Healthy BBQ Sauce: Sweet & Smoky

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Let’s not sugarcoat it—BBQ sauce you buy at the store is often loaded with sugar, preservatives, and other ingredients you’ve never heard of. But we have a healthy BBQ sauce that’s going to rock your world, or at least your tofu. 

Eating a whole food plant based diet often entails making your own sauces. This may seem like a negative, but once you start making your own sauces, you may find that you love the creativity and freedom you have. Plus, homemade condiments are usually tastier and healthier than what you’d buy in the store. Our Sweet & Smoky BBQ Sauce is no exception. It’s everything you love about classic tomato-based barbecue sauce, made with wholesome and nutritious ingredients you can pronounce. But don’t just take our word for it, whip it up yourself and put it to the test.  

homemade bbq sauce

What’s inside 

Tomato paste: Naturally, the first ingredient in our tomato-based sauce is tomato paste. Paste is perfect here because its flavor is concentrated and there’s no excess water to thin things out too much. If you live in Europe, look for thick tomato puree. 

Apple cider vinegar: Vinegar is important for flavor balance because it provides acidity and brightens the taste of other ingredients. And it beautifully complements the smoky sweetness.

100% pure maple syrup and molasses: These are where much of our sweetness comes from. Molasses provides a deep, caramel/brown sugar flavor base, and the two together create a nice, complex sweetness. When you’re shopping for syrup, check the ingredients—the only one listed should be maple syrup with no other sweeteners or preservatives.

plant based bbq sauce ingredients

Soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and coconut aminos: These three ingredients provide savory saltiness to our barbecue sauce. We’re big fans of this trio for the extra notes of flavor each provides. Soy sauce brings the salty vibes, Worcestershire sauce tends to sing savory tunes, and coconut aminos has a sweeter side. Combining the three takes our sauce to the next level.

Tahini: Tahini is made from roasted sesame seeds ground into a thin paste. We like using it here because it provides body and an umami, nutty flavor. Some tahinis are thicker than others. This shouldn’t affect your barbecue sauce too much, but if it comes out thicker than you’d like, you can add a splash or two of water to thin it out. Don’t overdo it, or you’ll end up with a watery sauce.

Smoked paprika and liquid smoke: These ingredients provide—you guessed it—smoky flavors. Smoked paprika is different from the sweet version typically used on deviled eggs. Most grocery stores carry it, but if you’re having trouble finding it, check the natural supermarket in your area or shop online. If you’re making a lot of our recipes, buy the big jar–you’ll go through it faster than you imagine. If you don’t like or can’t find liquid smoke, feel free to add a little more smoked paprika. 

Let’s make healthy BBQ sauce

Gather your ingredients before getting started to make this quick recipe even faster. 

Grab a small saucepan (one quart or smaller—this recipe makes one cup) and measure all of your ingredients directly into it. Give everything a quick whisk to combine, then place the pan over medium heat. 

healthy barbecue sauce

Gently simmer, whisking occasionally, until the sauce is warmed through and everything is incorporated, about 10 minutes. 

barbecue sauce

Take off the heat, allow to cool slightly, and pour into an airtight container with a lid. Once it’s room temperature, pop it into the fridge and eat within five days. 

In the unlikely event that you have any leftovers, pop them in the freezer for up to three months.  

homemade barbecue sauce

Sweet & Smoky BBQ Sauce

Makes about 1 cup
Author: Molly Patrick


  • ½ cup water (120 ml)
  • 2⅔ tablespoons tomato paste (40 g)
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • tablespoons 100% pure maple syrup
  • 1⅓ tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce (gluten-free if necessary)
  • 1⅓ tablespoons vegan Worcestershire sauce (gluten-free if necessary)
  • 1 tablespoon tahini (15 g)
  • 1 tablespoon coconut aminos
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • teaspoons lemon juice
  • teaspoons yellow mustard
  • teaspoons arrowroot powder
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika powder
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon onion powder
  • ¼ teaspoon chili powder
  • teaspoon fresh black pepper (about 5 turns)
  • 1 drop liquid smoke (optional, sub with more smoked paprika if desired)


  • Place all of the ingredients into a small saucepan and whisk until combined.
  • Bring to simmer over medium heat and gently cook for 10 minutes, whisking occasionally. Lower the heat if the sauce starts to bubble vigorously.
  • Serve immediately or allow to cool completely before storing in an airtight container in the fridge.

Ways to use your healthy BBQ sauce 

Wondering what to put your Sweet & Smoky BBQ Sauce on? Wonder no more! We have a few favorites for you to try. 

whole food plant based bbq sauce

Our Oil-Free Crispy Tofu Nuggets are undoubtedly our number one pick for this sauce. Warning: Eating these nuggets will make you feel like a kid again.

Not a nugget fan? We don’t understand, but we support you. How about these ideas:

If you’re looking for some classic barbecue-style sides, we got those, too:

bbq sauce

Have you tried our Sweet & Smoky BBQ Sauce? Did it convince you that homemade sauces are the way to go? Let us know in the comments below.

Here’s to becoming a sauce boss.

Team Dirty

healthy bbq sauce

More healthy BBQ sauce recipes

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Our Sweary Saturday Love Letters are written by our ex-boozer, ex-smoker, plant-loving co-founder, Molly Patrick.

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