After years of sampling and experimenting, I’ve come up with what I consider the ultimate base sauce, the perfect balance of sweet, salty, and tangy that I think best complements barbecue. The serious depth of flavor comes from first sweating onion, bell pepper, and garlic before moving on to the spices and later transitioning into those beloved concentrated ingredients, like mustard, ketchup, apricot preserves, and molasses.
A last- minute blast of heat, texture, and tang comes from grated jalapeño and green apple. I tweak it a bit here and there— adding some honey or hot sauce or vinegar, depending on what I’m cooking— but the foundation is all here.
1⁄2 cup canola or vegetable oil
5 garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 medium sweet white onion, coarsely chopped
1 green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus additional as needed
1⁄4 cup bourbon
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon coarsely ground fresh black pepper
1⁄4 teaspoon ground allspice, plus additional for seasoning
1⁄4 teaspoon ground cloves, plus additional for seasoning
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 cups water
2 cups ketchup
1⁄2 cup unsulfured blackstrap molasses
1⁄2 cup prepared yellow mustard
1⁄2 cup apple cider vinegar, plus additional as needed
2 teaspoons hot sauce
1⁄2 cup apricot preserves
1 jalapeño chile, grated on a Microplane grater, stopping before the seeds
1⁄2 Granny Smith apple, grated on a Microplane grater
Pour the oil in a large saucepan and place over medium heat until it starts to shimmer. Stir in the garlic, onion, bell pepper, and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables have softened, about 10 minutes.
Pour in the bourbon and cook until the alcohol has cooked off, about 5 minutes. There will no longer be the strong smell of alcohol.
Combine the chili powder, black pepper, allspice, and cloves and add to the pan. Cook, stirring continuously, until fragrant, about 3 minutes.
Stir in the brown sugar, water, ketchup, molasses, mustard, vinegar, hot sauce, and preserves. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally to be sure nothing sticks to the bottom and burns. Reduce to a simmer. Continue to simmer, stirring often, until thickened, about 45 minutes.
Add the jalapeño and apple. At this point the sauce can be left chunky or blended in a blender (blend in small batches since it will be hot), or in a bowl using an immersion/stick blender until smooth.
Season to taste with additional allspice, cloves, salt, and vinegar to taste.