Rhubarb Barbecue Sauce

Yes, yes, I know – who the hell makes barbecue sauce when it’s 85 degrees out? I the hell do, thank you very much. When you’ve had a seriously crazy couple of weeks, you worked last night until 1:00 am, and you still have 5 lbs of rhubarb wilting in the fridge, you make barbecue sauce when the sun shines.

Despite the fact that it’s about 95 degrees in my kitchen right now, this sauce was a delightful surprise. Kind of like a plum sauce, kind of like a sweet-n-sour sauce, with the texture of a traditional, tomato-based barbecue sauce, the tart flavor of rhubarb, the sweetness of honey, and the spice habanero combined to make this a wonderful experiment, and one I’m sure to repeat. If you have your own rhubarb plants, or rhubarb is overflowing at the farmer’s market, this recipe can easily be doubled. The sauce is so tasty, I’m sure I’ll find many uses for it all year round.

Not what you’re looking for? See other tasty rhubarb recipes here.

Adapted from Victorian Barbecue Sauce in the Ball Book of Home Preserving, J. Kingry & L. Devine.

Rhubarb Barbecue Sauce


  • 3 lbs trimmed rhubarb, sliced to 1 inch pieces
  • 1 medium red onion (size of a baseball), diced (about ¾ cup)
  • 2 cups raisins
  • 1 medium habanero pepper, halved and seeded (reserve seeds to adjust heat at the end)
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • ¾ cup honey


  1. In a large, wide Dutch oven or skillet, combine all ingredients except the honey.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Lower heat and simmer, covered, until the fruit has softened enough to crush easily (about 20 – 30 minutes). Blend sauce with an immersion blender, or by transferring to a blender or food processor, then return to the pot and simmer over low heat, covered with a splatter screen, until reduced by about half, or sauce reaches the consistency of a thick commercial barbecue sauce, about 1 – 2 hours.
  2. If canning, prepare canner, jars and lids.
  3. Add honey. Stir well, taste, and adjust spices, sweetener, and/or chile pepper. If necessary, continue to simmer to further reduce the sauce.
  4. Ladle hot sauce into clean hot jars, leaving ½-inch of headspace. Bubble jars, wipe rims and affix lids. Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. Allow to rest in the cooling water bath for 5 minutes, then remove (keeping upright) and allow to cool completely at room temperature before labeling and storing.

Yields about 3 – 4 pints of a thick sauce.


  1. I made some changes to the Ball original recipe: increasing the rhubarb, onion and vinegar, and adding some garlic and habanero pepper. I’m confident that the changes still produce a preserve that is safely acidic for water bath canning, but of course, you should always use your own best judgement.
  2. If you haven’t yet taken the canning plunge, simply cut the recipe in half and store in a quart jar in the fridge. The sauce will keep for several weeks, if not months.
  3. The habanero adds a nice kick of spiciness on the finish, but this is not a very spicy sauce. If you like it hot, include the seeds and perhaps add one more habanero (be careful of adding too much of a non-acidic vegetable if you are canning). If you can’t handle the heat, you can omit the peppers entirely.
  4. The honey is added at the very end because it is sticky and makes for a much more splattery mess if you add it early. If you like splattery messes, feel free to add it at the beginning.
  5. You can make this preserve a bit more quickly if you want to stand over the stove and stir, stir, stir; or you can make it even more slowly in a Crock-Pot with the lid propped open with a wooden spoon.


Canned at room temperature for up to 1 year. Refrigerated for several weeks.


Spring into summer.



  1. hey there
    we were awarded with you today over on naturalweddingcompany blog, I have just been having a read your blog is lovely – I have 5lb rhubarb in my veggie plot so you have given me great inspiration (i only wish it was 85 degrees here!!!

  2. So far, I have only bake Rhubarb pies. I wanted to try other rhubarb recipes and this will be a good one to do. I think the sauce will be a nice gift to bring along to a friend’s house for dinner. Thanks for sharing.

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  9. Just discovered you blog on Pinterest while looking for something to do with the load of rhubarb i have left in the freezer from last season…AWESOME! I just finished making a batch, and I will for sure be making it and canning it this season! Thank you for such an amazing recipe!

  10. Hi Hannah,

    Thanks much for the kind words! I am a wee bit obsessed with rhubarb, so make sure you check out the rhubarb section of the Preserves index: https://localkitchenblog.com/recipes/preserves/ Lots of good ideas.

    Unfortunately, the design for this label, in MS Word, at least, was really fiddly and kind of a pain to work with, which is why I abandoned it. There are, however, step-by-step instructions for another label design, that you can do yourself in Word, here: https://localkitchenblog.com/2010/10/14/labels-a-tutorial/

    All of the labels shown here https://localkitchenblog.com/labels/ were done in MS Word. So if you have time, and a little patience, you can come up with your own perfect labels!


    • awesome, thanks for the links too, Kaela! Looking forward to more rhubarb recipes…it’s starting to come up this spring already here in Ohio! Can’t wait, I just love the stuff but have only ever made sweets with it….i suppose the bbq is pretty sweet…but, it’s not a dessert, and i love that!
      I have some experience in PS, so i’m sure i could come up with a label, just loved yours! I”ll check out the tutorial! Thanks for sharing!


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  12. Mark Derengowski

    Just got finished making a double batch. I was short on raisins but had enough craisins (dried cranberries) to measure out enough. I also added some black pepper, paprika and whorchester sauce. Its finger lickin good.

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  14. Jim Harper

    I came to this website because I didn’t believe that there was enough liquid in it to bring to a boil. It is now ten minutes later and there is plenty of liquid from the rhubarb. I didn’t add any more vinegar. I also added some jalapenos, because I like a little kick too.

    Jim Harper

    • Hi Jim,

      Be careful about adding jalapenos, unless you intend to freeze, refrigerate or pressure-can the sauce: adding additional low-acid vegetables like jalapenos may adversely affect the safety for water-bath canning. If I were you, I might add another 1/4 to 1/2 cup of vinegar to be on the safe side, depending on how many you added.

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  20. mia

    what about using red pepper flakes for heat? no habaneros around and then it wouldn’t affect acidity …. or would it?

  21. Okay thinking about this one since I need more rhubarb. But I am also thinking it would work with frozen rhubarb which would mean I could wait until I can get garden peppers. Store bought peppers don’t have the same heat for me.

    • I don’t think I’ve made it with frozen rhubarb, but no reason it shouldn’t be fine. I always have a stash of frozen chiles from the farm; often the ‘regular’ supermarket only has jalapenos. Boooring.

  22. mia

    is this pretty sweet? if so, is it safe to skip the honey or reduce the brown sugar? i don’t prefer sweet BBQ sauces but want it to be safe!

    • Hi Mia,

      Honey and/or sugar do not contribute to acidity, so do not affect the safety of a preserve. Sugar is, however, a preservative, so it you reduce or eliminate it, you will likely have a shorter shelf life of your preserve, both on the shelf and once opened.

      I don’t find this one particularly sweet, since rhubarb is so tangy, but it’s easy enough to add more sweetener at the end if you like. I’d keep at least 1 cup of sugar in there, for body/texture and for preservative powers: then you can taste and adjust at the end if you’d like more.

  23. mia

    a couple more substitution questions – the downside of being 60 miles from a grocery store – can i substitute Craisins for raisins? wanting to double the recipe – but only enough apple cider vinegar for a single batch, can i use 1/2 apple cider and 1/2 white vinegar or lemon juice to still do a double batch? thx so much!!

    • Hi Mia,

      Using half white vinegar is fine. As for the craisins, it would be safe to substitute, but I’m guessing the flavor profile would not be the best; it’s not something I would do. You’d be better off with dates or figs, if you have any of those on hand, or just skip the raisins altogether and perhaps add a bit more brown sugar or honey if needed.

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  25. candace

    Just made this. Delicious! And I’m so glad to have another go to recipe for my freezer full of rhubarb. When tasting it, I thought it might work really well with sour cherries as well, as a substitute for rhubarb (I have a tree full of cherries ready to be picked so I’m thinking of them a lot). Thoughts? Would you think a 1:1 substitution would work?

  26. keliannmartin

    Here it is, 2017, and I STILL make this BBQ Sauce every season! I made this with prunes when I ran out of raisins last year and it has become a favorite substitution. My family LOVES it!

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