Beer BBQ sauce

I’ve enjoyed making my own condiments, and many of these have been blogged about. I’ve tried my own BBQ sauces on a number of occasions, usually the result of playing with the braise a meat has been slowly cooking away in. One of my favorite vehicles for this is Gordon Ramsay’s BBQ Spare ribs recipe in his World Kitchen book (ISBN-10 55470-199-6) – page 243. It involves a LOT of sauce, and wonderfully complex flavors.

We (my son and I) decided to do ribs for dinner but we did have different approaches to it. He wanted to wrap them up in tin foil and bake them – more or less in their own juices – slowly for a number of hours, then finish them on the BBQ. I had more or less an opposite approach – the Ramsay big liquid braise. We did a combination of both. I pointed out that there was an oven conflict: I needed to bake bread and squash – and suggested using a crock pot.

We cut the ribs into portion sizes – 3-4 bones a serving. The ribs were also briefly cured: 1.5% salt (weigh the ribs, use 1.5% of the weight as your salt and sugar quantities), sugar, pepper, cloves. They went in the crock-pot at 250F/120C with a good amount of the braising liquid on the bottom and slathered on top. After 90 minutes, they were definitely done. Until they went on the BBQ they were kept warm in the braise at about 150F/65C.

But its all about the sauce as far as I was concerned. I wanted a supply of amazing home-made BBQ sauce, but I also wanted to play with it – notably I had a failed stout a while ago and am always looking for ways to use it in cooking. Off course when you add beer to something like this in significant proportions, it does tend to change everything. It definitely did so here – so much so that the Ramsay recipe became a launching point for a new recipe.

Here’s Ramsay’s recipe first:

2 litres water
2 tbsp tomato paste1½ medium onions, peeled and thickly sliced
4 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
3/4 tsp whole black peppercorns
5 whole cloves
2 dried red chillis
6 racks (approx. 550g each) of pork spareribs (each 18-20cm long, 6 ribs per rack)
For the barbecue glaze
4 tbsp dark molasses
2 onion, finely chopped

4 tbsp runny honey
2 tbsp English mustard
2 tbsp cider vinegar

A few dashes of tabasco

Juice of 1 lemon
1. In a large saucepan add the water, tomato paste, onions, garlic, peppercorns, cloves and chilli. Bring to the boil and simmer rapidly for 15 minutes.
2. Add the ribs making sure they are covered (if not add more water) and bring back up to a gentle simmer. Simmer for approx 45 minutes, adding more water if it reduces too much. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
3. Meanwhile place 300ml of the liquid from the ribs in a small saucepan. Boil the liquid until reduced by half. Add the molasses, chopped onion mustard, vinegar, hot sauce, lemon and salt. Stir over the heat to combine thoroughly. Brush this mixture liberally over the blanched ribs.
4. Cook the ribs on a barbecue or grill for approximately 1-2 minutes each side until well coloured.
©Gordon Ramsay 200[8]. All rights reserved

After considerable tasting and adding and generally having fun experimenting using his recipe as a base, here is what I came up with:

Home Cook Explorer’s Beer BBq Sauce


1st set – the braising liquid

  • 1L stout or ale (if you have a choice, use a less hoppy brew)
  • 500ml soup stock
  • 300ml tomato sauce
  • 200 ml tomato paste
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 4 cloves, mashed
  • 3/4 tsp peppercorns
  • 1/8 tsp – a pinch – red chili flakes
  • 2 tbs sugar
  • 100 ml maple syrup
  • 50-100ml honey, to taste – according to the hoppiness of the beer.
  • 1-2 tsp salt – but add to taste


2nd set

  • 60 ml molasses
  • 100g honey
  • 30 g English mustard
  • 1 lemon
  • Worcestershire sauce – to taste – about 100ml


  1. In a large saucepan add the beer, tomato sauce, soup stock, 100ml honey, 2 tbsp sugar, 100ml maple syrup, salt, tomato paste, onions, garlic, peppercorns, cloves and chilli.
  2. Taste – particularly for salt and sweetness. The more hoppy your beer is the more it needs to be countered by sugar and salt. It should taste adequately salty, and slightly sweet.
  3. Bring to the boil and simmer rapidly for 15 minutes.
  4. At this point in the process this can be used as a braising liquid for your ribs or whatever you are BBQing.The meat should be held at 185F/85C for about 90 minutes. This could be in the oven (set to about 225F/107C), a crock pot with temperature control, stovetop (suggest using a pot in boiling water and a thermostat) or sous vide cooker
  5. Add all remaining ingredients (molasses, worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, remaining honey, mustard.)
  6. Bring to a boil for several minutes, then using an immersion blender, thoroughly puree the sauce.
  7. Taste for saltiness, sweetness and acidity. Start with salt: it should not have a distinct salty taste – but the salt should enhance the inevitable complexity. There are 3 types of sugar in it already, so if it needs more, add whatever feels good in the moment – a little at a time. Finally, there should be sufficient acid tang from the tomatoes, beer, and lemon. If more is required, try a splash of balsamic vinegar or apple cider vinegar until it feels right.
  8. Return to a boil and reduce for about 10 minutes, stirring often to ensure it does not stick. It should become thick.
  9. Take off the boil and serve or can it.
  10. If canning, follow your usual water bath protocols. In 250ml containers it should be boiled (assuming sauce is already north of 150F/65C) for about 10-12 minutes. This quantity will make between 1-1.5L depending on the amount of reduction.

Some final thoughts….

Well that was fun. I hardly expected it would evolve this way. Previously I had thought that the braising process was absolutely integral to the making of the sauce. It arguably is, as in the braising, the fat is rendered into the sauce, and contributes its own fullness, complexity and wonderful flavour. Because of the boiling and pureeing, the fat is fully emulsified into the sauce, and so you won’t get a fat layer on top.

The pureeing process is different than what Ramsay describes. His instructions are to strain the braising liquid. I did try that with a cup of it, and thought to myself, “this looks like wonderfully tasty stuff in the strainer, and the liquid left over looks pretty thin.” So back into the sauce it went, and out came the immersion blender. It should be noted that his purpose in doing this was to get a smooth glaze, and not to make bbq sauce.

My son made an interesting comment when tasting it. He is a BBQ sauce aficionado, but relies on commercial stuff. He noted that it is much more complex, and also less sweet. He said that it really needs to go on the meat for its complexity to shine through. The commercial sauces are apparently so sweet they can be eaten on their own. I’ll have to take his word on that. The complexity is clear: the molasses, maple syrup, cloves, beer malts, hops and tomato are all strong tastes on their own.

The other interesting learning here is that there are multiple ways to prepare ribs. The keys to it are flavoring – the cure or braise the meat is in before and during cooking – and the temperature/how long. It needs to be beyond 180F/82C for the meat to soften and detach from the bone, but it can’t cook too long or else you have pulled pork. Please see Stefan’s excellent blogs covering these issues. And

Next Steps

Since this was definitely experimental, the quantities here are more suggested than firm. Next time I feel the BBQ sauce urge, I’ll start by replicating this, and see what tweaks are needed, and record the results. I’m reasonably confident that it will work well and be replicable as is.  These quantities yielded about 2L of sauce. Perhaps if you try this you can comment on what modifications you made to it.

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