This Memphis BBQ sauce recipe is the perfect finishing sauce for ribs, pulled pork and chicken. It's tangy and thin, not sticky and sweet, with just the right amount of spicy kick!
Imagine yourself sitting on a porch swing in the South sipping ice cold lemonade. Kind of a nice relaxing picture, right? Well, we might not all be able to live there, but once you make my delicious Memphis BBQ sauce recipe Southern living won't feel so far away.
The South is known for good BBQ, but Memphis is a city that is especially proud of the way they do BBQ.
Memphis BBQ is all about the pork. Whether it's a slab of ribs or a pulled pork sandwich, pork is the go-to choice for meat. Speaking of pork, have you tried my pork tenderloin or pork kabob recipes?
Memphis BBQ sauce is a true finishing sauce. Slather it on your chicken, ribs and pulled pork after it comes off the grill.
What goes into Memphis-style BBQ sauce?
I’ll tell you what ingredients are needed for authentic Memphis BBQ sauce.
Every BBQ spot in Memphis probably has their own secret sauce recipe and while we can't know all their secrets, there are some elements you'll always find in their sauce.
The base of my Memphis BBQ sauce recipe is made up of ketchup, honey, and cane syrup (more on that in a bit!). It’s all flavored with onion, cider vinegar, and a special blend of spices.
Vinegar and ketchup are found in almost every Memphis BBQ sauce recipe. But what about kosher salt, does it really taste different than regular table salt? Surprisingly it does make a difference.
Kosher salt has a milder flavor than table salt but keeps all of the saltiness. Just not as harsh on your tastebuds. This is perfect for this recipe so you don't overpower the other flavors!
You want the homemade BBQ sauce to be thin and tangy with just a little sweetness. A good combination of flavors pair well poured over my pulled pork or served with a rack of ribs.
What is cane syrup?
Every authentic Memphis BBQ sauce recipe includes cane syrup. Cane syrup is super popular in the South where it is used for everything from a condiment to an ingredient in favorite recipes like sweet tea. Pancakes, drinks, pies, anything sweet and it likely has cane syrup in it or on it.
Cane syrup comes from the sugarcane plant and is made by boiling sugar cane juice in kettles until the thick dark syrup is formed.
What can I substitute for cane syrup?
Cane syrup is essentially just a step before what molasses is as sugar boils. This is why, if you can't get your hands on cane syrup and still want to make this tasty Memphis BBQ sauce recipe, you can substitute the cane syrup for your own mixture of equal parts molasses and corn syrup.
As an alternative, I also grab Lyle's Golden Syrup if a Southern variety isn't available at my store. But you can order the real thing online with the link above.
How to use this tangy BBQ sauce
Memphis BBQ Sauce is not a mop sauce or a marinade. This is a true finishing sauce. One for dipping, dunking, and slathering.
There is a fair amount of sugar in the sauce and other ingredients that burn over the high heat of the grill. Simply season and grill your chicken, ribs or steak first, then slather it with sauce the last few seconds on the grill.
Drizzle on more when you eat. Try it on my heavenly Memphis Smoked Bologna Sandwich. It’s also a great homemade BBQ sauce for pulled pork (if cooked low and slow in a slow cooker or the oven) or spread atop a grilled hamburger.
How long does BBQ sauce last?
Because this Southern BBQ sauce recipe is cooked on the stovetop first and uses mostly shelf-stable ingredients, it will last up to 3 months in the fridge. Store it in an airtight container to keep it fresh.
Tips for making Memphis BBQ sauce
- I kept this sweet, spiced homemade BBQ sauce mild, but you can kick up the heat by adding a few more dashes of hot sauce.
- If you don’t have cane syrup on hand, you can substitute equal parts molasses and corn syrup in a pinch.
- Don’t slather your meat in this sauce and then grill it. This is a finishing sauce and is best when added after the meat has been cooked.
Try some other Memphis-style BBQ recipes:
Memphis BBQ Sauce
- ¼ cup minced onion
- 1 cup cider vinegar
- 1⅓ cups ketchup
- 1 teaspoon hot sauce (I like Louisiana style)
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon ground allspice
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ cup honey
- ⅔ cup cane syrup (In a pinch, substitute equal parts molasses and light corn syrup)
- In a saucepan over medium-high heat, stir everything together. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat and simmer for 10 min; remove from heat.
- Cool sauce before using and store in the refrigerator up to 3 months.
Try these finger-licking-good BBQ recipes
About Tara Teaspoon
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Paula @ I'm Busy Being Awesome says
It sounds delicious! Perfect for BBQ season
I seriously love to add BBQ to anything so it would be fun to make my own
I agree, so tasty!!
I've never made my own homemade BBQ sauce before. I wouldn't have known what kind of ingredients it needed. Thanks for sharing your recipe, this would be perfect for our summer get togethers.
And it's so easy! You'll love it.
I would love to make my own BBQ sauce rather than use store bought. It is more authentic and if I'm going to go through the trouble of making ribs, I want to do it right!
I love it too because I can control the flavor and the amount of sugar. No strange ingredients when you make your own!
Tina Dawson says
I have never heard about this sauce, but I am dying to taste it now! Cane syrup, where are thou?
Haha! The cane syrup is so fun to cook with. But for sure use my substitutes if you can't find it in the store!
Catherine Brown says
Whether you eat meat, poultry, fish or veggies, everyone needs a good BBQ sauce recipe! I'm lookin' forward to trying yours!
That's the truth!!
This post is making me hungry for ribs! I live in Kansas City... which is also a city very proud of its distinctive BBQ. I think ours is a little sweet with a hint of tang , and the Memphis is tangy with a hint of sweet. Loved seeing this recipe. Pinning it now.
Oh you lucky thing! I've got a Kansas City recipe too. Yum for sure!
Allison - Celebrating Sweets says
I love BBQ sauce - so many tasty uses!
That's so true!
Ashley R says
I always just buy BBQ sauce! Never thought to make it. Looks so yummy!
You'll love this homemade version.
I'm a sucker for a good BBQ sauce. Looks great!
Thanks! It's a tasty one!
Mary Bench says
Homemade BBQ sauce is the only way to go. This one looks totally delicious.
Brittany Smart says
Love it!! BBQ is the epitome of summer and being able to make my own sauce just makes me feel so fancy.
Ed Matthews says
Instead of using SALT....buy yourself one of those small cans of Anchovies. This is the key to great BBQ sauce.
Semper Fi 66'-
For a variation some people may like that.
Ed Matthews says
I forgot to tell ya......when using ketchup, use only HUNTS brand. It's 100% pure with NO nasty additives like Heinz does.
Great suggestion. Every ketchup is different, that’s for sure.
Melissa Taylor says
I’m excited to try this!! I’m going to make it for a group of 50 boys, and I’m wondering if some might be picky about pieces of onion. Would it ruin it to blend it up first?
Hi Melissa! I hope they love it. You can certainly blend the sauce. However the onions cook and become really soft and not too noticeable. Make sure you cut them quite small! Also straining the sauce will do the trick. Lots of options. But mixed on pulled pork, I doubt anyone will notice there are a few little onions in the sauce! Enjoy.
Britney Fronk says
I've always been too nervous to make my own BBQ sauce, but now I can never go back to the store-bought stuff. This flavor is unbeatable!
janet sonier says
Try it with Sorghum Molasses, make from Sorghum Cane. Benton Co. TN, makes the best. A much lighter sauce without the better taste of regular Molasses you find in most Grocery Stores. You'll be surprised at the difference!
Tara Teaspoon says
Thank you for the suggestion Janet! I will have to try this the next time I make this BBQ sauce this summer.