Add Muscovado Sugar For A Richer, Caramelized Barbecue Sauce

Just when you thought you knew all the types of sugar out there — and maybe even the best secrets for a perfect barbecue sauce — here comes another new one on both accounts. If you've yet to discover the deep, rich, and caramelized essence of muscovado sugar, you're not alone. It's far from a top-shelf item in most Western grocery outlets, but maybe it should be — especially if you frequently make your own barbecue sauces.

Muscovado sugar also goes by the name of Barbados sugar, or in India — the top producer of this flavorful unrefined sugar — you'll see it referred to as khand or kandsari. Indian cuisine may use muscovado in different ways than other countries, including the American version of barbecue sauce. But the sugar's complex, molasses-heavy, toffee-like flavors transform any type of Q sauce into something unexpectedly earthy and complex. 

It's tempting to lump muscovado in with standard brown sugar, given its similar rich bronze coloration and molasses base. But the brown sugar readily available on supermarket shelves is typically a processed white sugar to which a portion of the resulting molasses gets returned after refining. Muscovado, on the other hand, harbors a deep natural molasses created during the hands-on cooking process — and is never removed. 

As you can imagine, there's a world of difference when mixing muscovado sugar into a barbecue sauce recipe. Even if you're the type to buy pre-bottled sauce, you can easily jazz it up with this unintended "artisan" sugar.

Transforming barbecue sauce with muscovado sugar

There's a learning curve when cooking with muscovado sugar, since its texture and deep flavor result in different outcomes than when using mass-produced, granulated white sugar. Just as with other course sugars such as turbinado and rapadura, it can be challenging to substitute muscovado in lighter baked goods and desserts. But when it comes to creating a unique barbecue sauce, muscovado is a game-changer.

This sugar doesn't make barbecue sauce sweet in a traditional way, such as one made with honey or even brown sugar. Depending on what else you add to the mix, muscovado often usually imparts deeper notes of caramel, toffee, or even an earthier version of butterscotch. It can intensify the coveted smoky flavor of barbecue sauces, especially when substituted for brown sugar and complemented by spicy or tangy ingredients such as smoked paprika, cider vinegar, pure molasses, or even dark-roasted coffee powder.  

In addition to enhancing barbecue sauce, muscovado sugar works well in standalone glazes and marinades for grilled or roasted meats and vegetables. For dipping-style barbecue sauces with higher levels of desired sweetness, exchange muscovado for the brown sugar in this Sweet and Tangy Barbecue Sauce recipe by Catherine Brookes for Tasting Table, which also employs honey for an extra sweet infusion. You'll be stovetop cooking the ingredients for several minutes, so the muscovado texture will blend nicely into a smoothly rich and aromatic sauce for dipping, basting onto meats, or sweetly dressing up a salad.