Sauce-up all of your grilled meals with a sweet and fruity variation of summer’s favorite condiment.
sl- Honey Barbecue Sauce
Credit: Greg DuPree; Prop Styling: Kay E. Clarke; Food Styling: Cat Steele

My family members are habitual party people. Every milestone in life is an excuse to throw a party and, particularly in the warmer months, light up the grill. Like most families, we typically reach for the convenience of store-bought barbecue sauce to slather on ribs, chicken, and hotdogs. For years, various bottled barbecue sauces have been the spring and summer condiment of choice in my house. However, since I discovered just how easy it is to make a homemade version with ingredients I already keep stocked in my pantry, I just haven’t been able to go back to my past, pre-made ways.

To bring my barbecue sauces to new levels of flavor, I began to incorporate seasonal fruits into the mix. Fruit adds a natural sweetness, lends pectin to help create a thick consistency, and also add a nice pop of color and personality to your barbecue sauce. You have ample freedom when it comes to which fruits to use. I recommend opting for the season’s freshest fruits from the market, such as strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, or cherries. However, jams, jellies and frozen fruits are also viable ingredients you can use to achieve an authentic fruity flavor in your sauce.

At this point, I truly prefer my barbecue sauce to be a balance of sweet, tangy, and (of course) fruity. I know there are barbecue purists out there that may not agree, but incorporating fruit adds an unexpected depth of flavor that will (pleasantly) surprise anyone that tastes it. To get started on a custom batch of barbecue sauce at home, you can follow a simple formula and swap out the fruits depending on what you are feeling.

The Base

The base of all barbecue sauces I make starts with tomatoes. The tomatoes can be in the form of ketchup, tomato paste, or crushed tomatoes; however, for ease and simplicity, ketchup is the way to go. In a medium saucepan, add about 1 to 1 ½ cups of ketchup to start your sauce.

Next, let’s add some acid. Vinegar gives the sauce a tangy and slightly pungent flavor that balances out the sweetness from the fruits and added sugar. Apple cider vinegar is my vinegar of choice for BBQ sauce because of its robust, not overly-sharp, flavor. However, you can use other vinegars such as rice wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, or balsamic vinegar if you prefer. The addition of fresh lemon juice also provides an acidic brightness in the same way that vinegar does. Depending on how tangy you prefer your sauce, add about 2 to 3 tablespoons of vinegar or fresh lemon juice (or a mix of the two).

To provide a salty, umami layer to your all-purpose, fruity barbecue sauce, add about 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire or soy sauce to the base. These savory flavor agents balance the sharp acid and cut the richness of the ketchup.

Lastly, the addition of a sweetener will enhance the natural sweetness in the fruits. Honey, brown sugar, granulated sugar, and agave nectar are all fine options, and will additionally help balance the acid. Each sugar source offers a different intensity of sweetness, so add between 2 tablespoons and 1/4 cup of your sweetener depending on preference. (Keep in mind, the ketchup contributes sweetness as well, so start with a small amount and work your way up.)

The Fruits

As mentioned, there are a few ways to incorporate fruit into your sauce. When using fresh fruits, go for about 1 cup—small berries can be left whole, but cut larger fruits into small pieces. You’ll want to simmer the fresh fruit with your sauce base in a medium saucepan over low heat until the fruits have softened; this will take about 10 to 15 minutes. Again, don’t be afraid to experiment with your many options. I love to use peaches when they are in season. Fresh mango, pineapple, apricots, rhubarb, and plum are also delightful options to turn into a sauce. If you go with frozen fruit, try to thaw them completely before incorporating into your barbecue sauce to reduce thinning it out with excess water.

As the fruits simmer, they will start to break down. Allow the mixture to cool for about 5 minutes before processing it in a high-speed blender or using an immersion blender to puree until smooth. The sauce will retain heat while blending, therefore, if you’re using a stand blender, remove the center insert in the lid to vent the hot steam and use a clean washcloth to cover the opening.

If you opt for a more concentrated fruit flavor using jams, jellies or preserves, you can reduce (or eliminate) your added sweetener in the base and simmer about ½ cup of the jam with the other base ingredients. Orange marmalade yields an excellent citrus flavor without the pithy tartness of using a fresh orange. Also consider trying grape, apple, or boysenberry jams.

If you are making fruity barbecue sauces for a weekend cookout or celebratory event, double or triple the ingredient amounts to make a larger batch. Store the remaining sauce in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.