, but a crowd pleaser, with a balance of familiar flavors, much like commercial barbecue sauces.

  • 3/4 cup apple juice
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ¾ cup ketchup
  • ¼ cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp onion powder
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
  • 2 tbsps balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsps hot sauce
  • 1 tbsps creole seasoning
  • 3 tbsps butter

Combine all of the ingredients except the butter and simmer for about half an hour, until thick. Taste for seasoning towards the end of the cook for seasoning, and stir in the butter.

Pro tip: ¼ cup of bourbon is nice in this. Reduce the apple juice accordingly, and cook until the alcohol taste is gone.

2. Kansas City Style:

Kansas City style sauce is thick, sweet, and somewhat spicy. This is the tomato packed sauce that lays like a blanket on top of the meat, and true aficionados will accept no substitute for this style.

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups ketchup
  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp mustard
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne

Melt the butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sweat. Add the onions and garlic and cook until they are soft.

Add the remaining ingredients. Stir and taste frequently. Simmer low about an hour or until the sauce is appropriately thick.

Pro Tip: Kansas City sauce does not soak into the meat, so a dry rub or marinade before you grill is particularly important. At the very least salt the meat.

3. Memphis Style:

Sweeter than Carolina style and tarter than Kansas City style, mustard and celery flavors are important in Memphis style recipes.

  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup mustard
  • ½ cup ketchup
  • 1tbsp finely ground pepper
  • onion powder
  • garlic powder
  • celery salt
  • 2 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 bay leaf
  • cayenne
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons butter

This recipe requires a 30 minute cook, adding the butter at the end.

Pro tips: Mincing fresh onion, garlic, and celery and sauteing in the butter adds a nice touch.

I'm under the impression that every living soul in Memphis has their own sauce recipe. A study of Memphis (or Texas) sauces alone would require a small book. Be prepared to experiment a little if you are seeking to copy a particular sauce you have had in the past.

4. Texas style/Southern Style:

  • 1 cup ketchup
  • ½ cup tomato paste
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup molasses
  • 1 tbsp mustard
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 finely diced onion
  • Finely chopped hot peppers to taste
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon creole seasoning or salt
  • 1 tbsp butter

Sautee the onions, garlic, and peppers in the butter until soft. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer 45 minutes to an hour, stirring frequently. If you want more spice, you can add some cayenne at the end.

Pro tip: The flavor of the hot peppers you choose is extremely important to Texas style sauces. If you want a quicker sauce with powdered spices, use a finely ground dried chipotle or similar spice as a substitute and add cayenne for heat as desired. Hot sauce is almost never used as an ingredient in the Deep South.

Never add fresh hot peppers at the end of making a sauce, even if the sauce seems bland. Their flavor will keep intensifying long after the sauce has cooled. If you want to add more heat with fresh peppers, keep the sauce simmering until they are fully cooked.

5. Carolina Style:

When I first learned about Carolina sauces they came as quite a surprise to me. They are seasoned vinegar and don't coat the meat whatsoever. They are also delicious brushed on your meat but they don't make good dipping sauces.

Traditional Carolina style sauces are similar to marinades, although they are called 'mop sauces'. Most, including this one, require no cooking. They are very high in vinegar and contain no tomatoes.

  • 1 ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp cayenne pepper
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Combine the white vinegar, cider vinegar, brown sugar, cayenne pepper, hot pepper sauce, salt and pepper in a jar or bottle with a tight-fitting lid. Refrigerate at least overnight, shaking occasionally.

Pro tip: If this sauce is too strong for your tastes, you could dilute it by replacing some of the vinegar with white wine.

6. Chicago style:

Chicago sauce has a tangy style, derived long ago from other regional styles. This recipe is from Pit Master and Chicagoan Merlin Barnes. When I asked him about the absence of mustard, he said “quite frankly, I never thought of it. The steak sauce gives it plenty of twang.” He also notes that the meat is usually brushed with vinegar during the cooking process.

  • 2 cups ketchup
  • 1 cup steak sauce such as Heinz 57
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire
  • 1 tbsp onion powder
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp hot pepper sauce
  • 3 tbsps butter

Combine the ingredients, except the butter, and simmer for about 30 minutes. Add the butter when the sauce is almost finished.

Pro tip: Chicago style is tangy, and smoke flavor is frequently added as a liquid or salt, perhaps to make up for long cold winters unsuitable for grilling outdoors.

Bourbon is nice in this sauce. Be sure to cook away the taste of alcohol.

7. Mustard Based Sauce:

Mustard based sauces are a variation of Carolina style sauces, with a lot of vinegar, very little sugar, and no tomatoes or ketchup. Somewhat thicker than its all vinegar cousin, this sauce is cooked briefly to emulsify the butter.

  • 1 cup dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • ¾ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ½ white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Simmer all of the ingredients for about 20 minutes and add the butter.

Pro tips: ¼ cup of Southern Comfort is a great addition. Reduce the sugar accordingly. If you add this, cook long enough to remove the alcohol flavor, 30 minutes or more.

I suggest Dijon here, but the choice of mustard is entirely yours.

8. Teriyaki style:

Compared to other sauces, Teriyaki is a relative newcomer to the American grilling scene, and it became widely popular in the 1990's. Teriyaki is a composed sauce used for grilling in Japan, so it was a natural fit. The sweet and sour elements are nicely balanced, tending toward the sweet.

  • ¾ cup soy sauce
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp orange zest, and the juice of the orange
  • 1 tbsp garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp chili peppers, minced
  • 1 tbsp ginger, fresh, minced
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil

Sweat the garlic and peppers in the oil, and add the remaining ingredients. Cook at a slow boil.

You are cooking this until it just starts to caramelize. That means that it will suddenly thicken and coat a spoon. Remove it from the heat immediately when it reaches this stage. Exactly how long this takes depends on a lot of factors, so watch it like a hawk. If it catches you by surprise, do not add water. It could explode and burn you badly. Pour it into a cold pan, and add more liquid when it cools.

Pro tips: You can add a little tomato sauce to this if you care to do so.

If the sauce becomes thin because you needed to dilute it, you can correct it with a tablespoon of cornstarch dissolved in cold water. Stir it in and simmer until it thickens.

9. St. Louis Old Fashioned Barbecue Sauce:

This recipe is interesting because it contains tomatoes but no ketchup and is, like all of St. Louis, based on beer.

  • 2 cups tomato sauce
  • 12 oz. beer
  • 2 tablespoons mustard powder
  • ¼ cup dark brown sugar
  • ¼ cup cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup orange or pineapple juice
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 1 ½ tsp powdered oregano
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne
  • 2 tbsp garlic powder
  • finely ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Combine all the ingredients and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour. Make sure the mixture is thickened and the flavors are well blended. Add the butter towards the end.

Note: The oregano and fruit juice replace flavors that would be present in a ketchup based sauce.

Onion, fresh or powdered, is an optional addition to this sauce.

10. Dr. Pepper Sauce:

The origins of this idea are murky. It may have been a Coca Cola sauce first, and it probably originated somewhere slightly south of the Mason Dixon line. Wherever it came from, Dr. Pepper sauce is extremely popular, sweet and easy to make.

  • 12 oz Dr. Pepper
  • 2 cups ketchup
  • 2 cup vinegar
  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Combine all the ingredients and simmer for about 20 minutes, until the mixture is thickened. Add the butter last.

Pro tip: If you like this type of sauce, you could try other types of soda pop to add your own twist.


We hope you have enjoyed these recipes. They attempt to be as faithful to the traditions as possible, with no secret ingredients beyond the suggestions in the pro tips. This is so you can put your own twists on the originals and make your own special recipe if you want to create a signature sauce.

Please send us your comments, feedback, tips, and suggestions, and help our grilling encyclopedia grow.

Frequently Asked Questions​

How Do You Make Rib Sauce?

What is Carolina Gold Sauce?

How Do You Get the Rib Sauce to Stick to the Ribs?

What Are the Most Popular Styles of BBQ Sauce?

What is Dr. Pepper Barbecue Sauce?

Each Share Saves a Steak From Being Cooked Well Done