By now, I am pretty sure you all know of my borderline-masochistic love of making my own nut butters, dips, and condiments from scratch, rather than plucking a ready made bottle off of the shelf at the grocery store and being done with it. As far as the condiments category goes, BBQ sauce seemed like a perfect candidate to celebrate and take full advantage of each of these last warm, sunny bonus days of summer. At least it did, when I started working on this recipe a couple of weeks ago. Now, it’s cool and grey and windy. Yesterday it rained. To most normal people, barbecue season is a fading memory, and it would have probably made much more sense for me to post this recipe earlier in the summer, but how predictable is that??? I like to keep you on your toes.
Plus, this recipe is not so much a summer grilling celebration as a love letter to my slow cooker (née crockpot), whose willingness to provide delicious food for my household without so much as a stir – let alone a stove and the attention that kind of a recipe demands – from me. I’ve never been more in love with a household appliance*. It can literally make nearly anything. I’ve done meat, vegetables, soup, and now sauce. I want to try to roast a chicken and vegetables in it, because why not, and then I have some crockpot dessert ideas. Does anyone else mind if this period of ovenless-ness turns into an over-the-top crockpotstravaganza? Just kidding, I wouldn’t do that to you, but I am kind of having a moment with my crockpot right now.
And a sauce moment! Oh my gosh, this sauce. If ever there were a recipe to gush over … well, look, I can’t pick favorites. My recipes are like my children: I love them all equally. No, that’s a bold-faced lie. I love this sauce like a parent loves their favorite child. Except my dad, who loves the dog most (I’m not offended. I can’t compete with two pointy ears and an enthusiastic tail. I mean, I’m not one to talk…). Here’s the thing about it: It’s easy, and it tastes fantastic. You literally throw everything in the crockpot, give is a quick stir and leave it to percolate into thick, saucy goodness.
I set out to make this recipe for one major reason, and that was sugar. Store-bought barbecue sauces either cost and arm and a leg for the small batch super-premium kind or are affordable and accessible but contain mostly sugar and high fructose corn syrup. I wanted to make a recipe that was not only naturally sweetened with the natural sugars of the tomatoes plus a touch of unrefined sweetener (molasses works best, but you can also use maple syrup if you prefer) and that’s exactly what distinguishes this recipe.
There is one unconventional (at least in my kitchen) ingredient in this sauce, which you can absolutely feel free to skip, and that’s the liquid smoke. Liquid smoke is available at major grocery stores near the barbecue sauces and it is exactly what it sounds like: a liquid flavoring agent that lends the deep, smoky flavor to the sauce that you probably expect. However, it does contain a touch of sugar, and “hickory smoke flavor” – which I assume is likely artificial – so I would certainly understand if you weren’t comfortable adding that to your otherwise-clean sauce. Personally, I felt that the tiny bit that the recipe calls for was worth the flavor bump it provides. Plus, my husband wouldn’t eat it the sauce without the smokiness! He was right though; it was delicious. If you opt to leave out the liquid smoke, I highly recommend increasing (probably doubling) the spices, and making sure to use the smokiness paprika and chili powder you can find.
Whether or not you go for liquid smoke or extra spices, make sure you have a batch on this on hand for next week, so you can make a delicious (easy!!) dinner recipe that I have in store for you.
*I reserve the right to re-evaluate this statement when my new stove arrives.
Updated to add: A few readers have asked what size and model slow cooker that I used for this, because it has some bearing on cooking time. This 4-quart model is the one I use.
- 2 cups unflavored not crushed tomatoes, unsalted tomato puree
- 3/4 cups white or apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons molasses
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
- 1 Tablespoon dijon mustard
- 1 Tablespoon chili powder The smokier the better if you're not using the liquid smoke
- 2 teaspoons liquid smoke Optional
- 1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon paprika sweet or smoky, though smoky is recommended if you're not using the liquid smoke
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
In the bowl of a 4 quart crockpot (this is the one I use), stir together the tomato puree, vinegar, molasses, tamari and mustard until combined.
Whisk in the remaining ingredients.
Cook, uncovered, on high for 3 1/2 - 4 hours until thickened and darkened in color.
Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a month, or in the freezer for up to 6 months.
There is one unconventional (at least in my kitchen) ingredient in this sauce, which you can absolutely feel free to skip, and that's the liquid smoke. Liquid smoke is available at major grocery stores near the barbecue sauces and it is exactly what it sounds like: a liquid flavoring agent that lends the deep, smoky flavor to the sauce. However, it does contain a touch of sugar, and "hickory smoke flavor" - which I assume is likely artificial - so I would certainly understand if you weren't comfortable adding that to your otherwise-clean sauce. Personally, I felt that the tiny bit that the recipe calls for was worth the flavor bump it provides. If you opt to leave out the liquid smoke, I highly recommend increasing (probably doubling) the spices, and making sure to use the smokiness paprika and chili powder you can find.
Yield: 1 1/2 - 2 cups sauce