No question, a homemade BBQ sauce will kick the butt of most bottled sauces available. It takes time and an investment in ingredients though, so finding some shortcuts to boost the taste of the store sauces might be just the compromise between convenience and customization.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Add chipotle for a kick of heat and smoky goodness. A classic complement to chipotle is orange juice. You can stop there or make some more additions. Add some sweetness with honey and more chile complexity with ancho or pasilla chile powders.
Take a store-brand sauce and give it a Korean overhaul. A spoonful of galangal powder or Chinese 5-spice, a dash of fish sauce, a glug of rice vinegar and soya sauce plus a couple drops of sesame oil are transformative
Think heat, sweet and tang
Stir in some Epicentre Fire and Brimstone for a warm complex flavour or True North for south-west flavour with maple sweetness. Coffee/Chile steak rub is not just for steak; it will also bring the sweetness of brown sugar, the tartness of Worcestershire sauce and the unique flavour of Aleppo pepper. Roasted cumin adds a whole other dimension and smoked black pepper is right at home on the grill.
If you check the ingredients of bottled sauces you will likely find a whole lot of sugar. It is most often white sugar though which does a whole lot of sweet without the benefit of rich flavour. If you find the sauce could use more sweetness or is overly spicy or tart, add some brown sugar, maple syrup, molasses and/or honey.
Balance the sweetness of off-the-shelf sauces with the addition of vinegar. Apple cider vinegar is the standard in barbecue sauces but rice vinegar can have a more subtle touch. Lemon or lime is also good for upping the acidity and prepared or Dijon mustard can enhance the tang factor.
A little liquor goes a long way
Bourbon is classic. Once the alcohol cooks off you’re left with the spirit’s rich woody and smoky notes. (Don’t try this with Scotch: the flavour of the liquor is too strong) A slosh of beer, rum, vodka, brandy or liqueurs like Drambuie help elevate even bargain basement bottled sauces into gourmet zones.