Southern-Style Molasses Barbecue Sauce

Recipe Pin
40 minutes
16 servings

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Having the family over for a cookout? Make this beautifully sweet Southern-Style Molasses Barbecue Sauce the day before in just minutes to have at the ready for your southern style ribs, chops, burgers, and barbecue chicken!

A piece of burlap with a small bowl of barbecue sauce beside a jar of the same homemade sauce.

This barbecue sauce recipe comes together with minimal ingredients and in modest cooking time. It will put YOUR grilled food in a class by itself. Mmmmm, homemade BBQ sauce!

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Looking for other barbecue recipes? Look no further than these main dish BBQ ideas for

Perfectly Perfect Barbecued Chicken Drumsticks, or

Oven Baked Deep South Barbecued Ribs

Smoked Carolina Pulled Pork Sandwiches

Thick, rich, and fittingly traditional barbecue sauce flavored with molasses has the most amazing deep and sweet flavor. Homemade barbecue sauce with molasses and dark brown sugar serenade additional pantry staple ingredients transforming into a sassiness steeped with flavor. Try this molasses barbecue sauce recipe for your next cookout.

jar of homemade bbq sauce and some chicken

What are the ingredients in homemade barbecue sauce?

The root components of almost every barbecue sauce is either tomato, vinegar, or mustard. Additional elements like brown sugar, molasses, ketchup, and an element of smoke flavoring give those base components their pizzazz. Here in South Carolina, we are blessed to be able to enjoy some of this country’s best BBQ joints, at least according to the reader survey polls in Southern Living and Garden and Gun Magazines.

Mustard-based and tomato-based barbecue sauces are especially popular here in Charleston, along with dry rubbed, smoked meats. As you head up the highway a spell into the upstate of South Carolina and into lower North Carolina, you’re going to get acquainted with vinegar-based sauces.

barbecue sauce made with molasses

How do you thicken barbecue sauce and why?

For this sauce, I am introducing molasses. And rather than the molasses being subcomponent, it’s going to be the base. Mustard, tomato, and vinegar will become subcomponents and share equal platforms of importance and measure. They brilliantly round this cheek slapping sauce out. The one tip I have for thickening this sauce is to allow it to cook, and cook some more, and then cook even a little bit more. Cooking the sauce low and slow over a wide period will thicken the sauce. You want to finish with a highly thick and viscous sauce, so it sticks to your meat as you baste.

Consistent basting yields a layer of ‘bark’ that is sweet and nicely charred. It is the key to your barbecue being better than whatever your neighbor has going over on his side of the fence. You can use it immediately or give it an overnight in the fridge to really mellow the vinegar out. I call the days I grill meats out using this sauce ‘molasses grill night.’ Everybody knows what I mean, and they love it.

A rack of grilled ribs with molasses barbecue sauce lathered all over them.

Molasses comes in different forms. Blackstrap molasses is a byproduct of sugar cane’s refining process. Sugar cane is mashed to create juice, and then boiled once to create cane syrup. A second boiling creates molasses. After this syrup has been boiled a third time, a dark viscous liquid emerges known to Americans as blackstrap molasses.

I have many sauce recipes in my arsenal of delish. Molasses BBQ sauce is the one I use for pulled pork, pulled chicken, barbecued ham, and as a topping for burgers, fries, and cold in chicken and smoked Gouda wraps. It’s versatile, it makes a lot, and it freezes very well for when I don’t have the time to devote to starting something from scratch.

Should I use regular molasses or blackstrap molasses?

I have used both molasses and blackstrap molasses interchangeably in this recipe. The blackstrap molasses is my favorite because it’s thicker and I find it sweeter. If I am adding to pulled meats, I want it sweet because I usually then pile that meat onto a bun and top it with a savory slaw. Again, it’s all about balance.

All images and text ©Jenny DeRemer for Not Entirely Average, LLC

A clear glass bowl atop a piece of torn burlap with barbecue sauce in it.

Southern-Style Molasses Barbecue Sauce

Jenny DeRemer
Make this beautifully sweet molasses sauce the day before in just minutes to have at the ready for your southern style ribs, chops, burgers, and barbecue chicken.
4.60 from 15 votes
Servings: 16 servings
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Course Side Dish
Cuisine American
Servings 16 servings
Calories 115 kcal



  • ¼ cup quality olive oil
  • 1 cup diced sweet onion such as Vidalia
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic, about 2 cloves
  • 1 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 cup molasses I am using blackstrap molasses, but regular molasses works great, too
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • salt and pepper to taste


  • In a 5 quart heavy bottom sauce pan, heat the olive oil.
  • Add the onion once oil is shimmering and reduce heat immediately. You want to sweat the onions rather than brown them.
  • Add the garlic, red wine vinegar, molasses, and ketchup. Bring to a simmer and reduce until slightly thickened, stirring constantly, about 15 to 20 minutes. **I like to reduce mine by half.
  • When the sauce is viscous enough to coat the back of a spoon, taste. Season if necessary with salt and pepper.
  • Sauce may be used immediately, or refrigerated overnight. The vinegar profile mellows with refrigeration. Sauce may also be frozen for future use.

The nutrition value can vary depending on what product(s) you use. The information below is an estimate. Always use a calorie counter you are familiar with.

Please note that table salt and iodized salt are NOT substitutions for Kosher salt. Do not deviate unless otherwise specified.


Serving: 1servingsCalories: 115kcalCarbohydrates: 21gProtein: 1gFat: 3gSaturated Fat: 1gSodium: 157mgPotassium: 373mgFiber: 1gSugar: 20gVitamin A: 77IUVitamin C: 1mgCalcium: 49mgIron: 1mg
Did you love this recipe?Leave a comment and Let me know how it was!

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Recipe Rating


  1. Love the recipe. Easy to make
    Did make some substitutes using what I had on hand. Definitely much fuller flavored after refrigerated a few days5 stars

    1. Dixie Hitt – THIS!!! Just what you said, and I cannot emphasize it enough – make ahead, pop into the fridge, and allow those flavors to marry. I promise it’s awesome as soon as it’s assembled, but having it made for later use equals a party for your tastebuds. Thank you, Dixie, for circling back to let me know this! 🙂 Jenny

  2. Ok, well, it has been a while since this recipe headed my way and I have been up to my apron strings with things other than cooking going on. HOWEVER, I just knew this was going to be good – I mean, doesn’t everybody make their picnic BBQ beans with molasses and onions and ketchup and mustard? No?! Shock! Anyway, on with the strokes of genius here – this is delicious, and I thank you for sharing!!! Baby backs this time but pork chops and chicken next. And of course, those BBQ beans and slaw sitting there beside ’em. xoxoNikki5 stars

    1. Miss Nikki, I just know you’ll always tell it to me like it is! THANK YOU. I made a giant jar of the stuff two days ago and it’s in my fridge for the ‘on a whim’ grill nights here. Now you’ve got me thinking about baked beans…lol. I sure do hope you both are doing well, my friend 🙂 xo-Jenny

  3. Dear Jenny, I just love your site and visit often. Thank you for it all. I also have been looking for a molasses based sauce as I love the stuff. Your recipe is a winner with me, I made and used it on ham and chicken…lip smacking good.! I’ve got a bean pot on the go and some of this is going in, I know it will be delish! Thanks for your great directions, you cover every aspect and we appreciate that. We Canadians love all your southern recipes and stories. Keep up the good work gal! Will visit you again soon! 😊🇨🇦5 stars

    1. YOU Sandra….are my ‘why!’ Why I obsess over food and food photography, why I pull out of bed every morning EXCITED that it’s a new day, why I feel euphoric about sharing not only how food tastes, but also its history and loving the time spent to put it together, and really, why I do what I do! THANK YOU. I’m going to say this and mean it, Lady – should find find yourself traveling southbound and land in or around Charleston, South Carolina, you message me. I would be honored to share more of my South with you 🙂 Jenny

  4. Over the past few days I’ve been searching the web for a bbq sauce recipe that uses molasses. I found several but settled on this one. I just finish making it a few moments ago and it is one of the best. Love the flavor. The only thing I did was add some additional seasonings, but the base recipe is great. Sorry about the complainer !!5 stars

    1. Bill! Thank you for this ‘sweet compliment!’ This is the recipe we use most often because it’s quick to assemble. I will be up front in saying that I often add more seasonings than what my specifications state because I’m going for puckered cheeks!! May I ask what you plan to enjoy the sauce over? What should I be throwing on my grill, Bill? 😉 Jenny

  5. Everyone’s bbq sauce is a little different but you got the base ingredients in and it’s a good sauce that represents a sweet southern style. 4 stars

  6. I am a spicy gal, but was looking for a recipe for a sweet sauce for my mom. Cant wait to try this! Sounds yummy! I’m a big molasses fan!

    1. Tammy, you have found THAT SAUCE of which you speak! Taste as you go so you can gauge the level of sugar you’re looking for. Remember that as it caramelizes on the foods on your grill, it’s going to become slightly sweeter. Please let me know how you and your Mom enjoy it! Jenny

      1. Jenny, we all LOVED this sauce!! I love using molasses and mom was so happy that she could eat it without her stomach being upset. 😊5 stars

        1. Oh my gosh, THIS is such a great message to wake up to Tammy! Thank you! I smoked a couple of pork butts and will offer this same sauce on the side for this upcoming 4th of July weekend celebration! Thanks for taking a minute to let me know Tammy! x – Jenny

  7. I laugh when I see an article about “Southern BBQ” sauce. Because there is no such thing! There are at least two dozen southern sauces and most of the ones you read about on the web are standard yankee sauces renames with a bit of fake y’all thrown in for good measure. BBQ is very local and very personal in the South.2 stars

    1. Will, thank you for taking the time to comment on my post. I am sorry you were disappointed in this recipe, or at least in the ‘southern connotation’ of this recipe. Before I replied to you, I sought permission from the woman who taught me to make this sauce. Permission to mention her and where this recipe comes from. We used it at a 50th birthday pig roast for some 200 plus guests and all we heard were rave reviews. The woman of whom I speak is a native to Johns Island, South Carolina. She is 86 years old. She too, knows that barbecue is very local and very personal. That is why when she gave me her Dad’s method for this very barbecue sauce, I was humbled. She and I have cooked this sauce together more times than I can say, and neither the method nor the ingredients change. And while I was born and raised in the north, this is not a standard “Yankee sauce.” I must impress upon you that there will never be a fake y’all thrown in anywhere on this website ‘for good measure’ by me. My name is my brand, and my word has always been, and will continue to be, genuine.