20 Unexpected Ways To Use Barbecue Sauce

As grillmasters gear up for warmer weather, they anxiously await the smell of smoking hickory wood chips, the refreshing taste of ice-cold beer, and of course, dousing their creations in a big bowl of barbecue sauce. Who can resist the sticky, smokey sauce that balances the line between sweet and savory so delicately? It's one of a kind yet comes in all flavors, colors, and styles. And while nobody can resist a classic rack of ribs slathered in the good stuff, there are so many unexpected ways to use barbecue sauce that go unexplored.

While most of us know how to make a quick, sweet, and tangy barbecue sauce, we also understand that the options are nearly endless when it comes to added ingredients. Anything from pineapple or cherry juice to espresso powder can take it to a whole new level. And just as important as the flavor is what you'll be pouring it over. Luckily, barbecue sauce is quite versatile, so it can adorn a range of flavors beyond simply meat. Here are some unexpected ways to use barbecue sauce that you might not have thought of before.

1. Drizzle over grilled fruit

Perhaps one of the most unique ways to use barbecue sauce is drizzling it over grilled fruit. This may seem out of left field, but hear us out. Fruit makes an incredible addition to homemade barbecue sauce. Just think of pomegranate molasses or plum chipotle barbecue variations. This sweet and smokey combination works especially well on pineapple and stonefruits.

Consider lightly drizzling your grilled fruit in sauce and then pairing it with proteins like in a Hawaiian BBQ burger or on dark cherry and pork grilled skewers. Just be sure to follow some basic tips and tricks for grilling fruit to be sure it turns out just right before slathering on the sticky sweet sauce. Pair your fruit and sauce wisely, as this risky combo can make or break a dish.

2. Switch up your pizza

At every pizza party, you can expect to find a cheese pizza with tomato sauce. And while we love a good margherita pizza, it's worth it to explore the numerous other sauces that pair well with the crusty, cheesy combination. Although your Italian ancestors may be rolling over in their graves, barbecue pizza is worth a try. It's similar enough to a sweet tomato sauce, as barbecue is tomato-based as well, but does tend to steal the show.

Consider pairing it with chicken and red onion for a classic BBQ chicken pizza recipe, or try giving your gourmet pizza toppings an upgrade by pairing it with roasted corn, Swiss chard, mushrooms, and garlic. Add barbecue sauce to vegan or gluten-free pizzas to help overpower any substitutes that might not quite hit the mark.

3. Throw together a casserole

Casserole is a weeknight staple in many American households. Bake it once and enjoy it throughout the week. Those with big families would have a hard time imagining life without them but often tend to stick to a few tried-and-true recipes passed down through generations. Let us introduce a spicy-sweet sauce that can give your casserole a little extra kick.

Barbecue sauce doesn't work on every casserole, but it can certainly bring extra life to those with which it pairs nicely. Consider a veggie-packed barbecue chicken casserole recipe, or a barbecue breakfast bake with eggs, bread, cheddar cheese, ham, and cornflakes. Even a cheesy potato casserole could use a drizzle of the sauce of the gods. Consider adding it to any of your Southern casserole favorites.

4. Pair with carrots

Although fruit tends to take center stage when it comes to sweetness, there are quite a few vegetables out there that are loaded with natural sugars. These sugars come to the surface when they're cooked, and especially when they're grilled or caramelized. You can't argue that a caramelized onion or grilled red pepper isn't packed with sweet undertones. Root vegetables in particular can be incredibly sweet and pair beautifully with barbecue sauce.

Try glazing your carrots with barbecue sauce or adding it to your grilled vegetables this summer. Who says grilled meats get to have all the fun when it comes to barbecue sauce? Carrots are especially delicious because of their natural sugars, and because their mellow, earthy flavor shines when slathered with the sticky sauce. They can make for an incredibly powerful side dish.

5. Spice up sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are famous for strutting their stuff as both a sweet and savory food. In fact, a baked sweet potato loaded with brown sugar, cinnamon, and butter is just as well-loved as one drizzled with tahini and topped with falafel and tabouli. This is why barbecue sauce and the orange root vegetable make such a good combination.

Consider dicing sweet potatoes and roasting them with spices like chili powder, paprika, garlic powder, and black pepper, along with barbecue sauce to stuff into tacos or quesadillas. Try easy Hasselback sweet potatoes, drizzled lightly in the sauce as a flavorful side dish. Or even take a shot at drizzling an ultra-sweet barbecue sauce over your sweet potato casserole with brown sugar and butter, topped with toasted marshmallows.

6. Season your beef, turkey, or veggie burger mix

One of the biggest mistakes people make with homemade burgers is forgetting to season them properly. Yes, it's easy to shape a handful of ground beef into a patty, throw it on the grill, and call it a day. But if you want those burgers to sing, you're going to have to raid your spice cabinet.

Whether you're making beef, turkey, or veggie burgers, consider adding finely diced raw onion, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Herbs like dried parsley or even sage or thyme can complement some proteins quite nicely. But don't skimp on the barbecue sauce. Consider adding a few tablespoons of sweet or smokey sauce to your burger mix. This will help the patty caramelize as it comes in contact with heat and give it flavorful undertones.

7. Mix it with mayo

Folks can't seem to get enough aioli these days. And while aioli technically refers to a garlic-whipped oil, people have been using the word to describe basically any flavored mayonnaise, so we're rolling with the punches. There are many ways to elevate the flavor of mayonnaise with aromatics, spices, herbs, and other sauces, but one of our favorites just so happens to be barbecue sauce.

While a balance to your liking is best, we recommend starting with a 2-to-1 ratio of mayonnaise to barbecue sauce and adding more barbecue sauce as desired from there. This creamy, smokey, spicy, and sweet dip is perfect for roasted vegetables, french fries, fried fish, and chicken. It even makes an incredible burger topping, especially when pickles are present.

8. Add it to chili

Chili is famous for housing secret ingredients that range from pickle juice to peanut butter, but we think we've found the perfect ingredient to make it pop. Because chili typically contains a little sweetener, plenty of spices, and smokey undertones, barbecue sauce can be an incredible addition to the tomato broth. Note that because you've added this sauce, you may be able to tone back the sweetener or heat depending on the kind of sauce you're using.

We recommend springing for a smokey barbecue sauce with peppery undertones to help intensify the campfire-cooked feel. Just a tablespoon or so will do to start as you can always add more along the way. You want to avoid the chili tasting like barbecue sauce, so instead use it to complement and enhance the prominent flavors.

9. Top your salad

Of all the unexpected ways to use barbecue sauce, drizzling it on top of a salad is likely one of the least considered. However, when paired properly with a particular type of salad, the sweet, smokey, and spicy sauce can really help tie things together. Consider making your very own barbecue sauce vinaigrette using honey, vinegar, citrus, and of course, your favorite barbecue sauce.

You're safe enjoying it over a Cobb salad loaded with chicken, bacon, cheese, and eggs, or on a mild salad with roasted sweet potato or corn. You'll want to avoid using it in combination with too many other powerful flavors, but barbecue vinaigrette tends to complement a variety of cheeses, proteins, raw sweet onions, and roasted vegetables. Keep the salad simple to allow the dressing to shine.

10. Drizzle onto breakfast eggs

If you start your day off with an egg dish every morning, then it's likely you enjoy routine or have a plethora of unique variations up your sleeve. Next time you go to make your famous soft and fluffy scrambled eggs recipe or that classic over easy, consider a new condiment. Yes, ketchup and hot sauce often find themselves at the breakfast table next to eggs, but barbecue sauce carries a bit more pizzaz.

Eggs have a mild flavor and deserve to be dressed up every now and again. Use just a little bit of barbecue sauce right in your cheesy eggs, or drizzle it over the top after they've come off the stove. You can even use barbecue sauce in your breakfast sandwiches or in a croissant breakfast casserole recipe.

11. Mix into mac and cheese

Macaroni and cheese is notorious for inviting a variety of toppings to bring the flavor, which is convenient because it goes with an incredible variety of sauces and seasonings. A good, bare-bones macaroni and cheese should be able to hold its own, but it never hurts to give it an extra flair of flavor. Whether you're loading on blue cheese and buffalo sauce, mascarpone and lobster, or pulled pork and barbecue sauce, it's never a bad idea to consider some of the best additions to mac and cheese around.

Barbecue sauce and cheese, especially cheddar, go together like peas in a pod. Consider topping your next macaroni side or main course with your new favorite sauce. The simple combination is good as is but also leaves room for additional toppings like green onion, pulled pork, and even mushrooms.

12. Top grits

Classic creamy grits are a Southern staple that can be eaten with breakfast, lunch, or dinner. They're made with ground corn, and it just doesn't get any simpler than that. Typically, grits are jazzed up with butter and cheese, but they can be found in a variety of forms depending on the creator. Gravy is sometimes added after the grits have been cooked, but we think it's fun to play around with a sauce that has a little more of a tangy punch to it.

Try drizzling your cheesy grits with a little smokey barbecue sauce. When done just right, they should be creamy and mild, which makes for an incredible complementary mouthfeel and flavor for the tomato-based sauce. Only use a thin drizzle so as not to overpower the dish.

13. Layer into a grilled cheese sandwich

Grilled cheese is another one of those dishes that can either be enjoyed plain-Jane or be gifted a creative and artisanal flair. To keep it classified as a grilled cheese and not just an everyday sandwich, it's important that the melted cheese remains a main player when it comes to toppings. However, there are some other ingredients that can take grilled cheese to a whole new level. Building one is essentially a cheese-pairing party for sandwich lovers.

Homemade barbecue sauce can be lightly drizzled onto grilled cheese in combination with just about any variety of cheese. A sharp cheddar works wonderfully, but other softer and milder cheese work as well, especially when used in combination with fruit or salty proteins.

14. Flavor corn on the cob

Every summer, corn hits the spotlight hard. And right by its side, without fail, is trusty old butter. While some may venture as far as to add salt and pepper to their corn, or even mayonnaise and cheese, there are numerous ways to season corn on the cob that should be considered.

Think outside of the box and try using a drizzle of sweet barbecue sauce. The sugars in the sauce complement the natural sugars in the corn, and it adds a smokey and spicy pop of flavor. We recommend using a thinner sauce, or one thinned with a little butter or olive oil, in order to allow the sauce to be lightly drizzled and get caught between the kernels.

15. Mix it into your meatballs

Meatballs don't always have to be paired with spaghetti and marinara. Instead, use them as the focus of your plate and serve them with roasted vegetables, baked potatoes, or cooked whole grains. However, if they are center stage, then it's worth it to give them a little extra flavor. Consider making BBQ meatballs as the perfect weeknight entree.

Simply mix barbecue sauce right into your ground beef or beef alternative. This will give it a nice rich undertone of sweetness and help the meatballs to caramelize when they come in contact with the hot pan and oil. Use complementary ingredients like garlic and onion to help bring the meat and sauce together. Drizzle a little extra barbecue sauce on top of the meatballs before serving.

16. Add to caramelized onions

Although your classic foolproof caramelized onion recipe is simple to make and fairly basic, there are plenty of additions that can help elevate them and tie them into the rest of your meal. Some additions like garlic or balsamic vinegar are classic, but it may be worth it to go out on a limb and try adding barbecue sauce to those buttery, sweet veggies.

The trick to perfect caramelized barbecue onions is to wait until the last minute to add the barbecue sauce. If you add it too early, it will likely stick to the pan and increase your chances of burning the onions. Instead, wait until the onions are just about to come off and add a small drizzle of sauce. Stir it in, let it simmer, and then remove from the heat.

17. Try Southern nachos

While there are plenty of unexpected ways to use barbecue sauce, this is perhaps one of our favorites. Who doesn't love nachos? While the timeless combination of beans, cheese, avocado, olives, salsa, onion, and sour cream is many people's go-to, it may be time to stir your culinary creativity. Try Southern-style nachos next time you have an extra bag of chips on hand.

Top corn, potato, or sweet potato chips with caramelized onions, pulled pork, avocado, roasted corn, and cheddar cheese. One simple trip to making your nachos way better is to layer the toppings that are going to be baked, especially the cheese. Last but not least, drizzle the whole loaded ordeal with barbecue sauce and get to munching. It's as easy as that.

18. Make vegan pulled pork

Yes, vegan pulled pork may sound like an oxymoron, but as the vegan movement gains popularity, folks have developed some veg-tastic meat alternatives. For instance, there are many ways to turn mushrooms into plant-based meat. A great pulled pork texture example would be pulled king oyster mushrooms, which shred in a very similar way as cooked pork and have a meaty flavor and mouthfeel. Another method is using shredded jackfruit in a BBQ sandwich. Some have gone as far as to use up banana peels by making an incredible Brazilian dish that mimics the pulled delicacy.

However, the most important part of making vegan meat is paying special attention to the seasoning. It's critical to use a flavorful barbecue sauce to help transform vegetables into the classic pulled pork recipe we all grew up on.

19. Drizzle over cornbread muffins

There's nothing that screams Southern cookin' quite as loudly as buttery sweet cornbread muffins. They pair beautifully with just about any Southern-style side and can be loaded up with anything from cheddar cheese to jalapenos. Enjoy them with butter, onion jam, or berry preserves. And if you really want to lean into the Southern style, then drizzle them lightly with homemade barbecue sauce.

This topping works especially well for gluten-free cornbread because it tends to turn out a bit dry. If this is the case, thin out your barbecue sauce with a little olive oil or melted butter in order to allow the sauce to sink into the bread and add moisture. These barbecue cornbread muffins can be enjoyed with baked beans, brisket, fried okra, or just about any other Southern classic you can get your hands on. If Southern cooking seems like a skill you haven't mastered, then enjoy these muffins with your eggs and bacon in the morning.

20. Spice up potato salad

Side dishes are often rather mellow in order to allow the main courses to sparkle. However, there are ways to make a memorable side dish without completely taking over the plate. Potato salad is one of those sides that can range from predictable to unique. If you've always made your potato salad the same way, then it's time to change up your game.

There are several ways to include barbecue sauce in a classic Southern potato salad recipe. The first is by mixing it right into the dressing. If you go with this option, be sure to start small and add more as needed. The sauce should complement, not overpower the subtle flavors of the creamy potatoes and fresh herbs. If you'd rather, drizzle a barbecue sauce vinaigrette over the finished potato salad. Be sure to mix your barbecue sauce with olive oil, vinegar, and citrus juice to thin it out and avoid a gloppy mess.