How to make beer BBQ sauce from scratch and what beer styles work best.
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Read on for relevant information, step by step pictures, short video & customization tips (about 3 mins)
Anatomy of a Beer BBQ Sauce
A beer barbecue sauce is simply a barbecue sauce infused with the concentrated flavors of a certain beer style.
NOTE: For the purposes of this post we reference the sort of catch-all style of barbecue sauce that is most popular in the US and the Western world and dominates all other US regional styles – also known as Kansas City style barbecue sauce.
There are a few essential components that come together in a beer barbecue sauce. Pretty much all of them stand for a type of ingredient that can include numerous substitutions. Together they balance and uplift each other and address the five basic tastes – sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami (savory deliciousness).
In addition, variations in mouthfeel contribute to those main ingredient groups and in result an exorbitantly large number of beer barbecue sauce flavors can be created. Such mouthfeel qualities are:
- texture (ultra smooth or not),
- consistency/body (thicker or thinner),
- heat (level of the intense spicy/burning sensation caused by the presence of Capsaicin)
Beer BBQ Sauce Ingredients
- Onion. Brings savory flavor and contributes to the texture and body of the sauce.
- Cooking oil. To saute the diced onion.
- Beer. Refer to the details in the next section for suitable styles.
- Brown sugar. Adds more depth of flavor than refined sugar can. Also consider Muscovado.
- Organic ketchup. Adds acidity, sweetness and umami and contributes to the overall mouthfeel of the sauce by giving it body. Use an organic tomato sauce if you’d rather not go with ketchup.
- Apple cider vinegar. Our preferred type of vinegar to cook with as it is not harshly acidic.
- Honey. Adds its unique type of sweetness and contributes to the consistency of the sauce.
- Cumin. A bit goes a long way and accentuates the overall umami in the sauce. You can use spices like smoked paprika or caraway instead.
- Garlic. We typically go with garlic powder, but you can also sauté minced garlic for about a minute, just before you add the beer (see workflow below).
- Black pepper. Our preferred source of heat when we make a not particularly spicy barbecue sauce.
- Salt. Season with coarse salt and add it as needed after you’ve already made the sauce.
Beer Style Recommendations
In our humble opinion (which is however based on many, many batches of beer BBQ sauce made over the years), the best beer styles to use in homemade barbecue sauce are ones that will contribute malty, roasty notes, dark fruit and chocolate flavors and are not aggressively hoped or bittered by way of liberal use of roasted barley.
Do not be afraid of a hoppier brew though, a moderate bitterness does act as a balancing act to sweeteners such as sugar and honey.
We most often reach for:
- amber ales or lagers
- red ales (including red IPAs, mmm), brown ales, porters and stouts
- dark German beers such as doppelbock lagers or Altbier
- Rauchbier (German smoked lager) when we wish the beer to impart smokiness
- winter warmers with complex spice notes
Which is not to say that imperial or bourbon aged ales, citrusy ales or lambics such as kriek are not great contenders.
How to Make Beer BBQ Sauce – Workflow
A note on equipment first. Ideally use a wide and deep sauce pan because a wider bottom surface means faster reduction time.
A handheld immersion blender is perfect, especially in combination with a deeper saucepan (less splattering). If you do not have an immersion blender you can always blend the sauce in a food processor or blender, just be sure to allow it to cool down some.
Step 1. Sauté onions in oil until softened.
Step 2. Add the beer (only a bit at first, to deglaze, it will foam once it makes contact with the hot saucepan), then add the rest and let the mixture simmer until reduced by about half.
TIP: If you want the beer flavors to play a more prominent role, do not fear to increase the quantity of beer. You will simply need to wait longer until it reduces by half.
Step 3. Add the rest of the ingredients (except salt), stir and let the mixture simmer until it thickens.
Step 4. Remove from heat and blend. Taste and season with salt as needed. Transfer to a container and let cool down before use.
Making Beer Barbecue Sauce is About Creating Flavors
We are sharing our basic recipe with a great deal of hope that as fellow cooking with beer aficionados you will tweak it and play with it to create something special for you and your loved ones.
While you can absolutely adhere to it the first time you make a beer BBQ sauce and use the exact ingredients and quantities as listed in the recipe card, we encourage you to make it your own.
Do not be afraid to experiment, in fact, let your imagination run loose. There are so many directions you can go with a homemade barbecue sauce that features a tasty beer.
Other Ingredients to Consider
- tomato sauce, chunky red salsa (instead of cooking down onion and then adding organic ketchup),
- jalapenos and other spicy peppers (cook down with the onions, choose heat level and quantity to taste), cayenne pepper, white pepper, etc.
- sweeteners such as molasses, maple syrup, agave syrup, Muscovado sugar,
- prunes, dates, raisins, sultanas, dried cherries (soak them in a bit of beer before you simmer them),
- smoked paprika, liquid smoke or smoked sea salt as a finishing touch
- mustard, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce as umami options
- various other vinegars, acidic red wines, citrus juices
- spirits such as bourbon, rye whiskey, rum (in small quantities)
In the past we have made the following two variations of the subject principal beer barbecue sauce recipe. We look forward to sharing them here on Craft Beering in the very near future.
Bright & Citrus Infused Beer BBQ Sauce
We use orange juice and either an American wheat ale or a citrusy, low bitterness IPA in this version.
Dark & Luscious Beer BBQ Sauce
We use balsamic vinegar and either a porter or a chocolate stout in this version.
- 2 tsp cooking oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 12 oz ale or lager with a solid malty backbone*
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 3/4 cup organic ketchup (or tomato sauce)
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 4 tbsp honey
- 1 tsp cumin
- 2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp black pepper
- coarse salt, to taste***
- Saute the diced onion in the 2 tsp of cooking oil in a saucepan (preferably a deeper one) over medium heat (about 4 mins).
- Once the onion bits soften deglaze with a splash or two of the beer, once the vigorous foaming subsides, add the rest of the beer. Simmer until reduced by half.
- Lower the heat to medium-low. Add the brown sugar, ketchup (or tomato sauce), apple cider vinegar, honey, cumin, garlic powder and black pepper and stir to mix well together. Simmer to reduce. Once the mixture has thickened to your liking, remove from the stove.
- Use an immersion blender to blend the beer barbecue sauce to a smooth consistency or transfer to a food processor (be careful - either allow it to cool down or if still hot, work in batches).
- Taste the finished sauce and season with salt as needed. Transfer to a container. The sauce will keep well refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.
NOTE: For most of the ingredients listed you can use a close substitute. Consult the post for suggestions.
*Consult the relevant section within the post for specific beer style suggestions.
** Increase a bit if you are partial to stronger vinegary presence in BBQ sauce.
***We recommend that you make the beer BBQ sauce first, then taste and season it with salt as needed.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 16 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 67Total Fat: 1gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 142mgCarbohydrates: 13gFiber: 0gSugar: 10gProtein: 1g