H&G: Spice up the grill this spring

 In Opinion

When making homemade barbecue sauce, there’s a lot of room to get creative. With the formula of salt, sweet, tart and spice (including heat, if you like), you can riff on the recipe, taking advantage of all kinds of locally produced seasonal gems.

To start, you’ll want a base of caramelized chopped onion and garlic, with tomato added (or ketchup, if you prefer), brown sugar (or other locally sourced sweetness) and typically apple cider vinegar. Most recipes include a dab of Dijon mustard, a little Worcestershire sauce, and sometimes smoked paprika or a dash of hot sauce or cayenne for anyone who likes a bit of heat. 

With this as your guide, switch up the ingredients to make it your own. For example, try using blueberries and local honey or maple syrup to replace some of the sugar or stewed rhubarb or plums as an alternate source of sourness. Both are a delicious way of balancing the vinegar’s acidity without giving up the essential tartness. If the consistency of the sauce is too thick, thin it out with a little apple cider or black coffee.

When it comes to spices, let your personal preference be your guide. Try cinnamon or cardamom for a deep warm, rounded flavour (especially delicious with added rhubarb or plums). Turmeric, cumin and coriander lends an earthy quality to the sauce. If you like an added kick, our locally produced Doc Bells Chipotle Garlic Sauce took first place this past winter at the Royal Winter Fair! And last but not least, add a bit of salt and pepper to suit your taste.

Rhubarb Barbecue Sauce

1 cup of chopped rhubarb, gently cooked for 5 minutes in ½ cup of water and then pureed.

1 Tbsp cooking oil

1 medium onion or 3 shallots, chopped 

1 clove of garlic, minced or chopped

1 cup of ketchup

⅔ cup packed brown sugar

½ cup honey

1 ½ Tbsp cider vinegar

2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce

1 Tbsp Dijon mustard

1 Tbsp tomato paste

1 tsp each of ground cinnamon and coriander

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tsp crushed chillies or hot sauce, or both (optional)


  1. In a medium-sized pot, heat the oil and caramelize the onions and garlic over medium heat.
  2. Puree the cooked rhubarb and add it to the caramelized onion and garlic. Mix together and bring to a boil.
  3. Add the ketchup, sugar, honey, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard and tomato paste, stir and simmer on low heat, uncovered, for 8-10 minutes.
  4. Add spices, hot sauce as well as salt and pepper to taste.

This makes a delicious marinade when cooking at lower temperatures or as a finishing sauce or dip to serve if you are planning to grill at high temperatures. And it’s a delicious addition to any burger, too!

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