In my journey to cook our food from scratch, condiments were naturally the last to go. I mean if you live life 80/20, condiments definitely would fit into the 20 since you need just a little bit to jazz up your meals. Slowly, but surely, however, I’ve played with recipes until I was making my own mayonnaise, ketchup, salad dressings, and more. But the utter deliciousness of Rhubarb BBQ Sauce gave me the courage to make my own tomato-based BBQ sauce.
The big question was, “How can I get that awesome smoked flavor we love so well without resorting to a bottle of liquid smoke?” (‘Cause what is that anyway? And how could it be good for you?)
Well, my friends, I’m about to let the cat out of the bag because the solution is so simple and the smoke flavor so wonderful, not at all artificial tasting!
The secret to smoked BBQ sauce without using liquid smoke?
Smoke your onion.
Yes, if you smoke your onion, it will smell and taste amazingly smokey and will impart all of that flavor to your BBQ sauce. Isn’t that awesome?
Don’t get me wrong, making the sauce is pure torture the whole time because it smells so good right from the start and the few hours while it’s cooking down are going to be the longest in your life, but the wait is totally worth it.
I love that the tomato base is made with ripe heirloom tomatoes and not ketchup like so many other scratch BBQ sauce recipes. You can use maple syrup instead of the sorghum if that’s what you have, but it’s not nearly as good.
I also love that while this sauce stays good a really long time in the fridge you may also can it. I’ve used my pressure canner for a couple years now, but I think that this year I have officially fallen in love. Next to the immersion blender, I think that the pressure canner might be one of the most used tools in my kitchen right now. (I use this one and love it.)
Now this isn’t a tested canning recipe of course. By “tested” I mean government-safety-approved, but I’ll be honest, I consume a lot of things they say aren’t say (raw milk and eggs for instance) and abstain from a lot of things they say are safe (Glyphosate, Bacillus thuringiensis, the flu shot, fluoride, mammograms, and more…) You do what you think is best and I will too and we’ll both be accountable for our decisions, how does that sound? So the professionals are canning their half-pint BBQ sauce for 20 minutes in a water bath canner or pressure canning it at 10 pounds of pressure for 15 minutes. I opted for the latter even though my batch tested high acid enough to water bath. (I recommend getting your own pH test strips so you can make informed decisions. They’re a couple bucks and then you don’t have to be nervous.)
I found the idea for smoking the onion in Farms and Foods of Ohio (which has many amazing recipes on it’s pages) and though I find smoking the onion on the grill easier (or better yet in your smoker if you have one), their method was to place a layer of foil in the bottom of a Dutch oven or large heavy pan, toss in a cup of wood chips, and then put the onions in a steamer basket. Set the basket on top of the wood chips, cover with another layer of foil, put the lid on the pan, and then smoke the onions over medium low heat for about 30-40 minutes. A bit more of a pain, but definitely worth capturing that flavor for your sauce if you don’t have another way to smoke the onions.
Naturally Smoked Tomato BBQ Sauce
- 1 cup wood chips, such as maple or apple
- 1 large onion
- ¼ cup oil
- 2 teaspoons salt, divided
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled, minced
- 2 pounds heirloom tomatoes, seeds removed
- 3 teaspoons paprika
- 2 teaspoons salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- ½ cup sorghum, or maple syrup
- ⅓ cup molasses
- ¼ cup white vinegar
- 2 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- ¼ cup olive oil, optional if canning
- Quarter the onion and smoke it on the grill for about an hour. It will be light brown and smell amazing.
- Once the onion has cooled, chop it and sauté it in a saucepan with ¼ cup of oil and ½ teaspoon salt over medium-low heat, until it has caramelized, about 10-15 minutes.
- Toss the minced garlic into the onions and cook for another minute.
- Slice the tomatoes and scoop out the seeds. Chop them and add them to the onions along with the paprika, black pepper, cayenne, red pepper flakes, and salt.
- Cook the tomatoes over low for about 30 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Measure out the sorghum, vinegar, and apple cider vinegar into the pan.
- Cook, uncovered for 2-3 hours, or until the sauce has thickened.
- Stir in the olive oil and puree the sauce with a blender.
- Canning Instructions: (At your own risk, this is an untested recipe.)
- Water bath can half pints for 20 minutes or pressure can half pints at 10 pounds of pressure for 15 minutes. Follow manufacturers instructions and standard canning practices.