The Memphis Barbecue Sauce

Memphis barbecue sauce is magic on ribs or pulled pork! Here are our favorite easy, flavor-packed, homemade barbecue sauce recipes from the barbecue pork capital of America.

The Memphis barbecue has evolved over many generations from recipes brought by the emigrants who settled on the banks of the great river trade port of Memphis, Tennessee.

The Memphis barbecue sauce is best known for its simplicity, and does not overwhelm the wonderful smoked flavor of the traditional barbecued pork.

Pork was the settler's meat staple, and each culture that migrated to Memphis brought their unique method of preparation. This often included a simple barbecue sauce (finishing sauce) to be applied by the folks during the feast.

Today a Memphis barbecue sauce includes the base ingredients of the original recipes, i.e., vinegar, mustard, pepper and tomato, and provides a barbecue sauce with a "Twang". It's not too sweet, too thick, too spicy, or too anything. Just darn good!

We believe that homemade barbecue sauce is just plain fun and that anybody can follow one of these traditional style barbecue sauce recipe ideas to secure your backyard barbecue fame.

The "Cookin' Cousins" (Bob and Jack) were raised in western America and were not introduced to the great Memphis barbecue until the 1980's. We love it all, but our experimentation with the sauce did not produce the same results the Memphis folks served, so....

We have "borrowed" some basic Memphis barbecue sauce recipes, and through some experimentation suggested from the Memphis natives, produced the Memphis barbecue sauce we love.

Experiment with ingredients to make it uniquely yours (as we have), follow our Barbecue Rub Secrets advice on spices, and enjoy the wonderful experience of a homemade barbecue sauce, Memphis style!

This first recipe is a classic Memphis style barbecue sauce that has all of the characteristics we like in a barbecue sauce, i.e.; it doesn't overwhelm the meat, and is delicious!

Memphis Barbecue Sauce I

  • 1 cup Ketchup
  • 1/2 cup Apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup White sugar (1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed, gives a richer flavor)
  • 1/2 tblsp Black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tblsp Cayenne (to your taste)
  • 3 tblsp Lemon juice (juice of one medium lemon)

Mix all ingredients, except Ketchup, until the sugar is dissolved. Add ketchup, bring to simmer and cook for about 20 minutes. Simple but great!

Here is a flavor packed recipe that can be adjusted to your heart's desire!

Memphis Barbecue Sauce II

  • 2 cups Ketchup
  • 2 Onions (yellow, medium, chopped fine)
  • 1 cup Apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup Brown sugar
  • 3 cloves Garlic, minced (a garlic press is magic!)
  • 1/2 tblsp ground Black pepper
  • 1/2 cup prepared Yellow mustard
  • 1/2 tsp Tabasco or Louisiana hot sauce

Mix all ingredients, except Ketchup, until the sugar is dissolved. Add ketchup, bring to simmer and cook for about 20 minutes.

Until the 19th century, molasses was the sweetener most used. It was much cheaper than refined sugar, and offered considerably more flavor to recipes. Here is a recipe that gives a more traditional barbecue sauce experience. We love it.

Memphis Barbecue Sauce III

  • 1 cup Ketchup
  • 1/2 cup Molasses
  • 1/4 cup Apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup prepared yellow mustard
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 Clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 tsp. ground Black pepper
  • 1/4 to1/2 tsp Tabasco or Louisiana hot sauce

You can just blend the ingredients, and serve. Simmering the sauce for about 15 to 20 minutes will enhance the flavor.

Now here is a delightful variation to the previous recipes. It's got the "twang"!

Memphis Barbecue Sauce IV

  • 1 15 oz. can Tomato sauce
  • 2/3 cup Apple cider vinegar
  • 2/3 cup Brown sugar, firmly-packed
  • 2 tblsp Butter
  • 1 tblsp prepared yellow mustard
  • 1 Onion, medium, finely chopped
  • 2 Garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tblsp Chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground Black pepper

Mix all ingredients, except butter, until the sugar is dissolved, add butter, bring to simmer. Cook for about 20 minutes.

What we have learned...

  1. Cook it low. As with our barbecued meat, we have learned to simmer sauces rather than using the popular method of "bring to a boil, then..." The ingredients blend with a lot less chance of overheating, and ruining your effort.
  2. Write it down! We have all made that great dish everybody just loved, and have no clue to exactly what we added!
  3. Use fresh ingredients. Follow our Barbecue Rub Secrets advice on spices to attain the results of the "pros".
  4. Use non-reactive cookware for mixing, and the saucepan for cooking. We are basically referring to any cookware made of stainless steel, enameled ironware, glass (like Corning Ware), or plastic (for mixing). Do not use aluminum or copper cookware, for mixing or cooking, as tomato based ingredients, as well as chili powder and hot sauce, will chemically react with these soft metals, changing the flavor and color in a nasty way.
  5. Refrigerate! All barbecue sauce is perishable (yes, even the bottled versions) and must be refrigerated for longevity. Any leftover sauce made with fresh ingredients such as onion, garlic, butter, etc. will spoil more rapidly, so keep track of that stuff!

Lets Barbecue!

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