Sweet, Spicy, Smoky BBQ Sauce Recipe with a Dash of Bourbon

November 1, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton

I've been playing with fire and flavors for as long as I can remember. And trust me when I say I have a barbecue sauce recipe that's about to knock your socks off – the bourbon BBQ sauce

This is an all-rounder. I mean, it's sweet, spicy, and smoky. I like to add molasses and brown sugar for that sweet kick. Then you need some cayenne pepper and red pepper flakes for that fiery punch. Of course, you need a dash of bourbon whiskey and liquid smoke for that smokiness.

Slather it on ribs, chicken, or beef brisket, and watch your guests go wild. And guess what? You don't need a culinary degree like mine to whip this up. It's ridiculously easy to make. All you need is to mix them and simmer over medium-high heat. So, if you're looking for a delicious but versatile barbecue sauce, check out this recipe.

smoky bbq sauce

Bourbon BBQ Sauce Recipe


  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 tbsps bourbon whiskey (or more if you're feeling adventurous)
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsps Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (adjust to get your level of spiciness)
  • 1 tsp liquid smoke
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (you may adjust to your taste buds' preferences)
  • Salt and some black pepper (sprinkle to taste)
Ingredients of BBQ Sauce

Step-by-Step Directions

Step 1: Heat the Ketchup, Molasses and Brown Sugar in a Saucepan 

Grab a large saucepan and turn up the stove to medium heat. Throw in the ketchup, molasses, and brown sugar. Stir it all up until the sugar dissolves and everything becomes a lovely mixture.

Step 2: Introduce the Next Batch of Ingredients 

Time to add some excitement! Pour in the bourbon whiskey, Worcestershire sauce, cayenne pepper, Dijon mustard, garlic powder, apple cider vinegar, liquid smoke, onion powder, and red pepper flakes. Give it a good mix, making sure all the flavors are getting to know each other.

Step 3: Add the Remaining Ingredients 

Now, it's seasoning time! Add salt and black pepper to your liking. Remember, you can always add more heat by tossing in extra cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes if you want that extra spice kick.

Step 4: Let the Barbecue Sauce Simmer 

Reduce the medium heat to a gentle simmer and let the sauce simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent any stickiness or burning.

Step 5: Let the Sauce Cool 

Take the barbecue sauce off the heat and let it cool down to room temperature. As it cools, the flavors will start to mingle and create a mouthwatering symphony.

Step 6: Transfer to a Jar and Refrigerate 

Once it's all cool and groovy, transfer your smoky homemade BBQ sauce to an airtight container or jar. Pop it in the fridge for a few hours or even overnight to let those flavors mingle and dance.

Step 7: Apply on Your Dishes 

When you're ready to grill, take out the homemade barbecue sauce and slather it on your homemade BBQ. This hot sauce is great for ribs, pulled pork, chicken, or beef brisket. 

As a basting sauce, you can brush it on during the last few minutes of cooking. You can as well serve it as a dipping sauce on the side. The bourbon sauce also has enough acidity for marinating meat

If you have some leftovers, you can store BBQ sauce in the fridge up to two weeks.

Tip: Remember, this recipe is all about personalizing it to your liking. Feel free to experiment with the ingredients and spice levels. Ensure you keep them at a low temperature so they simmer without boiling or bubbling.

Why This Recipe is So Good?

I know what makes good BBQ sauces can be a little subjective. But here are reasons I think this barbecue sauce recipe is so darn good:

  • Flavor Bliss: Again, there's the mix of sweetness from molasses and brown sugar. There's also the slight tanginess from vinegar and mustard and, finally, the smokiness from liquid smoke and bourbon whiskey. All these create a taste symphony you don't often find in other sauces. 
  • Freedom to Spice Things Up: Would you like to control the heat in your barbecue sauce? You can adjust the cayenne pepper and red pepper flakes to your liking. Mild or fiery, it's up to you. This recipe lets you be the boss of your spice.
  • No Sweat Sauce: You don't need any cooking skills or experience. Just mix, simmer, and voila! You're done. You'd be spending more time grilling and chilling.
  • It's a Party Pleaser: This smoky bourbon BBQ sauce turns any meat into the ultimate BBQ sidekick. Apply it on whatever meat you've got, and watch your guests lose their minds. 
Hot BBQ Sauce on the Glass Bowl

What Type of Bourbon Whisky Should I Use?

I like to use the Bulleit bourbon whiskey whenever I can. But this is not a cheap product brand and may not be available everywhere. You may also try the Maker's Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky or use any whiskey of your liking. 

What Type of Liquid Smoke Works Best?

I use hickory liquid smoke like WRIGHT'S Hickory Liquid Smoke a lot in BBQ sauce recipes. The sweet but strong hickory flavor adds a delicious smokiness that elevates the taste of the sauce.

But I like to try different kinds too. My last batch was with pecans. It's something to try if you want smoky BBQ that tastes sweet and somewhat nutty. You may try Hickory first before trying some other varieties.

How to Adjust the Sauce to Your Liking?

You can easily adjust this sauce to have just enough flavor, savouriness, and a little sweetness.

Getting the Right Thickness

Are you a fan of thick sauces? You can make this thicker by simmering it down. As it evaporates, it thickens up. 

Another option is to mix one tablespoon of cornstarch with one tablespoon of cold water in a bowl. Then add it to the simmering sauce. 

But if you prefer it a bit thinner, no worries. Just mix in some water, apple juice, or apple cider vinegar. Water keeps the sauce neutral. Meanwhile, apple juice adds a touch of sweetness, and apple vinegar brings a tangy twist. It's your call. 

Balancing the Flavor

Finding that sweet, savory, and smoky harmony is the name of the game. Smoked paprika is a flavor superstar, but if you're fresh out, no problem. Chipotle chile still delivers that smoky goodness, albeit with a slightly milder taste.

Satisfying Your Sweet Tooth 

Craving more sweetness? Go ahead and amp it up. Play around with the molasses, brown sugar, or even a dollop of honey. This helps you to achieve the level of sugary bliss that makes your taste buds thank you.

Embracing the Tang

Are you a fan of tangy sauces? Then I'd say don't be shy with the vinegar. It adds a zing that complements the other flavors and takes the sauce to new heights of deliciousness.

Remember, this sauce is your culinary playground, and your kitchen is the lab. Experiment, taste, and tweak until it hits all the right notes for you. 

Beef Tacos with BBQ Sauce, Cilantro, and Lime


1. Is Sweet Baby Ray's smoky?

You bet! Sweet Baby Ray's knows their way around a smoky BBQ sauce. Sweet and smoky, they've got a lineup of delicious options, including the Hickory & Brown Sugar BBQ Sauce and the Sweet 'n Spicy. These sauces are crafted to give your grilled or smoked meats rich and smoky goodness. One taste, and you're hooked!

2. What is Smoky Barbecue Sauce Made of?

The secret ingredient of smoky BBQ sauce is liquid smoke or smoked ingredients like smoked paprika and smoked salt. 

Other ingredients include tomato paste or ketchup, a splash of vinegar for tang, sweeteners like molasses or brown sugar to balance things out, and spices such as paprika or chili powder for that extra kick.

Some like to pair the sauce with smoked cheese, smoked fish, or smoked tofu to give it that unmistakable smoky flavor.

3. What Makes BBQ Smoky?

That smoky flavor typically comes from the magic of smoke during the cooking process. Slow-cooking meat over low heat for hours while the wood chips or charcoal work their way in, infusing the meat with that irresistible smokiness. Ingredients like smoked paprika and liquid smoke used in the barbecue sauce and rub also contribute to the smoky taste. 

4. Where Did Smoky BBQ Sauce Originate?

Pinning down the exact birthplace of smoky BBQ sauce is like chasing smoke itself—it's tricky business. But here's what I know: this delicious concoction has roots in various barbecue traditions worldwide.


When it comes to BBQ sauces, everyone's got their favorite jam. But there's something different with smoky BBQ sauces, especially the bourbon flavor sauce I just shared. It takes your eats to a whole new level of unmatched boldness. The best part? You're the boss of your taste buds. You can customize it just the way you like.

And here's the sweet deal: whipping up this sauce is a breeze. In the time it takes to watch a funny cat video, you'll have this sauce simmering and seducing your senses. So, why not try this out and make your very own BBQ sauce? This can be the best BBQ sauce you made yourself.

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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