by Olena

Healthy BBQ Sauce

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Olena Osipov
5 from 7 votes

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Thick and flavorful Healthy BBQ Sauce that you can feel good using on all your favorite foods. This homemade sauce is sweet and tangy, with a hint of smoke and best of all it contains less sugar, resulting in a low calorie BBQ sauce that is amazing to slather on any of your grilled summertime favorites, ribs or pulled meats!

In our house, healthy BBQ is not only a summertime staple for grilled chicken or shrimp, we use it year round for Instant Pot chicken and pulled pork.

healthy bbq sauce recipe with basting brunch on cutting board

Healthy BBQ Sauce

After making healthy slow cooked pulled pork I realized I created sort of healthy BBQ sauce. Then a few readers emailed me asking if I have any healthy condiment or dressing 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 any of your grilled dishes. 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 barbecue sauce for about 6 times cheaper than store-bought. It’s really easy, too!

Why This Healthy BBQ Sauce Recipe Works?

  • Easy: Make this 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 honey (or maple syrup), tangy from vinegar, smoky and a touch of heat from cayenne all come together for a 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 BBQ sauce at home, just like our poppy seed salad dressing.
  • Budget friendly: It’s no secret that the ‘healthier’ store sauces cost more, save some moo-lah 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.
healthy bbq sauce in a pot on the stove

Ingredients in Homemade BBQ Sauce

  • 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! Use homemade for even better flavor.
  • Molasses: Bittersweet taste that really boosts the flavor in healthy barbecue sauce.
  • Apple cider vinegar + mustard: Sweet ACV and tangy mustard is like yen and yang, you need both for the perfect sauce pairing!
  • Honey/maple syrup: Liquid sweetener dissolves well in homemade bbq sauce and just a touch adds the right amount of sweet taste, just like in Thai sweet chili sauce.
  • Liquid smoke: Gives this 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 sugar with a sprinkle of spices, liquid smoke, caramel colour and preservatives.

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.

healthy bbq sauce ingredients

How to Make BBQ Sauce That is Healthy

Homemade 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.

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 homemade bar-b-que 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/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, though!
  • 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 + honey/maple syrup – only recommended as a substitute if you are out of the recipe ingredients, though.
  • Chipotle peppers in adobe 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/orange marmalade: Adds a sweeter, well orange, taste. If you love citrus, this could be your new favorite.
  • Sweetened applesauce: If all you have on hand is sweetened applesauce, your BBQ sauce will be sweeter OR you can reduce the amount of honey/maple syrup used.

FAQs

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 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 sauce will not contain any preservatives or additives – basically you will be able to pronounce all the ingredients! Yay for healthy bbq!

Is liquid smoke healthy?

I, too, am concerned about cancer causing carcinogens in smoked/barbecued final products. But there are no dangers of adding 1 tsp of liquid smoke to a batch of BBQ sauce. You would have to drink 3 bottles of liquid smoke a day (!) to go over the safety limit of 47. 1 tsp of liquid smoke. However, I recommend to buy liquid smoke with only 2 ingredients: water and smoke concentrate. I have seen molasses (GMO for sure) and caramel colour in some brands.

(If you do want to dig deeper, here is a video from Helyn’s Healthy Kitchen by Dr. Michael Greger, where he explains liquid smoke dangers in a nutshell.)

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 recipe!

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

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

Serving Recommendations

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

ribs with healthy bbq sauce

Making Recipe for Healthy BBQ Sauce in Advance

Make Ahead/Store: Refrigerate in an airtight glass jar 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

Healthy BBQ Sauce {20 Minute!}

Thick and flavorful Healthy BBQ Sauce that you can feel good using on all your favorite foods. This homemade sauce is sweet and tangy, with a hint of smoke and best of all it contains less sugar, resulting in a low calorie BBQ sauce that is amazing to slather on any of your grilled summertime favorites, ribs or pulled meats!
5 from 7 votes
Print Save Rate
Course: Condiment
Cuisine: North American
Prep Time: 2 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 22 minutes
Servings: 20 (~2.5 cups)
Calories: 25kcal
Author: Olena Osipov

Ingredients

  • 1 cup water
  • 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup applesauce unsweetened
  • 3 tbsp molasses unsulphured
  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp honey or maple syrup
  • 1 tbsp onion powder
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp yellow mustard
  • 1 tsp liquid smoke
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

Instructions

  • 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.
    Healthy BBQ Sauce
  • 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.
    Healthy BBQ Sauce
  • Let cool and transfer to a glass jar. Use as you would use a store bought BBQ sauce or when making Instant Pot ribs.
    Healthy BBQ Sauce

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.

      Notes

      • 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.

      Nutrition

      Serving: 2tbsp | Calories: 25kcal | Carbohydrates: 6g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 1g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 126mg | Potassium: 58mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 5IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 7mg | Iron: 1mg
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