Kentucky BBQ Sauce

Coming from the northern edge of the southeastern US, I have always felt like I was on the fringe of American barbeque subculture. I’m not saying that there isn’t great barbeque in Louisville, Kentucky because there clearly is. But Kentucky seems to be known more for fried chicken and bourbon.

So when someone asked me the other night if Kentucky was known for barbeque, I had to stop and think. I’m typically a Carolina barbeque sauce gal. Although I like Kansas City sauces too, the heat and subtle sting of a Carolina gold sauce, alive with vinegar and mustard, speaks to my soul. But what about a Kentucky sauce? I honestly didn’t have any idea what a Kentucky sauce was.

Wikipedia says that Kentucky has two distinct barbeque styles. Western Kentucky, the half of the state that includes Appalachia, prefers mutton and a Worcestershire based sauce. Southcentral Kentucky favors pork shoulder and a pepper vinegar sauce. Neither of those regions includes my hometown of Louisville. So what about a Louisville barbeque sauce? I’m ashamed to admit that I know so little about my home state’s culinary contributions to barbeque.

Apparently, Louisville and Lexington are a mishmash of barbeque styles with a small majority of establishments in Louisville serving a thick tomato-based sauce. Armed with that information, I set out to create my version of a Kentucky BBQ sauce. I adapted it from a recipe I found online that I think incorporates the best of the Bluegrass (good Kentucky Bourbon) with the best of barbeque sauce. I’ve used it on pulled pork and as a marinade for grilled chicken but you can use it on pretty much any piece of meat barbequed or not.

Kentucky BBQ Sauce


  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 cup good Kentucky bourbon
  • 4 tbsp. dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tbsp. soy sauce (or tamari)
  • 3 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 2 garlic cloves (minced or pressed)
  • 1 tbsp. grated onion
  • salt and fresh ground pepper to taste


  1. whisk all ingredients in a saucepan until well combined.
  2. bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.
  3. simmer approximately 10 minutes.
  4. let the sauce cool and refrigerate it for several hours at least before using.
  5. use at room temperature.
Woodford Reserve is a really good Kentucky bourbon. Weller is a good Kentucky bourbon that would be ideal for cooking.
Woodford Reserve is a really good Kentucky bourbon. Weller is a good Kentucky bourbon that would be ideal for cooking.

2 thoughts on “Kentucky BBQ Sauce

  1. MeaghanC May 26, 2015 / 1:06 pm

    This recipe for BBQ sauce sounds great! Can’t wait to try it next time I grill


  2. Sara Huber May 26, 2015 / 1:44 pm

    Love it! I am going to have to try the Carolina sauce for Ben. I just buy “barbecue sauce!”


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