Barbecue sauce made in the Kansas City style is supposed to be sweet with a flavor profile that depends heavily on brown sugar and ketchup. It is easy to go overboard make something that is too sugary to be enjoyable. If you find that you have added too much brown sugar or some other sweetener to your barbecue sauce, there are a few ways to correct the problem.
More of everything except sweetness
One way to make your barbecue sauce less sweet is to balance out the sweeteners with all of the other flavors. However, this solution assumes that your barbecue sauce recipe doesn’t consist entirely of sweet ingredients. Also, balancing out a flavor by adding more of other ingredients might not work for some recipes in which all of the savory ingredients are dry spices as this would leave you with a consistency problem. If that’s the case, try one of the other solutions below.
There are mustard-based barbecue sauces in certain parts of the US, so the use of this tangy condiment is not unusual in a barbecue sauce application. What you might find unusual is the addition of mustard to a tomato-based barbecue sauce to offset the sweetness, but it works. Mustard has a bright tanginess that comes from the mustard seed itself as well as from vinegar. Its tanginess can make a cloyingly sweet barbecue sauce less syrupy and it does this without making the sauce thinner.
Just as the vinegar in mustard can make barbecue sauce taste less sweet, vinegar by itself can do the same thing. Vinegar is used in most barbecue sauces as a way to balance out sweet flavors and you will be using it for the same purpose. Of course, you will be using more of it to counteract the excessive sweetness. The downside of vinegar is the watery consistency, which can thin out your barbecue sauce.
You will get some sweetness from molasses, but you will also get a background bitterness that complements savory flavors. The bitterness can help to cut through some of the sweetness and enhance the savory seasonings and smokiness in a barbecue sauce.
The salty, umami flavor of soy sauce can help to neutralize excess sweeteners in your barbecue sauce. You won’t get any sweetness from soy sauce, so a low-sodium variety will help to dilute the sweetness in soy sauce without making it too salty. Soy sauce has caramel note in its flavor profile that can replicate some of the molasses flavor profile and help to make the sauce more palatable.
Chipotle in adobo sauce
You can cut the sweetness by adding an extremely savory ingredient to your barbecue sauce. Chipotle peppers are dried and smoked jalapenos. They are commonly sold canned in adobo sauce (vinegar and spices). To use them in barbecue sauce, you will need to break out the food processor and grind them down into a paste.
The smokiness from the peppers will enhance the flavor profile of your sauce while also balancing its sweetness. If you use the adobo sauce with will add even more flavor and acidity, both of which will make your sauce less sweet but also give it a strong umami kick. If you want less heat, you can use the adobo sauce by itself and omit the peppers.
While it might not make everyone’s list of barbecue sauce additives, coffee can bring a smoky bitterness that combats sweetness in a barbecue sauce.