Thick and flavorful Healthy BBQ Sauce is sweet and tangy, with a hint of smoke and contains less sugar. This low calorie BBQ sauce is amazing to slather on any of your grilled summertime favorites, ribs or pulled meats!

In our house, we also use it year round for Instant Pot BBQ chicken breast, baked BBQ chicken breast and Instant Pot pulled pork.

Healthy bbq sauce recipe with basting brunch on cutting board.

After making slow cooker pulled pork I realized I created sort of healthy BBQ sauce. Then a few readers emailed me asking if I have any healthy sauce and seasonings recipes – yes, I do and here is one of them!

Healthy homemade BBQ sauce is super easy to make and the perfect way to ramp up flavor in grilled BBQ chicken breast and any of your healthy grill recipes.

I’m not saying you can’t buy organic BBQ sauce. Yes, you can. And if you are short on time you should. I realize turning your fridge and freezer into “from scratch” oasis is time consuming.

But if you have time and more likely all ingredients in the pantry (I did), then you should make your own healthy barbecue sauce for about 6 times cheaper than store-bought. It’s really easy, too!

Why You Will Love This Healthy BBQ Sauce Recipe

  • Easy: Make this healthy barbecue sauce recipe on the stove top in only 22 minutes using pantry ingredients you probably already have on hand!
  • Flavorful: Sweet from a touch of maple syrup, tangy from vinegar, smoky and a touch of heat from cayenne all come together for a barbecue sauce so flavorful you will never go back to store bought again!
  • Healthier: With half the calories of major store brands, you really can’t go wrong when you make this low calorie barbecue sauce at home. It is also vegan!
  • Budget friendly: It’s no secret that the healthier BBQ sauce costs more, save some money and make this! Better yet, double the recipe, freeze it and you will always have healthy BBQ sauce on hand!
  • Customizable: Need more heat? Add more cayenne. Want it sweeter? Add a pinch more honey.

Ingredients You Will Need

To make this healthy BBQ sauce recipe, you need just a few pantry and fridge staples. No ketchup is required!

Applesauce, apple cider vinegar, tomato paste, liquid smoke, molasses, maple syrup, onion powder, garlic powder, cayenne, mustard, salt.
  • Tomato Paste: Thick and flavorful, paste adds a concentrated tomato taste that can’t matched if you were to use a tomato sauce.
  • Applesauce: Adds a sweet taste from natural fructose!
  • Molasses: Bittersweet taste that really boosts the flavor in healthy barbecue sauce.
  • Apple cider vinegar and mustard: Sweet ACV and tangy mustard is like yin and yang, you need both for the perfect sauce pairing!
  • Honey or maple syrup: Liquid sweetener dissolves well in homemade bbq sauce and just a touch adds the right amount of sweet taste.
  • Liquid smoke: Gives this healthy bbq sauce a caramel smoky flavor without ever touching the grill or smoker!
  • Pantry spices: Onion powder, garlic powder, salt and cayenne for maximum flavor.

Is BBQ Sauce Healthy?

The first ingredient in store-bought BBQ sauce, let’s take the most popular Sweet Baby Ray’s, is high fructose corn syrup. If it’s #1 on the label, it also means that’s what is mostly in that bottle.

Do you see where I’m going with this? Any store-bought BBQ sauce is 98% GMO processed added sugar with a sprinkle of spices, liquid smoke, caramel color, preservatives and sometimes even artificial sweeteners.

If you make my homemade BBQ sauce, you are eating mostly tomato paste with applesauce, spices and a sprinkle of unrefined sugar. It contains 4 times less sugar and 2.5 times less sodium than store-bought.

How to Make Healthy BBQ Sauce

Healthy BBQ sauce is not only healthy, it is easy to make in only 3 steps!

  1. In a small saucepan, add all ingredients and whisk until well combined.
  2. Bring to a boil, cover half way with a lid to prevent splashing and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir a few times to prevent burning on the bottom.
  3. Let cool and transfer to a glass jar. Use as you would use a store bought BBQ sauce.

Recipe Tip

Make once, eat twice: Double the recipe and store it in small batches in the freezer, that way you will always have healthy BBQ sauce on hand!

Add-ins and Variations

While we love this healthy BBQ sauce as is, there are a few ways you can change or add to the flavor.

  • Worcestershire sauce: Adds additional burst of flavor. Use coconut aminos for a gluten-free option.
  • Chili powder or hot sauce: Gives additional layer of heat for a spicy homemade BBQ sauce.
  • Lemon juice: Use instead of apple cider vinegar. Remember lemon is a bit more tart and well, lemon-y!
  • Smoked paprika: For additional smoky flavor or as a substitute for liquid smoke (although the result will not be as smokey as the liquid concentrate).
  • Brown sugar: Substitute for your molasses plus maple syrup. Only recommended as a substitute if you are out of the recipe ingredients, though.
  • Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce: If you really want to ramp up that Southwest flavor. I would use only one chipotle pepper chopped fine and a tiny bit of the sauce, as the heat can really intensify quickly!
  • Black pepper: Instead of cayenne pepper for a mild, peppery flavor.
  • Splash of bourbon: Boozy bbq, why not?!
  • Orange juice or orange marmalade: Adds a sweeter orange taste. If you love citrus, this could be your new favorite.
  • Sweetened applesauce: If all you have on hand is sweetened applesauce, your healthy BBQ sauce will be sweeter or you can reduce the amount of maple syrup used.


Can bbq sauce be healthy?

When you make your own homemade bbq sauce recipe, it can be healthy! Making your own healthy bbq allows you to control the ingredients that go into the BBQ sauce, including the amount of and type of sugar used.

This is where most store brands become unhealthy. Many are made with high fructose corn syrup. Also, a homemade BBQ sauce will not contain any preservatives or additives, basically you will be able to pronounce all the ingredients!

Is it possible to have low calorie bbq sauce?

On average one tablespoon of store bought bbq sauce contains approximately 29 calories. With this recipe, you can have 2 tablespoons of bbq sauce and it is only 25 calories! So yes, low calorie bbq sauce does exist when you follow this healthy bbq sauce recipe!

Can I omit the molasses for a sugar free bbq sauce?

I have not tried omitting the sugar completely from this healthy BBQ sauce. Using molasses, gives this barbecue sauce a deep rich taste and maple syrup adds a touch of sweetness. Omitting these might cause bbq sauce to lack flavor depth. Some readers have omitted molasses for 1 tablespoon of honey, but I have not tested that.

Ways to Use Healthy BBQ Sauce

While a spoonful of healthy BBQ sauce is delicious, it’s even better when slathered on your favorite foods!

Slathering healthy bbq sauce with a brush on cooked ribs.

Making It In Advance

Make Ahead and Store: Refrigerate healthy BBQ sauce in an airtight glass jar or any airtight container for up to 1 month.

Freeze: In an airtight freezer safe glass jar or container, leaving some room for expansion, up to 3 months.

More Healthy Condiments Recipes

healthy bbq sauce in a jar with a basting brush and greens to the side of jar

Healthy BBQ Sauce

Thick and flavorful Healthy BBQ Sauce is sweet and tangy, with a hint of smoke and best of all it contains less sugar, for low calorie BBQ sauce!
5 from 14 votes
Servings 20 (~2.5 cups)
Calories 25
Diet Vegan
Prep Time 2 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 22 minutes



  • In a small saucepan, add water, tomato paste, applesauce, molasses, apple cider vinegar, honey, onion and garlic powders, mustard, liquid smoke, salt and cayenne pepper. Whisk until well combined.
  • Bring to a boil, cover half way with a lid to prevent splashing and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir a few times to prevent burning on the bottom.
  • Let cool and transfer to a glass jar. Use as you would use a store bought BBQ sauce or when making Instant Pot ribs.


  • Store: Refrigerate in an airtight glass jar for up to 1 month.
  • Freeze: For in an airtight glass jar or container, leaving some room for expansion, up to 3 months.
  • Sweetened applesauce: If that’s all you have, you can use it in the recipe as is or reduce honey by 1/2 tbsp.
  • Liquid smoke: You can find liquid smoke in many grocery stores in a spice or condiment aisle. Or on Amazon.


Serving: 2tbsp | Calories: 25kcal | Carbohydrates: 6g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 1g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 126mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 5g
Course: Condiment
Cuisine: North American
Author: Olena Osipov
Did you make this recipe?Mention @ifoodreal or tag #ifoodreal!

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About Olena

Welcome! I grew up in Ukraine watching my grandma cook with simple ingredients. I have spent the last 11 years making it my mission to help you cook quick and easy meals for your family!

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        1. Vinegar adds flavor and oomph. I do think it matters in this recipe but you can try without it and see how you like it. You can also use any other vinegar.

  1. 5 stars
    This is a terrific recipe. I omitted the liquid smoke and added another Tbs of molasses.
    Much healthier than bottled sauces.

    Give it a try!!

  2. 5 stars
    Love this BBQ recipe. I usually do a double batch then freeze so I can just pull out when needed. We use this all the time for Pulled Jack Burgers. Because of this recipe I don’t buy BBQ sauce anymore.

5 from 14 votes (5 ratings without comment)

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