Barbecue Sauce Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits

Barbecue sauce

Three little letters make up an entire cuisine, and it’s all based around a signature sauce: BBQ. Sweet and spicy barbecue sauce is a staple in Southern cooking and the hero of summertime cookouts.

You may reach for it to liven up chicken wings, shredded pork, sandwiches, and even French fries. Dozens of regional recipe varieties make up a panoply of options, from Carolina bold to Kansas City-style sauce. 

It’s only natural that our taste buds crave this tangy sauce—after all, it’s typically made with plenty of added sugar and a hefty dose of sodium. Unfortunately, these ingredients can add up fast. When dipping, baking, or grilling with barbecue sauce, it’s wise to pay attention to portion sizes.

Barbecue Sauce Nutrition Facts 

Barbecue sauce nutrition can vary widely, depending on ingredients and preparation. The following information is for one brand of barbecue sauce.

This nutrition information for two tablespoons (36g) of barbecue sauce is provided by the USDA.

  • Calories: 70
  • Fat: 0g
  • Sodium: 300mg
  • Carbohydrates: 17g
  • Fiber: 0g
  • Sugars: 15g

Carbs

Barbecue sauce is definitely not short on carbs, with up to 17 grams in just two tablespoons. Unfortunately, these aren’t the complex carbs you want to get more of in your diet. Instead, the carbs in barbecue sauce come primarily from added sugar, with tomato sauce accounting for the rest. Many brands list high fructose corn syrup or other sweeteners as their first ingredient.

Fats

In general, you won’t find fat of any kind (saturated, unsaturated, or omega-3) in barbecue sauce, as its plant-based ingredients generally don't contain this macronutrient.

Protein

Protein is also minimal in barbecue sauce, with two tablespoons providing up to one gram.

Vitamins and Minerals

Barbecue sauce does contain small amounts of some vitamins and minerals, including potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin A. However, you’re not likely to reap major health benefits from these micronutrients unless you’re drinking sauce by the cup (which may be tempting, but isn’t advisable). 

Health Benefits

May Fight Some Cancers

Though barbecue sauce has a flavor all its own, it is made primarily from tomato sauce, which harbors a powerful antioxidant called lycopene. This carotenoid compound gives tomato products that signature red color.

Research has associated lycopene intake with reduced risk of certain cancers, especially prostate cancer. It’s debatable, though, how much lycopene you’ll actually get in a single two-tablespoon serving of barbecue sauce. 

May Reduce Blood Pressure

Lycopene’s benefits may not stop with cancer prevention. A small 2014 study found that this antioxidant improved vascular function in people with cardiovascular disease. However, it’s worth noting that this did not appear to be the case in healthy volunteers.

Antioxidants May Protect Skin 

In addition to lycopene, barbecue sauce’s tomato base contains antioxidants like vitamin A and vitamin C, which help “clean” the cells of damaging free radicals. This process can protect the skin from sun damage and may have anti-aging properties.

Adds Flavor Without Fat 

If you need to be on a reduced-fat diet, barbecue sauce is one way to add flavor to meals without racking up fat. 

Compatible With a Vegan Diet 

Many barbecue sauce recipes (even store-bought ones) are naturally vegan, since the basic ingredients of tomatoes, vinegar, sweeteners, and spices are all plant-based. If you follow a vegan diet, just be sure to check barbecue sauce labels for animal products.

Allergies

It’s possible, though unlikely, to be allergic to any of the ingredients typically used in barbecue sauce. The most likely culprit of an allergic reaction is tomatoes. Many people with a tomato allergy will experience oral allergy syndrome, which can feel like a tingling sensation in the mouth or throat. A more serious allergic reaction may include vomiting, nausea, hives, rash, coughing, or runny nose.

If you have a tomato allergy, you’ll need to stay away from tomato-based barbecue sauces—but feel free to enjoy South Carolina-style mustard-based versions.

People with allergies to soy and wheat may also want to check barbecue sauce labels carefully, as sometimes these ingredients can sneak into a recipe.

Varieties

There are just about as many varieties of barbecue sauce as there are regions of the U.S. Many areas of the South, Texas, and Kansas City all have their own unique recipes. 

  • Traditional Carolina barbecue sauces begin with ketchup, tomato sauce, or tomato paste and add vinegar (often apple cider vinegar), sweetener, and spices like chili powder, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.
  • South Carolina you may even find flavorful sauces that fall under the barbecue umbrella without using tomatoes. Instead, these use a mustard base.
  • Texas-style barbecue sauce, on the other hand, is thinner and less sweet, sometimes flavored with onion and celery.
  • Kansas City sauces are known for being thick and—some say—especially sugary.

When It’s Best

When choosing the right sauce for your ribs or chicken, it’s a good rule of thumb to read nutrition and ingredient labels. To keep sugar low, look for a sauce with less than 5 grams of sugar per tablespoon. (On the FDA’s newer nutrition labels, you can get more specific by checking the “Added Sugars” line item). Also, be on the lookout for high fructose corn syrup or other sweeteners listed as the first ingredient. If you really want to get serious about limiting the sweet stuff, opt for a specifically low-sugar brand.

Storage and Food Safety 

Before opening, barbecue sauce can be stored in a cool, dry area. Once opened, be sure to refrigerate unused sauce within a couple of hours. And as for when to throw out the crusty bottle that’s been in your fridge for ages? Most commercially prepared barbecue sauce brands stay good in the refrigerator for four to six months.

How to Prepare 

Store-bought barbecue sauce may be convenient, but BBQ experts will tell you homemade sauce is really where it’s at. Making your own barbecue sauce can yield deeper, more complex flavors–and is actually quite simple. Plus, when you DIY, you can control the amounts of sugar and sodium that go into your recipe. Find a recipe with minimal added sweetener and salt for the healthiest choice.

Recipes

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