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Cranberry BBQ Sauce

I really wish I had this recipe growing up, when my mom and I used to make tons of cranberry sauce for the holiday season. It’s a great way to use leftover sauce that totally works, given that cranberry sauce (at least, how I make mine) is typically spiced, as well as sweet and tangyjust like barbecue (BBQ) sauce. Skeptical? Don’t be! The cranberry flavor isn’t as pronounced as it would be eating cranberry sauce on its own.

The cranberries do give the sauce a pretty, dark magenta color and are of course complemented by classic BBQ sauce ingredients, including tomato. Another benefit: using cranberry sauce helps to cut back on the overall sugar that you would normally add to a BBQ sauce because it already has some. I also found that I didn’t have to add vinegar, given the tartness of the berries.

The very first time I made homemade BBQ sauce, years ago, I knew it was going to be different, but the thickness of it surprised me. Initially, I thought I was doing something wrong, until I let the sauce hang out on the stove, realizing that it was a matter of having more patience; the sauce had to reduce, thickening over time. It thickened, but still, the end result was much thinner than what I was used to seeing, dipping, squeezing and spreading on to my food because the truth is: homemade never comes out identical in thickness to its commercial counterpart.

Typically, a BBQ sauce like many of us are used to seeing in squeeze bottles at the grocery store might be largely made of corn syrup and white sugar; acid, like white vinegar; tomato paste or concentrate; and spices, as well as stabilizers and gums, which make them shelf-stable for years and give the sauce a specific texture and consistency. Some varieties may add liquid smoke, maple, or bacon flavoring, too.

I’m not suggesting that stabilizers and flavorings are “bad”in fact, they are necessary and useful at the massive scale at which these sauces are produced. After that experience, I just had to reset my expectations for what BBQ sauce looks like compared to its commercial counterpart. The same generally goes for any homemade condiment including mayo, salad dressings, mustard, and ketchup.

For those reasons, this cranberry BBQ sauce will not immediately look super thick and goopy, like what you would squeeze out of a plastic bottle. Have patience to cook the sauce and you can end up with a beautifully thickened, savory and fruity sauce in an hour or less. Also, if you’re using a homemade whole berry cranberry sauce, the skins of the cranberries will add extra fiber and pectin that will help to thicken the sauce. Beware of having your burner set too high or going too far in cooking it to the point of burning it.

You’ve probably also experienced that most commercial ketchups are thick (some are incredibly viscous) and sweet. I use it here, along with tomato paste and chili sauce, because I like the different tastes that all three of them add. Ketchup adds thickness and spices that could include clove, allspice, onion, and garlic depending on the brand. Tomato paste is a more intense, concentrated tomato flavor. And to me, chili sauce tastes much brighter than ketchup; more of a fresh, acidic tomato flavor.

I like the way both chili sauce and ketchup taste together in recipes, like cocktail sauce for seafood and this BBQ sauce. Try them side-by-side, if you haven’t before, and you’ll see what I mean as far as the flavor differences. I have also made homemade chili sauce in the past using a recipe from Food in Jars that was outstanding, very different from commercial chili sauce. If you don’t have chili sauce, you can of course just add extra ketchup to this recipe.

A few ideas use this could be, of course, in place of BBQ sauce for dipping chicken or tofu nuggets, on top of veggie burgers or beef burgers, tossed with shredded turkey or chicken as a sandwich, drizzled on top of a BBQ chicken flatbread or pizza, or in any other way that you might use BBQ sauce with your food.

Cranberry BBQ Sauce
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
30 mins
Total Time
40 mins

It wouldn't be the holidays in my house without cranberry sauce, but if you have leftover sauce, like I always seem to, try it in a tangy BBQ sauce. Try it in place of BBQ sauce for dipping chicken or tofu nuggets, on top of veggie burgers or beef burgers, tossed with shredded turkey or chicken as a sandwich, drizzled on top of a BBQ chicken flatbread or pizza, or in any other way that you might use BBQ sauce with your food.

Course: Main Course, Sauce, Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Keyword: barbecue, barbecue sauce, BBQ sauce, christmas, cranberry, cranberry sauce, grilling, grilling sauce, holiday, quick sauce, sauce, thanksgiving
Servings: 2 cups
  • 1 cup whole berry cranberry sauce (homemade or from a can)
  • ½ cup water
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • ¼ cup ketchup
  • ¼ cup chili sauce (Optional – substitute additional 1/4 cup ketchup if you don't have it.)
  • cup honey (Optional – taste your sauce prior to adding. Depending on how sweet your cranberries are, you may not need it.)
  • 1 tablespoon worsterchire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice from half a lime
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ½ teaspoon chipotle powder
  1. Combine all ingredients in a small pot, stir or whisk together to combine.

  2. Bring sauce to a simmer and cook for approximately 20-30 minutes until thickened and reduced.

  3. Use immediately or cool and refrigerate, covered, for up to a week.