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Is Honey BBQ hotter than sweet BBQ?

Barbecue sauce is a staple condiment in many households and restaurants across America. The tangy, sweet and spicy flavor it adds to meats when grilling or smoking is iconic. There are countless varieties and brands of barbecue sauce out there, but two of the most popular and recognized styles are honey barbecue sauce and sweet barbecue sauce.

What is Honey BBQ Sauce?

As the name implies, honey barbecue sauce contains honey as one of its main ingredients. Honey adds both sweetness and thickness to the barbecue sauce. Honey BBQ sauce also typically contains:

  • Ketchup or tomato paste for tanginess and color
  • Vinegar for acidity
  • Spices like black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, paprika for flavor
  • Corn syrup, brown sugar or molasses for sweetness
  • Mustard for tang
  • Soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce for umami

The combination of honey sweetness balanced by vinegar tartness and blended with tomato, spices and other flavorings is what gives honey BBQ sauce its signature taste. It tends to be thicker and stickier than other barbecue sauces due to the honey.

What is Sweet BBQ Sauce?

Sweet barbecue sauce is similar to honey BBQ sauce in that it also contains a sweetener as a primary ingredient. However, instead of using honey, it uses sugar or corn syrup to provide the sweet taste.

Other ingredients found in a typical sweet BBQ sauce include:

  • Ketchup or tomato sauce
  • Vinegar
  • Onion powder
  • Garlic powder
  • Black pepper
  • Paprika
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Mustard
  • Molasses

The combination of tomato, vinegar, spices and sugar or corn syrup gives sweet barbecue sauce its distictive sweet and tangy flavor profile. It tends to be thinner in consistency than honey barbecue sauce.

Comparing Honey BBQ and Sweet BBQ

So what are the main differences between honey BBQ and sweet BBQ sauce?

  • Sweetener used – Honey BBQ uses honey; sweet BBQ uses sugar/corn syrup
  • Consistency – Honey BBQ is thicker; sweet BBQ is thinner
  • Sweetness level – Honey BBQ is mildly sweet; sweet BBQ is very sweet
  • Use of spices – Honey BBQ uses more spices like chili powder; sweet BBQ uses less

Sweetness Level

One of the biggest differences between honey BBQ and sweet BBQ is the level of sweetness. Let’s take a closer look:

BBQ Sauce Sweetener Used Sweetness Level
Honey BBQ Honey Mildly sweet
Sweet BBQ Sugar/corn syrup Very sweet

As you can see, the use of honey results in a mildly sweet flavor in honey BBQ sauce. Sugar or corn syrup imparts a very sweet taste to sweet BBQ sauce.


In addition to sweetness, honey BBQ and sweet BBQ differ in their spiciness levels:

BBQ Sauce Use of Spices Spiciness Level
Honey BBQ More spices like chili powder Spicier
Sweet BBQ Less spices Less spicy

The extra spices like chili powder make honey BBQ sauce spicier than sweet BBQ sauce.

Which is Hotter – Honey BBQ or Sweet BBQ?

Based on the spiciness levels, honey barbecue sauce is hotter than sweet barbecue sauce. The use of spices like chili powder gives it more heat and kick.

Some example chili spice levels:

BBQ Sauce Example Chili Used Spice Level
Honey BBQ Jalapeño, Guajillo Hotter
Sweet BBQ Paprika, mild chili powder Less hot

So if you’re looking for a barbecue sauce with more heat, go for a honey barbecue variety. If you prefer a sweeter, milder flavor, choose a sweet barbecue sauce.

Popular Brands

There are many brands that make both honey BBQ and sweet BBQ sauces. Here are some popular options:

Honey BBQ Sauce Brands

  • KC Masterpiece Honey BBQ Sauce
  • Sweet Baby Ray’s Honey BBQ Sauce
  • Stubb’s Honey Pecan BBQ Sauce
  • Kraft Honey BBQ Sauce

Sweet BBQ Sauce Brands

  • KC Masterpiece Original BBQ Sauce
  • Sweet Baby Ray’s Original Barbecue Sauce
  • Kraft Original Barbecue Sauce
  • Heinz Classic Barbecue Sauce

These are just a few of the many brands that make honey and sweet BBQ sauces. The next time you’re at the grocery store, compare ingredient labels to see differences in sweeteners, spices, and flavor profiles.

Uses for Each Sauce

How you plan to use the barbecue sauce can also determine whether you want to go with a honey BBQ or sweet BBQ variety. Here are some suggestions:

Best Uses for Honey BBQ Sauce

  • Grilling chicken, beef ribs, pork ribs
  • Smoking brisket, pulled pork
  • Glazing wings, meatballs
  • Dipping sauce for chicken tenders, fries

Best Uses for Sweet BBQ Sauce

  • Brushing on grilled chicken, burgers
  • Dipping sauce for chicken nuggets, tater tots
  • Glazing baked beans, meatloaf
  • Simmering chops, ribs

The spiciness and bold honey flavor of honey BBQ sauce pairs well with smoked and grilled meats. The sweeter, milder flavor of sweet BBQ sauce is great for brushing on burgers or grilled chicken.

Making Your Own

You can also easily make your own versions of honey BBQ and sweet BBQ sauce at home. Here are some basic recipes to try:

Homemade Honey BBQ Sauce

  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper

Whisk together all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Simmer for 10 minutes, then remove from heat and let cool before using.

Homemade Sweet BBQ Sauce

  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tbsp honey
  • 2 tbsp molasses
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp mustard
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder

Whisk together all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Simmer for 15 minutes, then remove from heat and let cool before using.

Try out these easy homemade sauce recipes to make your perfect honey or sweet BBQ sauce.


When it comes to honey BBQ vs sweet BBQ sauce, honey BBQ has a mildly sweet honey flavor and tends to be thicker and spicier. Sweet BBQ is very sweet with a thinner consistency and milder spice level. Honey BBQ sauce is better for grilling and smoking meats that can stand up to the bolder flavors. Sweet BBQ sauce is ideal for quick cooking methods like brushing on chicken or burgers.

Popular brands like KC Masterpiece and Sweet Baby Ray’s make both varieties so you can test out the flavor profiles for yourself. And you can easily whip up homemade versions to get the perfect balance of sweet, spicy and tangy flavors.

So if you like a sweeter, milder BBQ sauce, go for the sweet style. But for an extra kick of spice and flavor, honey BBQ can’t be beat!