The Ingredient That Can Balance Overly Sweet Store-Bought BBQ Sauce

chicken wings with bbq sauce
chicken wings with bbq sauce - Debbismirnoff/Getty Images

If you've got the ingredients on hand, making barbecue sauce at home is a simple way to tailor your sauce to your specific taste preferences. However, because even easy homemade barbecue sauce recipes call for a laundry list of ingredients, if you haven't got all of them in the pantry, it can feel like more trouble than it's worth. Although not all grocery store barbecue sauces hit it out of the park (we ranked them, worst to first) they provide a quick solution. Super sweet store-bought barbecue sauce can be delicious on charred chicken wings, but it may not be the vibe for your smokey rack of ribs. Rather than running to the store for a more suitable option, you can quickly and easily take the sweetness of store-bought sauce down a few notches with the addition of vinegar.

Typically, barbecue sauce is made by combining some variation of ingredients like ketchup, mustard, brown sugar, molasses, honey, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, and spices. While the perfect barbecue sauce manages to maintain a balance between these flavors, many store-bought brands contain an excessive amount of sweetener. Luckily, adding vinegar, which hits the sour notes on the tongue, works to cut through the sweetness and minimize our perception of it.

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One Vinegar Stands Out Among The Rest

apple cider vinegare
apple cider vinegare - masa44/Shutterstock

When it comes to barbecue sauce, all vinegar is not created equal. Made from fermented apple juice, apple cider vinegar is a common choice for barbecue sauce (and is the secret ingredient for copycat Arby's sauce) favored for its tart, dry, and woody profile. Adding a couple of tablespoons of ACV to overly sweet BBQ sauce is a simple way to bring more depth of flavor to the concoction. If ACV isn't an option or the sauce is just too sweet, a tablespoon of lemon or lime juice can do wonders to reinstate balance.

If, after you've turned up the acid a bit, your sauce is still in need of a kick, the addition of hot sauce can work to bring the heat while Worcestershire sauce or soy sauce contribute a savory saltiness. Although the need for more sugar is rarely an issue, if you accidentally pushed the flavor too far in one direction or another, adding a bit of honey or molasses to the mix can quickly level things back out.

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