When you think of barbecue sauce, you probably think of Kansas City-style barbecue sauce.
It’s smoky, sweet, and just thick enough to coat delicacies like pork ribs and burnt ends perfectly.
This recipe will walk you through how to make a classic, Kansas City-style barbecue sauce that will leave your guests begging for more.
What is Kansas City-style barbecue sauce?
Kansas City sauce is a tomato-heavy sauce with multiple sweeteners like molasses and brown sugar. It also contains a variety of spices, so you pick up a lot of different flavor notes depending on what meat you are pairing it with.
Kansas City barbecue can be traced back to the early 1900s and a man by the name of Henry Perry is widely accepted as the originator of Kansas City-style barbecue.
In the 1920s, Henry Perry started smoking meat in an outdoor pit next to his barn and served up portions of meat wrapped in humble newspaper. His food gained so much popularity that others quickly followed in his footsteps to put their own twist on his smoky classics.
I personally find Kansas City-style sauce to be best on smoked pork ribs, chopped beef, and of course, the famous Kansas City burnt ends.
One thing to keep in mind with Kansas City sauce is that it has a high sugar content and can quickly burn when cooked over hot coals.
It’s best to add the sauce in the final minutes of the cooking process or simply serve it on the side instead.
Ingredients you’ll need
- Crushed tomatoes – There is a debate on whether to use crushed tomatoes or tomato paste in a barbecue sauce. I prefer crushed tomatoes because they give the sauce a thinner consistency that is better for slathering on smoked meat.
- Ketchup – Sure, you can replicate store-bought ketchup with tomatoes, vinegar, and sugar, but I find that store-bought ketchup provides the perfect balance of flavor and consistency for this sauce.
- Brown sugar – Use either light or dark brown sugar, but I prefer to use light because I don’t want to overpower the sauce with too much molasses flavor, as I’ll be adding molasses as well.
- Molasses – There are a few different types of molasses out there and each provides a different flavor. Light molasses is boiled once, dark molasses is boiled twice, and Blackstrap molasses is boiled three times. For this recipe, I prefer to use the full flavor of unsulfured molasses because it provides the perfect balance of sweetness to brighten up the sauce.
- Apple cider vinegar – Vinegar provides the tangy acidity that helps balance the sweetness of the brown sugar and molasses. You can also use distilled white vinegar or even rice vinegar, but I prefer the flavor of apple cider vinegar for this recipe.
- Spices/Seasonings – I like to use a generous dose of smoked paprika for a bit of smokiness, along with salt, pepper, chili powder, garlic powder, and ground mustard. If you want extra heat, add a teaspoon of cayenne pepper.
Tools you’ll need
- Medium-sized saucepan or pot – You need a saucepan or a pot that is at least 2 quarts. I like to use a pan because I find that the sauce will come to a boil faster, but a pot is also perfectly fine. Make sure that you choose one with a lid, as the sauce needs to simmer with the lid on for about 20 minutes.
- Large spoon or silicone spatula – Whatever spoon or utensil you usually use when making a sauce will work perfectly for this recipe. I like to use a silicone spatula (as opposed to a wooden spoon) because the sauce won’t stick to it.
- Wire whisk – You don’t absolutely need a whisk to mix your sauce, but I like to use one to make the process faster. This sauce whisk is a favorite of mine.
- Mason jar (or similar storage container) – You can store this sauce in the fridge for up to a week, so I recommend a container with a lid, as opposed to covering a bowl in plastic wrap. You want a container with a good seal to prevent your sauce from spoiling prematurely, so I find that mason jars are really the best vessel to store homemade barbecue sauce.
What to serve Kansas City-style barbecue sauce with
As I mentioned before, this is a thicker sauce with a definite sweet flavor. The sweetness can be a little overpowering for some proteins, so I find that it pairs best with robust meats that were seasoned with plenty of salt and pepper.
This sauce is perfect for things like burnt ends, pork ribs, and chopped beef.
Keep in mind that due to the high sugar content, this sauce is prone to burning so you don’t want to put it on the meat too early in the cooking process.
It’s best used as a finishing sauce or served alongside your food on the table.
Here are some great recipes that pair wonderfully with Kansas City-style sauce:
- Smoked baby back ribs
- The best brisket burnt ends
- Poor man’s burnt ends
- Pork butt burnt ends
- Hot dog burnt ends
Kansas City-style Barbecue Sauce
- 1 can crushed tomatoes 14 oz
- 1 cup ketchup
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- ½ cup molasses
- ½ cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 tbsp paprika
- 2 tsp black pepper course grind
- 2 tsp chili powder
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp mustard powder
- 1 tsp Kosher salt
- In a saucepan over medium heat, combine all the ingredients and bring the sauce to a soft boil, then reduce the heat and cover the pan.
- Allow the sauce to simmer for 20 minutes, then remove from the heat and let cool at room temperature.
- Serve immediately or transfer to a mason jar (or similar storage container) and store in the fridge for up to 1 week.