minimalist barbecue sauce

Every summer, I promise that I’m going to tell you about this shortcut barbecue sauce I use when I don’t have it in me to bring home 11 bottles and jars plus 2 vegetables for what I consider the ultimate, Queen Ina’s. I love that one, regardless. I make it every year or two and I freeze it in 1-cup packages. Sometimes, like last summer, I completely forget to freeze it and find it in the fridge 8 months later and it’s completely and totally fine to eat? It’s pretty magical like that. But it’s not simple. And most of the time, when it’s just weeknight chicken or tofu skewers on the grill or even as a base for what I call Fake Baked Beans (more on this at the end), three ingredients is all you need, plus up to two more to your tastes. Don’t look askance at me; I bet you already have them all.

all you need, but swap friendly
um, you don't even have to cook it
coats well!
ready to grill

What I never did is tell you what those ingredients are, really rather rude of me, so let’s fix that. The foundation is a mostly equal proportion of ketchup, molasses, and apple cider vinegar. Stir these in a bowl and look at that: you’re done. We don’t even need to simmer this. This is the best rushed dinner thing, ever. From there, you add shakes of hot sauce (Tabasco, Sriracha, Cholula, Chimay, whatever you love), and a spoonful of fish sauce or Worcestershire (note: this is no longer vegetarian once you add these) for a salty/fermented vibe. Salt will probably be unnecessary, but you can add it to taste, and pepper too. The sauce is a little thinner than the bottled stuff but this, to me, just means that it gets into your food better, praise be. If you, like me, are sad that summer feels like it just began but September is already way too close for comfort, things like this — quick, easy, deeply summery things that don’t take time away from all the other deeply summery things you’d like to be doing (swimming, naps after swimming, repeat) — are exactly what we need right now.

skewers with minimalist barbecue sauce
minimalist barbecue sauce


One year ago: Hummus Heaped with Tomatoes and Cucumbers
Two years ago: Corn Bacon and Parmesan Pasta and Blackberry Cheesecake Galette
Three years ago: Tomato and Fried Provolone Sandwich
Four years ago: Easiest Fridge Dill Pickles and Grilled Peach Splits
Five years ago: One-Pan Farro with Tomatoes and Hot Fudge Sundae Cake
Six years ago: Bacon Corn Hash and Peach Pie
Seven years ago: Whole Wheat Raspberry Ricotta Scones and Charred Corn Tacos with Zucchini-Radish Slaw
Eight years ago: Porch Swing and Mango Slaw with Cashews and Mint and Peach Blueberry Cobbler
Nine years ago: Cherry Brown Butter Bars
Ten years ago: Chopped Vegetable, Watermelon and Feta Salad and Chocolate Sorbet
Eleven years ago: Red Pepper Soup and Cherry Clafoutis

And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Boulevardier and Sheet Pan Meatballs with Crispy Chickpeas
1.5 Years Ago: Chocolate Dutch Baby
2.5 Years Ago: Ugly But Good Cookies, Swiss Chard Pancakes, and Blood Orange, Almond, and Ricotta Cake
3.5 Years Ago: Mushroom Marsala Pasta Bake and Key Lime Pie
4.5 Years Ago: Chicken Pho, Pear and Hazelnut Muffins, and Warm Lentil and Potato Salad

Minimalist Barbecue Sauce

Needless to say, the recipe as written below will not make a lot, about 1/4 cup. I merely wanted to establish the base formula that I like and how to tweak it. Scale it as needed. I use about 1/3 cup to coat 2 1/2 pounds of chicken cutlets, in large chunks, with some brushed on as it cooks. It’s thinner than a bottled sauce, ideal for cooking on and into other ingredients.
  • 1 generously heaped tablespoon ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce of your choice, such as Sriracha or Tabasco, plus more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire or fish sauce, plus more to taste
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk everything in a bowl, taste, add more of ingredients to taste, and seasoning as needed. More ketchup, for example, will make for a less intense sauce that’s closer to what you’d have in a bottle from a grocery store. The amount above makes 1/4 cup; scale it up as needed.

To make chicken skewers, as shown: I cut 2 1/2 pounds of large, thick chicken breast cutlets into large chunks (about 1 to 2 inches). In a bowl, I pour 1/4 cup of the sauce over it, just to thinly coat each piece. Thread them on skewers and grill on a very hot grill, rotating only when lightly charred underneath on each side, and continuing to rotate until they cooked evenly, about 7 to 10 minutes total, brushing occasionally with another tablespoon or so of sauce as they cook.

To make “fake baked beans”: Mince 1/4 of a onion and sauté slowly in 1 tablespoon of oil in the bottom of a medium saucepan, until soft. Add one 15-ounce can (1 3/4 cups) small white navy beans, drained and rinsed, plus the ingredients for one yield of the sauce above. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of water and gently simmer the mixture together for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, adding more water if it gets to dry, and adjusting seasonings to taste.


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