You’ll love this homemade barbecue sauce on your pulled pork, ribs, chicken, and more. Learn how to create and preserve delicious barbecue sauce with this water bath canning recipe.
Avoid artificial ingredients and high fructose corn syrup in store-bought bottles by creating your own barbecue sauce with fresh vegetables from your backyard vegetable garden or local farmers’ market.
This recipe features ripe tomatoes, crisp celery, zesty peppers, savory onions, and pungent garlic blended with apple cider vinegar, smoked paprika, and other spices for a delectably sweet, spicy, and smoky sauce. Once simmered to perfection, we’ll preserve it into shelf-stable mason jars using a water bath canner so you can enjoy it year-round.
Tips for Canning Barbecue Sauce
This recipe will guide you through making your very own homemade barbecue sauce using fresh ingredients. Here are tips to help your canning session go smoothly:
Allow for Plenty of Time
Like most sauce recipes, creating this barbecue sauce requires time and patience, but the result is a mouthwatering condiment bursting with flavor. The sauce-making process involves several steps to ensure the best taste and thickness.
First, the vegetables are prepped, cooked until soft, then puréed and simmered to evaporate moisture. Then the rest of the ingredients are added, and the sauce is slow cooked until thick. Only then is it ready to be put into jars and processed in a water bath canner for shelf-stable jars.
While most of the cooking time involved is hands-off, you should give yourself about 3 to 4 hours to make, simmer, and can the barbecue sauce.
About the Ingredients
Like any preserving recipe, high-quality ingredients will produce a good-quality canned barbecue sauce. Select ripe, disease-free, and firm vegetables with no blemishes or major insect damage. Here are guidelines for choosing quality main ingredients for this recipe:
Any variety can be used, including paste, cherry, or slicing tomatoes. A mix of different types will give you a well-rounded flavored barbecue sauce:
- Paste tomatoes, also called sauce or plum tomatoes, have dense, dry flesh and few seeds, making them perfect for simmering into a thick sauce. Roma, San Marzano, and Amish Paste are my favorites.
- Cherry and grape tomatoes may be small, but they are flavorful. Cherry tomatoes have a sweet flavor and come in red, yellow, and orange colors. Grape tomatoes have a more meaty texture that produces a nice thick sauce. They are time-consuming to peel, so keep that in mind.
- Slicing tomatoes are larger tomatoes typically eaten fresh or sliced and enjoyed on a sandwich. They are more watery than paste tomatoes but are filled with flavor. If you use slicing tomatoes, you may need to simmer the sauce a little longer to thicken it.
Peppers and Chiles
This recipe uses a mix of sweet bell peppers and jalapeño chilies. However, this is where you can get creative and make this recipe your own by exchanging the type of peppers. If you prefer a spicier sauce, swap some bell peppers with hot peppers, like habaneros or Serrano chiles. Just be sure not to exceed the total amount of peppers listed, as this could make the sauce unsafe for canning.
You can use any variety of bulb onions in this recipe, including red, yellow, or white.
Use commercial vinegar with 5% acidity. Vinegar is required to adjust the recipe’s acidity so it is safe for canning. This recipe uses apple cider vinegar, which is made from fermented apples and adds a nice tangy and fruity flavor to the barbecue sauce.
You can safely swap out the apple cider vinegar with white vinegar. White vinegar is clear vinegar made by distilling corn and rye. Choose an organic brand to avoid genetically modified corn.
We swapped the plain paprika called for in the recipe with smoked paprika to add a delicious earthy, smokiness to the barbecue sauce. Smoked paprika, also called pimenton or smoked Spanish paprika, is made from pimiento peppers that are smoked over an oak fire, dried, and ground into a fine powder.
How to Measure the Vegetables
The recipe relies on chopped cup measurements of tomatoes, celery, onions, and peppers. These ingredients need to be chopped around the same size so they can be measured accurately in measuring cups, and the ratio of ingredients is the same.
Wash, peel, seed, and chop your tomatoes, peppers, and onions one at a time, and then measure them separately. I love using a vegetable chopper for this task. It dices firm vegetables into 1/4-inch pieces quickly and evenly. If you don’t have a chopper, use a knife or pulse the vegetables in a food processor.
If you are using a food processor, pulse each ingredient separately, add to the measuring cup, and chop more if needed to equal the amount required for the recipe. You want uniform chunks, not a purée.
Ways to Purée the Sauce
In order to be puréed into a smooth sauce, the vegetable must be cooked first. Once the vegetables are soft, there are several ways to blend the vegetable with kitchen gadgets:
With any method you choose, let the sauce cool slightly before blending so you do not get burned. Work in small batches until all the sauce is puréed.
Steps to Make and Can Barbecue Sauce
While there are numerous recipes for making barbecue sauce, if you are preserving the sauce in shelf-stable jars, it is important to follow a formulated and scientifically tested recipe to ensure it is safe for home canning.
This homemade bbq sauce recipe is from the So Easy to Preserve book, and is simply called, “Barbecue Sauce.” A similar recipe can also be found in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving under the name, “Sombrero Barbecue Sauce”. You can store the BBQ sauce in the freezer if you make changes to the recipe or wish to avoid going through the canning process.
If this is your first time canning, or if you haven’t canned in a while, it may be helpful to review these article on Principles of Home Canning and Using Boiling Water Canners at the National Center for Home Food Preservation website.
The full recipe is at the bottom of this article, but here are the detailed steps to making barbecue sauce from fresh ingredients and home canning it into shelf-stable jars for your food storage shelves.
Step 1: Gather Your Kitchen and Canning Equipment
You’ll need the following:
- Water bath canner and canning rack
- 4 pint sized canning jars or 8 half-pint canning jars
- Canning lids and bands
- Canning tools: jar lifter, canning ladle, funnel, and bubble popper
- Spice bag or coffee filter and kitchen twine
- Gloves for handling hot peppers
- Food processor, blender, or stick blender to purée the sauce
- Basic kitchen supplies including a large non-reactive saucepan, large prep bowls, a knife, cutting board, measuring cups, large spoon, and kitchen towels.
Step 2: Prepare the Vegetables
- Tomatoes: Wash the tomatoes well under cool running water and air dry on kitchen towels. Skin the tomatoes by dipping them in boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds or until the skins split, then plunging in cold water. Once the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, remove the peeling, cut out any hard cores, scoop out the seeds, and chop your tomatoes into 1/4-inch pieces. Measure the chopped tomatoes and add 4 quarts (16 cups) to your large saucepot. See How to Peel Tomatoes for a full tutorial.
- Celery: Rinse the celery well under running water. Pull off the stalks and rub your thumbs along the ribs to remove soil and residue. Trim off the tops and ends, and dice into 1/4 inch pieces. Measure 2 cups of chopped celery and add to the pot.
- Onions: Remove the skins and use a sharp knife to cut the ends off the onions. Chop into 1/4-inch pieces. Measure 2 cups of diced onions and add to the pot.
- Peppers: Wash the peppers under cool running water. Cut off the stems, and remove the membranes and seeds. Dice the peppers into 1/4-inch pieces. Measure 1 1/2 cups of chopped peppers and add them to the pot.
- Jalapeños: Wash the jalapeño chiles and slip on gloves to avoid burning your hands with the pepper juices. Remove the stem ends, finely chop the chiles, and add to the pot. You can remove the seeds if you don’t like the texture.
- Garlic: Peel the garlic, mince fine, and add to the pot.
Step 3: Cook and Purée the Vegetables
Stir to combine the tomatoes, celery, onions, peppers, and garlic. Bring the pot to a simmer over low heat and cook until the vegetables are soft, about 10 to 20 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.
Once the vegetables are soft, turn off the heat and let them cool slightly, and then blend the vegetables using a food mill, food strainer, blender, food processor, or handheld stick blender. Return the mixture to the large pot.
Step 4: Simmer the Sauce
Bring the blended sauce to a simmer again over low heat and continue cooking until the volume reduces by half, about 1 hour. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.
While the sauce is simmering, add the peppercorns to a spice bag or coffee filter and tie off. Combine the brown sugar, powdered mustard, paprika, salt, and cayenne pepper in a small bowl, and set aside.
Once the vegetable mixture is reduced by half, add the spice bag, brown sugar mixture, hot sauce, and vinegar to the pot. Stir to combine and continue simmering until the mixture thickens to the consistency of catsup, about 1 to 2 hours. As the mixture cooks, stir occasionally to prevent sticking.
Step 5: Prepare the Canning Equipment
While the sauce is simmering, prepare your canning equipment. Wash the canning jars, lids, and tools in warm, soapy water and rinse well.
Place the jar rack into the water bath canner, set the jars in the canner, and fill the canner with enough water to cover the jars. Bring the canner to simmer (180˚F) for 10 minutes, and keep warm.
Step 6: Can the Barbecue Sauce
Use the jar lifter to remove a hot jar from the canner, pour the water back into the pot, and place it on a dry kitchen towel. Keep the remaining jars in the canner so they stay warm.
Remove the spice bag of peppercorns and discard. Then use the funnel and ladle to fill the jar with barbecue sauce while leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Run the bubble popper through the jar to remove air bubbles, and clean the rim with a damp towel. Center a lid on the jar, place the band over the cover, and screw it on until fingertip tight. Place the jar back into the canner, and repeat with the rest of the jars.
Adjust the water level to cover the tops of the jars by about 2 inches, then cover and bring the canner to a boil over medium-high heat. Once it boils vigorously, set the timer, and process the jars for the times indicated in the recipe below, adjusting for your elevation.
Once the processing time is complete, turn off the heat, remove the cover, and let the canner cool for 5 minutes. Then use the jar lifter to remove the jars, place them on a dry towel, and let them cool completely for 12 to 24 hours. Test the seals, label, date, and store the jars in a cool, dark location for 12 to 18 months.
Ways to Use Barbecue Sauce
Once you open the jar, feel free to enhance the flavors according to your preferences. You have the creative freedom to elevate the taste profile by incorporating extra elements like rich molasses, the savory depth of Worcestershire sauce, the zing of Dijon mustard, the umami richness of soy sauce, a touch of fiery essence through red pepper flakes, or even fine-tune the sweetness with the delightful addition of honey or an extra hint of sugar.
Barbecue sauce is a versatile condiment that you can use in so many ways, including as a dipping sauce, glaze, a sandwich spread, and of course, for brushing on your favorite grilled meats and vegetables.
- Baste grilled meats and veggies to add lots of sweet and smoky flavor.
- Top a burger in place of ketchup.
- Toss it with crispy baked chicken wings to add a delicious sticky coating.
- Add a sweet and savory glaze to meatloaf.
- Use it in place of pizza sauce for a BBQ chicken pizza.
- Use as a dipping sauce for finger foods, including chicken fingers, French fries, and onion rings.
- Mix it with pulled pork for a delicious BBQ pulled pork sandwich.
- Simmer with homemade meatballs in a slow cooker for a sweet and savory flavor.
Homemade Barbecue Sauce Canning Recipe
- 16 cups peeled, cored, seeded chopped tomatoes about 8 pounds before prep
- 2 cups chopped celery about 3 stalks
- 2 cups chopped onions about 2 medium
- 1 1/2 cups chopped sweet red or green peppers about 3 medium
- 2 medium jalapeños, seeded and chopped about 3 inches long
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 1 cup light brown sugar or dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon dried yellow mustard powder
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce optional
- 1 1/4 cups apple cider vinegar 5% acidity
Cook and Purée the Vegetables:
- Add the prepared tomatoes, celery, onions, bell peppers, jalapenos, and garlic to a large sauce pot.
- Bring the pot to a simmer over medium-low heat and cook until the vegetables are soft, about 10 to 20 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.
- Once the vegetables are soft, turn off the heat and let it cool slightly, and then blend the vegetables using a food mill, food strainer, blender, food processor, or handheld stick blender. Return the mixture to the large pot.
Simmer the BBQ Sauce:
- Bring the blended sauce to a simmer over low heat and cook until the volume reduces by half, about 1 hour. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.
- While the sauce is simmering, add the peppercorns to a spice bag or coffee filter, tie it off and set aside.
- Combine the brown sugar, powdered mustard, paprika, salt, and cayenne pepper in a small bowl and set aside.
- Once the sauce is reduced by half, add the spice bag, brown sugar mixture, hot sauce, and vinegar to the pot.
- Stir to combine and continue simmering until the mixture thickens to the consistency of catsup, about 1 to 2 hours or longer. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.
Prepare the Canning Equipment:
- Wash the canning jars, lids, screw bands, and tools in warm, soapy water and rinse well under clean water.
- Place the canning rack into the water bath canner, place the jars in the canner, and add water to cover. Bring the canner to a simmer (180˚F) for 10 minutes, and keep the jars warm until you are ready to fill them.
Fill the Jars:
- Spread a dry kitchen towel on the counter. Remove a jar from the canner with the jar lifter, drain it, and place it on the towel. Keep the remaining jars in the canner so they stay hot.
- Use the canning funnel and ladle to fill the jar with hot barbecue sauce leaving 1/2-inch headspace.
- Run the bubble popper through to release any trapped air, then wipe the rim with a clean, damp towel to remove any residue.
- Center a lid on the jar, place the band over it, and screw it on until fingertip tight. Place the jar back into the canner, and repeat with the rest of the jars.
Process in a Water Bath Canner:
- Once the filled jars are all in the canner, adjust the water level so it is at least 2 inches above the tops of the jars.
- Cover the canner and bring it to a boil over high heat. Once the water boils vigorously, process both half-pints and pints for 20 minutes at altitudes of less than 1,000 ft. (adjust processing time for your altitude if necessary - See notes below).
- When the processing time is complete, turn off the heat, and let the canner cool and settle for about 5 minutes.
- Spread a dry kitchen towel on the counter. Carefully remove the cover by tilting the lid away from you so steam does not burn your face.
- Use the jar lifter to remove the hot jars from the canner and place them on the towel.
- Let the jars sit undisturbed for 12 to 24 hours to cool. Don't tighten bands or check the seals yet.
- After 12 to 24 hours, check to be sure the lids are sealed by pushing on the center. The cover should not pop up. If the top flexes up and down, it failed to seal. Refrigerate the jar and use it up within a week.
- Remove the screw-on bands and wash, label, and date the jars. Store the barbecue sauce in a cool, dark place and use it within 18 months for the best quality. After opening, store any leftovers in the refrigerator and use up with a week. Yields about 8 half-pint or 4 pint-size jars.
Good planning is key to a successful vegetable garden
Whether you are new to growing your own food or have been growing a vegetable garden for years, you will benefit from some planning each year. You will find everything you need to organize and plan your vegetable garden in my PDF eBook, Grow a Good Life Guide to Planning Your Vegetable Garden.