In a perfect world, we’d all make our own from-scratch barbecue sauce, designed perfectly to compliment whatever you’re grilling. But realistically, sometimes you just don’t have time to make it from scratch. While there are some bottled barbecue sauces that are great right out of the bottle (and they’re definitely the smarter option), the truth is that they can be hard to find and sometimes pretty expensive if you grill a lot.
But that doesn’t mean that you have to compromise. If you don’t mind a bit of tinkering and experimenting, you can make even the mediocre premade BBQ sauce taste delicious. The trick is all in understanding your preferred flavor profile and how to alter it. Each region has an idea of what makes the definitive barbecue sauce but regardless as to which style of barbecue sauce you like, you can make some small adjustments to each store bought sauce to make it perfect.
Tips on altering bottled sauce
If you’re bound and determined to try and save that mediocre bottle of sauce that you bought at Walmart, then here are some things for you to keep in mind:
- Only alter a little at a time, that way if you over-add it can be corrected
- Raw and caramelized BBQ sauce taste slightly different
- Consider using a combination of sauces
Remember that the better quality your base sauce is, the easier it will be to alter it to improve the flavor. If you start with a terrible sauce, it may simply not be worth the effort to fix it.
How to correct bottled barbecue sauce
Once you’re ready to get started and know what flavor profile you’re aiming for, here are some ideas for things to add to improve the taste:
To tone down the sweetness
Most store BBQ sauces tend to be a little sweet. So if you’re trying to balance it, you’ll need to add something to cut through the sugar.
- Try adding some apple cider vinegar or rice vinegar. Start with a Tablespoon or so, mix well, and taste it.
To make it less tart or spicy
Sometimes a sauce will end up being too spicy or even have a terrible tart or bitter aftertaste. If that’s the case, you have several different options, depending on your preferred flavor profile.
- Try adding some molasses for a rich flavor, honey for a subtle sweetness, or brown sugar for a simple sweet taste. You may need to add some spices like garlic or cumin to help it blend properly.
To make it hotter
Some people argue that you can never have enough spicy flavoring. So, if you find that your sauce doesn’t have enough kick, then the solution is pretty self-evident; just be aware of the flavor profile as some types of hot sauce may not mix well.
- Try adding some basic Tabasco in half-teaspoon increments until it reaches the flavor you want. Depending on the type of barbecue sauce, sriracha may also work well.
To tone down the artificial smoke flavor
By far the most common sin of bottled barbecue sauce has to be an overabundance of liquid smoke. Too much of a good thing can be pretty horrific, but if you’re absolutely desperate to save the bottle, then adding some fruit and some spices can help sometimes.
- Try adding some fresh fruit juice to balance it out. Citrus works well in barbecue sauce; orange is common, but apple and pineapple are also popular. Make sure to also add either some hot or sweet flavor to it or else you’ll end up with a gross mess. Possiblities include hot sauce, honey, ginger, brown sugar, sriracha, etc. This will be a lot of trial and error to be prepared.
To make it more flavorful
Occasionally, you’ll get a sauce that is decent but, well, bland. While any of the above additives can fix it, another great choice is to add some spices to help make the flavors really shine.
- Try adding some barbecue sauce mix, or any other seasonings you like. Some popular choices include mustard, garlic powder, paprika, salt, or brown sugar. Worcestershire sauce is also a popular additive to help with the flavor.