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How do you make bottled BBQ sauce less sweet?

Many people find bottled barbecue sauces to be too sweet for their tastes. The high sugar content can overpower the other flavors in the sauce and make it unpalatable. Fortunately, there are some simple tricks you can use to cut down on the sweetness of your favorite bottled barbecue sauce. With just a few ingredients and techniques, you can adjust store-bought sauces to better suit your preferences.

Why Reduce Sugar in Bottled BBQ Sauces?

Here are some of the main reasons you may want to reduce the sugar content of a bottled barbecue sauce:

  • The high sugar content creates an unpleasantly strong sweet flavor
  • You want the other flavor notes like smokiness, tanginess, etc. to come through more
  • Too much sugar can make the sauce gloppy and sticky
  • Dietary concerns – want to cut down on overall sugar intake
  • Health reasons – need to limit sugar for conditions like diabetes

Whatever your motivation, decreasing the amount of sugar in bottled barbecue sauce is usually quite straightforward. The key steps are diluting the sauce, adding acidity, boosting umami flavor, and using sugar substitutes.

How to Tell if a Sauce is Too Sweet

Taste and consistency are the main ways to gauge whether a barbecue sauce contains too much sugar for your preferences. Here’s what to look out for:

  • Very strong sweet taste – should complement not overpower meat
  • Cloying, sugary flavor lingers unpleasantly
  • Difficult to detect subtle flavor notes like smoke, spices
  • Sauce has a thick, sticky, gloppy consistency
  • Obvious drizzling or pooling of sugar syrup on food

As a general rule, if the sweetness is immediately obvious or distracting, the sauce likely needs some taming down. Trust your taste buds – you know what flavors appeal most to you.

Tips for Reducing Sugar in Bottled BBQ Sauce

Here are some simple, effective ways to cut down the sweetness of store-bought barbecue sauces:

Dilute With Vinegar

Adding a splash of vinegar is an easy way to instantly counter sweetness. The increased acidity brightens the other flavors. Apple cider or white wine vinegars work best. Only add a little at a time until desired sweetness level is reached.

Include Mustard

Mixing in some mustard, especially Dijon, adds tangy flavor that helps offset sugary taste. Start with 1 teaspoon mustard per 1 cup BBQ sauce and adjust as needed.

Blend in Tomatoes

Pureed canned tomatoes temper sweetness thanks to their slight acidity. Mix a few tablespoons of tomato puree into the sauce to mellow out sugariness.

Mix with Broth

Thinning bottled barbecue sauce with a bit of chicken, beef or vegetable broth cuts sweetness by diluting it. Use a 50/50 mix of broth and sauce.

Spice it Up

Adding bolder spices like black pepper, chili powder, cayenne, paprika or cumin boosts flavor complexity so sugar doesn’t dominate as much.

Swap Sweetener for Honey

Substitute honey for up to half the typical amount of sugar or sweetener called for in a recipe. Honey provides sweetness but also extra depth.

Use Acidic Fruits

Mix in a grated apple or a puree of berries to introduce natural tartness that counterbalances sweetness. Lemon or lime juice also helps.

Amp Up Umami

Ingredients like soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste and mushrooms enhance savory, meaty flavors to stand up to sweetness.

Balance with Smoke & Spice

Up the quantities of smoking agents like smoked paprika, chipotle powder or liquid smoke. A little extra cayenne or red pepper flakes also keep sweetness in check.

Switch to Sugar Substitutes

Replace some or all sugar in recipes with lower-calorie sweeteners like stevia, erythritol or xylitol. This cuts carb and calorie count.

How Much Sugar is in Popular Bottled BBQ Sauces?

To put the sweetness of bottled barbecue sauces into context, here is the typical sugar content per serving for some top brands:

BBQ Sauce Total Sugar (grams per 2 Tbsp serving)
KC Masterpiece Original 14g
Sweet Baby Ray’s Original 13g
Stubbs Original 12g
Jack Daniel’s Original 12g
Heinz Classic 11g

As you can see, the sugar content of popular bottled barbecue sauces ranges from 11-14 grams per 2 tablespoon serving. That’s nearly 4 teaspoons worth of sugar in each serving! No wonder many find these sauces overly sweet.

How to Store Leftover Less Sweet BBQ Sauce

After customizing bottled barbecue sauce to suit your taste, be sure to store any leftovers properly to preserve the freshly adjusted flavor:

– Refrigerate in a sealed container for up to 4 weeks
– Freeze for longer storage – up to 4 months
– Glass jars or squeeze bottles work best
– Remember to label with contents and date
– Always use clean utensils to remove sauce to prevent contamination

With a few minor tweaks, you can keep enjoying your favorite barbecue sauce recipes while avoiding excess sweetness. A little vinegar, acidity and spice goes a long way in improving store-bought sauces. Now get out there and start grilling!


While popular bottled barbecue sauces are certainly convenient, many find the high sugar content makes them undesirably sweet. Thankfully, with some simple ingredient swaps and mix-ins, you can easily tone down the sweetness. Add a splash of vinegar, puree some tomatoes, mix in broth or mustard, amp up spices and smokiness – there are lots of ways to customize bottled sauce to your preferred taste. Diluting, adding acidity and building flavor complexity prevents sugar from dominating. With a few tweaks, you can transform a cloyingly sugary sauce into your new favorite marinade or dip. Trust your tastebuds, experiment until you achieve the perfect balance of sweet, smoky and tangy flavors. Then slather away on all your grilled meats, veggies and more.