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Is there a BBQ sauce that isn t sweet?

BBQ sauce is a staple condiment for barbecued meats in many parts of the world. The traditional BBQ sauce consists of tomatoes, sugar, vinegar, and spices, creating a sweet and tangy flavor. However, not everyone enjoys sweet BBQ sauce. Some people prefer zestier, more savory sauces. This raises the question – are there BBQ sauces available that aren’t sweet?

The short answer is yes, there are BBQ sauces on the market today that offer a less sweet, more savory flavor profile. By using ingredients like hot peppers, mustard, horseradish, and Worcestershire sauce, brands have created BBQ sauces with some heat and umami flavors, without as much sweetness.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at some of the most popular non-sweet BBQ sauce options. We’ll compare their ingredients and flavor profiles. We’ll also provide some tips for making your own custom BBQ sauce at home, dialing down the sugar and upping the spice and savoriness to suit your personal tastes.

Popular Brands of Non-Sweet BBQ Sauces

If you’re looking for a pre-made BBQ sauce with minimal sweetness, here are some major brands to consider:


Stubb’s makes various BBQ sauces ranging from sweet to spicy. Their “Squeezable BBQ Sauce Less Sugar” version uses tomato puree as the first ingredient rather than high fructose corn syrup. It gets tanginess from vinegar and depth from garlic and onion powder.

KC Masterpiece

KC Masterpiece Original BBQ Sauce uses molasses and honey for some sweetness but balances it out with the spice of black pepper, garlic, mustard, and chili powder. It’s thicker and more intensely flavored than many sweeter sauces.

Sweet Baby Ray’s

While most of Sweet Baby Ray’s sauces are on the sweeter side, their “Sweet n’ Spicy” version uses brown sugar and honey for just a touch of sweetness, also packing in red chili peppers and mustard for a kick.

Famous Dave’s

Famous Dave’s Rich & Sassy BBQ Sauce uses tomato puree as the first ingredient. It gets tanginess from vinegar and depth from blackstrap molasses without being overly sweet. Spices like garlic and mustard round out the flavor.

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que

This New York based BBQ restaurant chain offers four sauce varieties. The Original Sensuous Slathering Sauce is tangy, spicy, and robust without much sweetness thanks to the prominent use of chili peppers and vinegar.

Rufus Teague

Rufus Teague’s Touch O’ Heat Blazin’ BBQ Sauce uses ancho and jalapeno peppers along with chili powder to give it plenty of spicy heat, while Worcestershire sauce and garlic provide savory umami notes. It contains no sugar.

How Non-Sweet BBQ Sauces Achieve Flavor

When creating a BBQ sauce with minimal sweetness, the strategy is to use ingredients that provide acidity, spice, heat, and umami flavors instead. Here are some of the most important ingredients for building savory depth in non-sweet BBQ sauces:


Vinegar can provide a tart, tangy flavor. Cider, white, red wine, rice, and balsamic vinegars are all great options. A combination of vinegar types can give a sauce layered complexity.

Worcestershire Sauce

Made from vinegar, molasses, garlic, spices, and anchovies, Worcestershire sauce packs a punch of savory umami flavor, without much sweetness. A small amount goes a long way in BBQ sauce.


Yellow mustard contributes tangy spice. Hotter mustards like Dijon, brown, or stoneground add even more vibrancy.


Chili peppers like chipotle, jalapeno, ancho, and habanero bring smoky, fruity heat to BBQ sauce. Dried chili powder blends work well too.

Tomato Paste

Adds rich, concentrated tomato flavor without the sweetness of sugar-laden ketchup. Can be blended with garlic, onion, herbs.

Soy Sauce

A small splash of soy sauce amplifies umami flavor in savory BBQ sauces.

Smoke Flavor

Liquid smoke adds smoky flavor without needing actual smoking. Smoked paprika provides both smoke and chili pepper notes.

Spices & Herbs

Black pepper, garlic, onion, mustard, cumin, ginger, oregano, thyme, basil all enhance flavor.

How to Make Your Own Non-Sweet BBQ Sauce

Want to try formulating your own custom BBQ sauce at home with only subtle sweetness? Here are some tips:

Choose Base Ingredients

Good bases for non-sweet sauce include tomato sauce, tomato paste, mustard, vinegar, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, or broths. Build depth with sauted aromatics like garlic, onion, chili peppers, herbs, and spices.

Add a Little Sweetness

A small amount of sweetness can counterbalance acidity, bitterness, saltiness, and heat. Good options are small amounts of honey, molasses, maple syrup, brown sugar, or fruit juice.

Boost Savory Flavor

Incorporate umami-rich ingredients like soy sauce, Worcestershire, dried mushrooms, tomato paste, balsamic vinegar. Smoked paprika and liquid smoke also boost the savory impression.

Increase Tartness and Spice

Up the vinegar amount, add hot sauces, ground peppers or chili blends. Mustard and hot peppers balance sweetness. Acidic ingredients like citrus can brighten.

Adjust Texture

Make it thinner with broths/juices or thicken with tomato paste, purees, cornstarch slurry. Blend or puree chunks for smoothness. Simmer to desired thickness.

Let Flavors Meld

After combining all ingredients, simmer the sauce for 15-30 minutes to let flavors blend. Taste and adjust acidity, sweetness, saltiness, and spice as needed.

Recipe: Savory BBQ Sauce

Want to whip up a zesty, barbecue sauce without much sweetness? Give this easy homemade recipe a try:

Savory BBQ Sauce
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 jalapeno, minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 (6 oz) can tomato paste
  • 1⁄4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1⁄4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons mustard powder
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon liquid smoke (optional)
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chicken or vegetable broth


  1. In pan, saute onion, garlic, and jalapeno in oil until soft.
  2. Add remaining ingredients and whisk to blend.
  3. Simmer sauce for 20-30 minutes until thickened.
  4. Adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, vinegar to taste.
  5. Use on grilled meats or veggies.

This flavorful BBQ sauce gets tanginess from vinegar, depth from Worcestershire sauce, smoky heat from the peppers and spices, and just a touch of sweetness to round it out. The tomato paste gives it great thickness and richness. Use it as a baste, dip, or finishing sauce for chicken, pork, beef, shrimp, vegetables, anything you want to get saucy!

Choosing the Right Sweetness Level

When shopping for ready-made barbecue sauce or whipping up a batch at home, think about the sweetness level you want to match the food you’ll be eating it with. Here are some guidelines:

More Sweetness: pair with salty, acidic, or spicy barbecue like pulled pork, brisket, ribs

Less Sweetness: pair with seafood, chicken, steak, veggies, kabobs

Very Little Sweetness: pair with game meats like venison, bison, duck or savory grilled veggies

You can always doctor up a sauce after you open it, adding spices, vinegar, mustard or hot sauce to reduce sweetness. But starting with the right BBQ sauce flavor profile for your recipe or tastes makes seasoning easy.

Other Condiment Options

What if you want to skip sweet, tomato-based barbecue sauce altogether? Here are some other flavorful condiment options to serve with grilled meats, seafood, and vegetables:

Chimichurri Sauce: Herby, tangy green sauce made with parsley, cilantro, garlic, olive oil, vinegar

Harissa Sauce: Tunisian chili pepper paste, spicy and garlicky

Tzatziki Sauce: Cooling Greek yogurt-cucumber-herb sauce

Gremolata: Lemony chopped herb garnish with garlic and lemon zest

Salsa Verde: Herby green salsa made with tomatillos, onion, chili peppers, lime

Tahini Sauce: Sesame seed paste sauce, often with lemon and garlic

Peanut Sauce: Savory Thai-inspired sauce made with chilies and lime juice

So don’t feel trapped into sugary tomato-based sauces if that’s not your flavor preference. With the range of BBQ sauce options now available, and endless ways to make your own, you can definitely find or create a sauce that isn’t sweet.


While traditional BBQ sauce is packed with tomato and sugar, there are now many pre-made options that offer less sweetness and more vinegar, spice, smoke, and umami flavor. Brands like Stubb’s, KC Masterpiece, Sweet Baby Ray’s, Famous Dave’s, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, and Rufus Teague make sauces ranging from mildly tangy to extra spicy. Or you can easily formulate your own custom sauce at home.

Key ingredients to build savory flavor without sweetness include vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, peppers, tomato paste, soy sauce, smoke flavorings, and bold spices and herbs. Adjust the levels based on your preferences. Sweetness can complement but doesn’t need to dominate. With the right saucy flavors, you can give all kinds of grilled foods an extra kick of flavor, even if you don’t have much of a sweet tooth. The options for slathering on delicious non-sweet barbecue sauce are limitless.