We've all been there - you're ready to dive into a plate of delicious ribs or chicken, but the sauce just isn't quite thick enough. But don't worry, there's no need to toss out your thin, watery sauce just yet!
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With these helpful tips, you can easily transform your BBQ sauce into a rich and satisfying condiment that will take your BBQ game to the next level.
- Why Does BBQ Sauce Get Thin?
- How to Thicken a Runny BBQ Sauce
- Method 1: Thicken by Reduction
- Method 2: Use a Cornstarch Slurry
- Method 3: Stir In Tomato Paste
- Method 4: Thicken with Leftover Mashed Potatoes
- Method 5: Add Instant Mashed Potatoes
- Method 6: Use Pureed Vegetables
- Method 7: Whisk in Egg Yolks
- Methods I Do Not Recommend
- Delicious BBQ Sauce Recipes
- How To Store Homemade BBQ Sauce
- 📖 Printable Recipe Card
Why Does BBQ Sauce Get Thin?
Barbecue sauce gets thin for a few reasons. First, if it’s a store-bought BBQ sauce, it could simply be how it’s produced. I know a few grocery store brands that are too watery for my liking, but I know nothing is ‘technically’ wrong with them.
Second, if you’ve made your own sauce, it might be thin because the recipe lacked thickening agents or there was too much liquid to start with.
The other reason is you didn't add the proper amount of sugar or molasses. In an attempt to reduce the grams of sugar or reduce the sweetness you accidentally altered the consistency of the sauce.
And sometimes we just don't have enough time to properly cook it down.
A pot full of watery BBQ sauce would make me want to cry. So if you’re standing over a pot of runny sauce feeling totally defeated, I understand.
But rest assured, there’s a way to fix your sauce! In fact, there are 7 ways to thicken BBQ sauce! There are also some ways you could ruin your sauce completely while trying to fix it, and I’m going to tell you about what to avoid, as well.
How to Thicken a Runny BBQ Sauce
There are lots of methods, but before you choose one, consider what your sauce tastes like and the desired thickness for your style of BBQ. All of these methods should work, but some will work better for you than others depending on your original recipe.
When it came to evaluating the different methods available it came down to two things; flavor and the ease of getting to a thicker sauce in a timely manner.
Let’s dive in.
Method 1: Thicken by Reduction
Reducing your sauce is the easiest way to thicken it up, but it also might take the longest, and you need to stay pretty close to the stove for the duration of the process. Reduction is simply allowing your sauce to boil with the lid off, allowing the excess moisture in the sauce to evaporate.
This is a common method of thickening gravies and sauces in cooking but can take a bit of time. And because your sauce needs to boil and then simmer over low heat for a period of time for reduction to work. The excess water evaporates but you need to stir it often and keep a close eye on it so it doesn’t burn, especially if your sauce contains a lot of brown sugar.
This is by far the superior method. And the one I rely on when making my own GF BBQ sauce recipe. But also it might be the one you don't have time for.
If you made your sauce in advance you could transfer it to a slow cooker, slightly tilt the lid so steam and cook on low heat for 4 to 6 hours. You should be left with a delicious BBQ sauce!
Method 2: Use a Cornstarch Slurry
Which brings me to the method I use most often.
With this simple method, you simply mix cornstarch and water to make what’s referred to as a ‘slurry.’ Start by mixing together 1 tablespoon of cold water and 1 tablespoon of cornstarch for every 1 cup of BBQ sauce.
It’s ok to estimate. When your sauce is very hot on the stove, stir together your slurry in a small bowl and carefully drizzle it into your pot while simultaneously whisking.
With this method, it’s important to whisk quickly, or the cornstarch mixture could become lumpy in your sauce. If it’s still not thick enough, you can make another small slurry and repeat the process.
You can also try this same method using arrowroot powder, potato starch, or tapioca starch instead of cornstarch. These starches work in the same quantities.
Method 3: Stir In Tomato Paste
If you have a sauce that’s tomato sauce based, this might be an excellent method for you to try. Simply stir in a small can (or part of a can) of tomato paste. Begin by adding a few tablespoons. Whisk until it’s incorporated. Taste your sauce and assess the thickness. Add more if you prefer.
Do not add tomato puree, the sauce will just end up thinner than before.
Keep in mind, this will add a distinct tomato flavor to your sauce, so if your sauce recipe doesn’t use tomato, you may end up with a BBQ sauce that tastes quite different than intended.
Method 4: Thicken with Leftover Mashed Potatoes
You may never have thought of it, but leftover mashed potatoes can do a great job of thickening a BBQ sauce. Mashed potatoes are a good option because they also give your sauce a creamy texture. Just add a good spoonful to your hot (but not boiling) BBQ sauce and use an immersion blender until fully incorporated. Add more as needed.
This method can quickly produce a very thick sauce so I only use this method when I need a dipping sauce. I do not recommend this method for a BBQ sauce that you will be using as a mop sauce.
Method 5: Add Instant Mashed Potatoes
You can also use instant mashed potatoes, just the potato flakes not rehydrated. If they’ve already been rehydrated, follow the steps in method 4. If you’re adding dried mashed potatoes, add them very slowly to the hot (but not boiling) sauce, about a tablespoon at a time, and wait about 5 minutes between each addition. Add more as needed.
This works similarly to the potato starch method. And it is a surprisingly effective way to create a thick BBQ sauce. In fact, this is one of my favorite dairy-free ways to thicken any sauce.
Method 6: Use Pureed Vegetables
For this method to work, it’s best to add some starchy vegetables, like steamed carrots and turnips, to the mixture. But you can also add onion and bell peppers for some extra flavor.
Just puree them in a blender or food processor with a touch of the sauce You can also use leftover cooked veggies as well. Pour some of the puree into the hot BBQ sauce and whisk it together. Add it slowly until the desired consistency is reached.
Two less common vegetables that can help thicken your sauce are plantains and cassava. You can boil and puree them as a thickening agent with a more neutral flavor.
You can also try pureed fruit, like bananas or peaches, but I only recommend adding fruit to get a thicker consistency if you have a very sweet style sauce.
Method 7: Whisk in Egg Yolks
Egg yolks are excellent for stabilizing thick sauces and puddings and for helping give foods a creamy, smooth texture. To thicken your sauce with egg yolks, gently beat 2 yolks in a small bowl and slowly drizzle them into a pot of sauce simmer over medium heat while simultaneously whisking.
If you need to add more, repeat the process, one egg yolk at a time.
If this method makes you nervous you can always temper the eggs first.
Egg yolks contain proteins that are coiled up in their natural state. When the egg yolks are added to a hot liquid, such as BBQ sauce, the heat causes the proteins to unwind and link up with each other.
This process is known as protein denaturation. As the proteins link up, they form a network that traps the liquid in the sauce and thickens it.
Methods I Do Not Recommend
There are some other methods that are sometimes recommended as ways of thickening your BBQ sauce. But because these methods can ruin your sauce, I don’t recommend them. Here are some things to avoid when trying to thicken up a thin BBQ sauce.
Avoid All-Purpose Flour
Unlike the cornstarch method above, you can’t simply mix white flour with water and add it to your BBQ sauce. You would first need to make a roux, then slowly add the BBQ sauce mixture. There’s no way to control the exact amount of roux you need, and the process is much more complex than necessary. Plus, if you need a gluten-free sauce, cornstarch is a better option.
Also avoid other flours including chickpea flour, rice, flour, and gluten-free flour. As someone who has been on a gluten-free diet for 15 years, I can tell you that no one wants these in their BBQ sauce, even in small amounts.
These methods may work, but both guar and xanthan gum are expensive options when compared with many above. Further, these gums can be difficult to work with.
If you do decide to try this method, add a very small amount of gum to the sauce and stir well. Add more as needed.
Avoid Using Breadcrumbs
You may find a certain amount of success using bread crumbs to thicken your sauce. With this method, you simply stir in bread crumbs.
They break down in the sauce and create a thickening effect. However, the texture of your sauce can be less than desirable, and the sauce tastes funny taste because of the yeast in the bread.
Avoid Cold Butter
While whisking in cold butter may help thicken up your sauce, it creates a few problems. It adds a lot of calories to your sauce. The butter may harden in your sauce when refrigerated, leaving an undesirable texture.
It’s also problematic if you want to use your sauce as a mop sauce (a sauce that is used to baste or mop meat during cooking). It will affect how the meat cooks and can even create burning when used on a grill, as the butter can contribute to an overabundance of flames on your grill.
Delicious BBQ Sauce Recipes
If you’re going to try a method of thickening your sauce, I would recommend beginning by trying cornstarch. It doesn’t change the flavor when used in small quantities, and it will do the trick in the majority of cases. Did you try one of these methods? Let me know which method created your perfect sauce!
How To Store Homemade BBQ Sauce
Homemade BBQ sauce should be refrigerated in an airtight container after it has cooled down to room temperature. The sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
If you want to store BBQ sauce for longer than two weeks, you can freeze it. Place the sauce in a freezer-safe container or freezer bag and remove as much air as possible before sealing. The sauce can be stored in the freezer for up to six months.
When you're ready to use frozen BBQ sauce, thaw it in the refrigerator overnight. Once it's thawed, you can reheat it in a small saucepan on the stove or in the microwave.
📖 Printable Recipe Card
How to Thicken BBQ Sauce
- In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and cold water until smooth.1 tablespoon cornstarch, 1 tablespoon cold water
- In a medium saucepan, heat the BBQ sauce over medium-high heat until it comes to a simmer.1 cups BBQ sauce
- Gradually pour the cornstarch mixture into the simmering BBQ sauce, whisking constantly to prevent lumps from forming.
- Continue whisking until the sauce thickens to your desired consistency, usually about 2-3 minutes.
- Small Saucepan