I’ve personally taste-tested a variety of barbecue sauce substitutes to find the best one for every cooking occasion.
Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry substitute, or seeking an alternative tailored to your specific dietary requirements, rest assured that I’ve got you covered.
Homemade BBQ sauce is an easy substitute for the store-bought version. If you’re looking to reduce your sugar intake, try a dry spice rub. Or go for something a little different and replace your BBQ sauce with teriyaki sauce or hoisin sauce.
Ready? Let’s jump right in.
I marinated and grilled a batch of boneless chicken thighs.
Barbecue sauce is a classic condiment typically made with a tomato base, alongside a sweetener and vinegar. It boasts a savory-sweet flavor with a tangy twist and a subtle background heat.
I was looking for a substitute that’s just as versatile as barbecue sauce and that tasted finger-lickingly good!
Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:
|Homemade barbecue sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||10/10|
|Other regional BBQ sauce varieties||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||10/10|
|Hoisin sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||9/10|
|Spice rub||Replace with enough to cover your food||9/10|
|HP sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||8/10|
|Worcestershire sauce||Use half the amount||8/10|
|Teriyaki sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||8/10|
Common uses for barbecue sauce and the best substitutes
Here are some common ways to use barbecue sauce and the best substitutes for those situations:
- For marinades, glazes, and basting: Try using the homemade version, other regional BBQ sauces (my favorite is Alabama white BBQ sauce), HP sauce, or Worcestershire sauce.
- As a condiment for dipping, sandwiches, or pizzas: Try using the homemade version, hoisin sauce, or teriyaki sauce. Asian-fusion pizzas are totally delicious if you’ve never tried one!
Homemade barbecue sauce
There’s no better substitute for barbecue sauce than making your own.
I followed this super simple recipe from Chef John, which involves pantry staples like ketchup, brown sugar, vinegar, and a whole host of spices (but I don’t think it would matter if you skipped a spice or two).
It was effortless to make.
Combine everything in a bowl, mix well, and voila! You’ve got a tasty homemade barbecue sauce perfect for marinating and basting.
If you’re planning to serve your BBQ as a condiment, you need to simmer the mixture over medium-high heat to reduce it slightly.
Pssst… avoiding refined sugars? Try this keto version instead. It uses tomato paste and monk fruit sweetener.
How to substitute: Replace commercial barbecue sauce in a 1:1 ratio with this homemade barbecue sauce.
Other regional BBQ sauce varieties
The classic American barbecue sauce we all know and love isn’t the only option when it comes to firing up your grill.
Each American region has its own unique take on barbecue sauce, adding its local flair and flavor twists.
You should be able to find bottles of these different sauces in your local grocery store:
- St. Louis and Texas BBQ Sauce – If you like the sound of a less sweet, slightly thinner sauce than the classic American barbecue sauce, try St. Louis or Texas-style sauces. These BBQ sauces share many of the same ingredients as the traditional recipe but typically leave out the molasses.
- Alabama BBQ Sauce – this sauce has a mayo base instead of ketchup. It’s an excellent alternative if you’re not a fan of tomatoes. It’s still got a delicious tangy flavor though from ingredients like mustard and horseradish.
- Eastern Carolina Style Vinegar Sauce – As the name suggests, Eastern Carolina style vinegar sauce has a vinegar base, making it a much sharper alternative to standard barbecue sauce. Great if you’re serving greasy food.
- Carolina Gold BBQ Sauce – Ever heard of mustard-based barbecue sauce? Well, that’s what Carolina Gold is all about. This sauce, which is said to come from German immigrants, boasts a distinctive yellow color and offers a peppery flavor profile with a subtle sweetness from the addition of honey. It’s extra good with pork.
How to substitute: Replace your regular barbecue sauce with your choice of regional BBQ sauce in a 1:1 ratio.
This condiment is often dubbed the Chinese BBQ sauce because it shares the same salty-tangy flavor with a subtle sweetness (courtesy of the Chinese five-spice powder).
You can brush it over meat as a glaze, use it as a marinade, or add it to a sauce. But it doesn’t quite deliver on the smoky heat of a traditional barbecue sauce.
Good thing this is an easy fix – a sprinkle of chili pepper for heat and a few pinch of smoked paprika is all you need.
Hoisin sauce gave my chicken thighs a distinctly Asian flair that I looooved.
How to substitute: Replace barbecue sauce in your recipe with Hoisin sauce in a 1:1 ratio.
BBQ enthusiasts argue that a great spice rub can outshine any barbecue sauce.
And there’s a good reason why! When you rub a bunch of aromatic spices right onto your meat, you’re setting the stage for a flavorful crust that locks in the meat’s natural juices.
You can use any combination of spices you like, but I recommend starting with this BBQ spice rub.
It’s made with similar spices to the homemade barbecue sauce I shared earlier, minus the ketchup (which means much less sugar – a massive bonus).
The only downside with this substitute? You can’t use this substitute as a condiment.
Pssst… if you prefer a more sauce-like consistency, you can mix this spice rub with some oil to create a ‘wet rub.’
How to substitute: Replace barbecue sauce with enough spice rub to coat your meat or vegetables.
HP sauce is a British staple.
And while it’s not an exact flavor match for barbecue sauce, it has a similar depth and certainly has its own unique charm.
Both sauce contain vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, and some kind of sugar. But HP sauce also contains dates, tamarind, and lemon juice.
This gives it a fruitier taste than classic barbecue sauce with a strong sour note that can be pretty devisive.
Half my taste testers loved it, and half of them hated it. So I wouldn’t recommend this substitute if you’re feeding a lot of people!
How to substitute: Replace barbecue sauce in your recipe with an equal amount of HP Sauce.
Even though Worcestershire sauce doesn’t have the thickness of barbecue sauce, it still delivers flavor-wise (after all, it is one of the main ingredients in BBQ sauce).
It boasts sweet, salty, and tangy notes reminiscent of barbecue sauce, thanks to the combination of anchovies, molasses, and tamarind.
And if you miss the heat and smokiness of barbecue sauce, try adding red pepper flakes and a pinch of smoked paprika.
I also added a squeeze of ketchup to thicken the sauce up so it would coat my chicken better.
How to substitute: Replace barbecue sauce in your recipe with half the amount of Worcestershire sauce (mixing in ketchup if you want).
If you don’t mind a sweeter alternative, try teriyaki sauce!
It’s been called ‘the best BBQ sauce that isn’t BBQ sauce at all‘
‘Teri’ means shiny in Japanese and ‘yaki’ means grilling, and the name comes from the fact this sauce was originally meant for brushing over meat while it was grilled to give it a shiny coating.
Teriyaki will work in pretty much any recipe to replace BBQ sauce, but be prepared for the flavor to be different (less smokey).
Pro-tip: you can always ddd a bit of vinegar to your teriyaki to balance out the sweetness.
How to substitute: Replace barbecue sauce in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio with teriyaki sauce.
The suggestions above are my top picks for barbecue sauce substitutes, but they’re not the only options.
Here are some other alternatives worth trying.
They’re veering away from the flavor barbecue sauce, but they still work:
- Ketchup – ketchup is often used as a base for barbecue sauce, but it can also work as a stand-alone substitute in a pinch. It works best to replace BBQ sauce as a condiment, just be prepared for a much less complex flavor.
- Chimichurri – this Argentinian sauce is a great alternative to BQ sauce if you want something with a fresh bite. It’s zesty, with a prominent heat that’ll make your taste buds tingle. And it’s DELICIOUS with grilled meats.
- Bulgogi sauce – this Korean sauce is fruitier than barbecue sauce thanks to the addition of pears and it’s more garlicky. It has a thinner consistency but works well as a substitute for marinating and basting (or as a pizza base).
- Plum sauce – this is another unique alternative that’ll bring an Asian twist to your food. It’s fruitier and sweeter than barbecue sauce, and similar to hoisin sauce just sweeter. I’s mix it with something like Worcestershire sauce to make it more savory.
Substitutes to avoid
While I was researching barbecue sauce substitutes I came across some very interesting suggestions – not all of which worked very well!
Here are some options I don’t recommend using:
- Salt and pepper – these are fundamental seasoning elements in many dishes, but they don’t possess the complexity needed to replace barbecue sauce. You need to mix them with other spices first!
- Peanut sauce – peanut sauce has a unique, nutty flavor profile that’s pretty different from the smoky, sweet, and tangy flavors of barbecue sauce. While it’s delicious in its own right as a dipping sauce, I don’t think it goes with most of the dishes you’d use BBQ sauce in.
- Chili garlic sauce – this condiment is considerably hotter and more garlicky than most barbecue sauces, which could overpower the other flavors in your dish.
10 Best Barbecue Sauce substitutes + 3 To Avoid
- 2 cups ketchup
- ⅓ cup brown sugar, packed
- ⅓ cup dark molasses
- ½ cup white distilled vinegar
- ½ tsp smoked paprika
- ½ tsp chili powder
- ½ tsp cayenne powder
- ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ tsp ground allspice
- ¼ tsp ground coriander
- ¼ tsp ground cumin
- Combine all the ingredients in one bowl and mix until well incorporated.
- Use immediately or if serving as a dipping sauce, simmer over medium high heat for about five minutes. Store the excess sauce in a bottle.