Inspired by Jamaica's famous spice blend, this jerk BBQ sauce gives your favorite grilled meats and vegetables a touch of Caribbean flavor. This BBQ sauce shows off a blend of rich, complex spices with just the right heat kick that you can adjust to suit your taste. Plus, you can make your very own BBQ sauce in under 30 minutes, and it's so much better than those processed store-bought varieties.
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
The perfect blend of spice: Those dried jerk spices and a fresh pepper give this sauce a wonderful depth of flavor to make a beautifully balanced BBQ sauce like no other. You’ll want to make this sauce all summer long.
Uses real ingredients: No fake ingredients or weird chemicals required.
Doubles as a thoughtful hosting gift: With plenty of backyard summer parties on the agenda, you’ll likely need nice thank-you gifts throughout the season. Sure, you can always bring a bottle of wine or flowers, but everyone does that. A jar of homemade BBQ sauce is the perfect way to add a personal touch.
Related: If you love this recipe, make sure you also try my jerk salsa.
Tomato sauce: We use this as the base of our BBQ sauce.
Tomato paste: This gives us just the right thickening power.
Scotch bonnet or habanero pepper: Traditionally, scotch bonnet peppers are used in jerk marinade. However, I cannot get them locally. I can only get them when they’re ready in my summer garden, but we’re months away from that, and I already used my frozen scotch bonnets from last year’s crop to make hot sauce.
Habanero is a close cousin and widely available. This works as a great substitute if you can’t get your hands on scotch bonnet peppers.
Spices: This jerk spice medley includes dried thyme, Chinese five-spice seasoning, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice and cloves. The Chinese five-spice seasoning might seem like an odd ingredient for a Jamaican-inspired recipe, but because of Chinese laborers migrating to Jamaica during the 19th century British colonization, you’ll see a Chinese influence on Caribbean cooking. You can find it in your typical spice aisle, and it adds a prominent peppery kick.
Apple cider vinegar: A little vinegar gives BBQ sauce its signature acidity. The honey, molasses and brown sugar work nicely to balance those acidic notes and smooth it out with just the right touch of sweetness.
Note: By no means am I calling this an authentic Jamaican recipe. This is very much an Americanized take. I’ve absolutely loved my experience traveling to Jamaica as well as adore jerk cooking and thought the flavors would work well in a BBQ sauce.
Step 1: In a small saucepan, we stir together the tomato sauce and tomato paste to make one cohesive mixture like so (photo 1).
Step 2: Now we simply stir in the garlic, scotch bonnet or habanero pepper, apple cider vinegar, molasses, honey, dark brown sugar and spices (photo 2).
Step 3: Over medium heat, we bring the mixture to a simmer and continue cooking to allow the sauce to thicken and the flavors to meld (photo 3).
Can you believe that’s it? Just three simple steps and we have ourselves an amazing homemade BBQ sauce. Let’s never use a store-bought sauce again.
How to Store
After making our sauce, we allow it to cool completely and then store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. A mason jar or even a cleaned-out glass jar work well for this.
Thanks to the apple cider vinegar and sugar, this sauce has natural preservatives, so it comes with a nice shelf life. Expect to get about two to three weeks of storage. If you notice any mold or smell an off flavor, it’s time for a new batch.
For even longer storage, you can always freeze leftover sauce. Pour the sauce into a freezer-safe container, and it will be at its best for up to three months.
Tasty Ways to Use BBQ Sauce
Naturally, BBQ sauce is great for brushing onto smoked or grilled meats or serving on the side. Some of my favorites include this smoked brisket, ribs and tri tip. I also brushed it on my smoked spatchcock chicken during the last few minutes of cooking, and it added such a wonderful flavor with those wood notes.
But we don’t have to stop there. Here are a few other ways you can put this sauce to use, and let me know what fun ideas you create.
- Slather on top of a burger or sliders — try my smoked burgers or venison burgers.
- Drizzle on this brisket macaroni and cheese.
- Use it as a pizza sauce for this BBQ pizza.
- Spread into a grilled cheese sandwich.
- Mix with ranch dressing to make an amazing summer salad.
Of course, spice is subjective. That said, I would say this sauce has a kick, but it’s not overly spicy. In my experience, most people can handle the heat just fine.
Canning requires a specific pH level for food safety reasons, and this recipe has not been tested for canning.
Variations and Substitutions
Make it spicier: As mentioned, this sauce has a kick, but it’s still on the mild side. For more of a fiery touch, add another pepper or two.
Leave out peppers: Conversely, if you’re especially sensitive to heat and just want to enjoy the warm spices, you can always leave out the pepper entirely.
Add more Caribbean flair with some Jamaican rum: After simmering, turn off the heat and stir in 2 tablespoons Jamaican rum.
Adjust the spices to suit your taste: I designed this recipe so that it gives you those warm spices without one flavor overpowering another. But that’s just to my palate — you might want more cinnamon, thyme or cloves. I recommend following the recipe as is and then adding more to taste if you’d like.
Use kitchen gloves when handling the pepper: Those pepper oils can irritate your skin, and it does not feel good if you scratch your eye after touching a fresh pepper.
Make sure to finely chop the habanero or scotch bonnet pepper: You don’t want to bite into any large chunks.
Use fresh spices: After about six months, dried spices will start to lose their potency.
If you’re serving this sauce with lighter fare, such as grilled chicken, you’ll love a citrusy wheat ale on the side to keep your palate refreshed. That touch of lemon helps bring out those rich spices. For heavier meats, like various beef cuts, a brown ale will stand up better, and that malty backbone will work just as well with the molasses and spice.
Prefer a wine? An off-dry riesling can balance the spice, and it’s better with your lighter dishes. If you’re planning a bigger meat, a malbec works well, and it offers some nice berry notes for a touch of contrast.
For a cocktail, this Jamaican mule is the perfect homage. With Jamaican rum taking center stage in this drink, it pairs nicely with the molasses and brown sugar, and that ginger beer is great with all those spices. Plus, it’s ultra refreshing for those hot summer days.
Don’t throw your next summer cookout without a jar of this jerk BBQ sauce ready to go. Your guests will thank you for it.
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Jamaican-Inspired Jerk BBQ Sauce
- Small saucepan
- 1 (15-ounce) tomato sauce can
- 1 (6-ounce) tomato paste can
- 3 garlic cloves grated or minced
- 1-2 finely chopped scotch bonnet or habanero peppers stemmed and seeded
- ½ cup apple cider vinegar
- ⅓ cup unsulphured molasses not blackstrap
- ¼ cup honey
- ¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons Chinese five-spice seasoning
- 2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg preferably freshly grated
- ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- In a medium saucepan, stir together the tomato sauce and paste until it becomes one cohesive mixture.
- Stir in the garlic, scotch bonnet or habanero pepper, apple cider vinegar, molasses, honey, dark brown sugar and spices.
- Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Continue to simmer until the mixture slightly thickens, stirring often to prevent burning. If necessary, you can turn down the heat but maintain a simmer. Cooking time generally takes about 15-20 minutes. Turn off heat. Cool and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Enjoy!
- Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for two to three weeks. If you see any mold or smell an off flavor, it's time for a new batch. You can also store it in a freezer-safe container for up to three months.
- Use gloves when handling the pepper to protect your skin and eyes.
- One pepper will give you a fairly mild sauce. If you'd like to up the heat, feel free to add another pepper or two.
- By no means am I calling this an authentic Jamaican recipe. This is very much an Americanized recipe. I’ve absolutely loved my experience traveling to Jamaica as well as adore jerk cooking and thought the flavors would work well in a BBQ sauce.
- Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.