What’s bbq sauce made out of?

BBQ sauce is so delicious, but what are we actually eating? Here is a mash up of typical ingredients from store bought bbq sauces. Feel free to compare your own of course:

High fructose corn syrup, distilled vinegar, tomato paste, modified food starch, salt, fruit juice, natural smoke flavor, spices, caramel color, sodium benzoate, molasses, corn syrup, sugar, tamarind, natural flavor, potassium sorbate, dimethylpolysiloxane

So basically, thickened, chemically preserved sugar-vinegar water, with a touch of actual food thrown in, in my opinion.


Sugar comes in many forms: high fructose corn syrup, fruit juice, sugar, molasses, corn syrup, barley malt, dextrose, glucose, maltodextrin, honey etc. I am a fan of sugar. It sweetens things and gives us energy. But when it is the first ingredient, (and maybe also the 6th, 10th, 11th as well) it is no longer being used for adding a sweet flavor. Its purpose becomes a way to stretch the product. Think of it this way: if you add sugar to your lemonade, it does makes it delicious. But keep adding more and more sugar. At some point the sugar is not adding any sweetness or flavor to the drink, it’s just increasing the volume and thickening it, and even diluting the lemons.

Vinegar is also a delicious food, used to safely preserve shelf stable products, and adds great tangy flavor.

Tomato paste makes sense. Though I just want to throw in there-are these fresh tomatoes, and if not were they canned previously in plastic, glass or what?

Smoke flavor, spices, and natural flavor are added to add flavor to the diluted product. I always ask, why is food being flavored with "natural flavor"? Doesn't food already have flavor?

Caramel color creates a darker color, mimicking the color if molasses was added.

Thickeners such as starch, guar gum, gelatin, and carrageenan are added to thicken the diluted product, and aren’t necessarily bad. (Also, what is “modified food starch?” I couldn’t find scientific data on this to be sure, but just googling it, it seems to be chemically treated starch that creates a more effective thickener.)

Preservatives such as sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate and other long chemical names that are silly to write out or remember-I can barely pronounce them, increase the shelf life of a product by killing potential microbes once opened.


I recommend making your own bbq sauce and skipping the chemicals. You can make an easy recipe by mixing tomato sauce, brown sugar or molasses, vinegar and some spices like mustard, onion, garlic and salt. (A touch of Worcestershire sauce is nice too.)




At Key to the Mountain, we value homemade style combined with the convenience of opening a jar. Take a look at our ingredients, and you will see that our sauces are made with real foods such as tomato sauce, fruit, and spices. We actually caramelize the onions and garlic and this naturally thickens our sauce. We add just enough sugar and vinegar to flavor the sauce and let the other flavors shine. We even make our own Worcestershire sauce from scratch!

This is truly a “naturally flavored” recipe, meaning flavored with food, not chemicals. The color of our bbq sauces are completely natural and unaltered. We are proud to show them off!