This easy smokey cherry BBQ sauce is so good on pork, chicken, and seafood and you can adjust the flavor to be more (or less) smokey or spicy. The cherries add enough sweetness that you only need some honey to create that great sweet-and-sour barbecue flavor we all love. Plus, when canned, these jars of homemade barbecue sauce will make great gifts!
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When we discovered we had an old Queen Anne cherry tree on our farmhouse's property, I went into preserving mode fast because the ripe cherry window is short. We have only two to three weeks to harvest before the cherries start molding and the birds find what's left.
I start right away drying cherries - they are a wonderful change from typical dried fruits, especially this variety that has a nice sweet-sour flavor (I tested two ways to dry cherries and show you how to do it here). Since we like the sour flavor, I can start drying the cherries as they're just starting to ripen.
Then I make a small batch of cherry chutney which we've found works so well with Asian foods as well as the typical meats and veggies we've always used my addictive tomato chutney with. Now we just have a choice!
Since the chutney was so good with meats, I started thinking about how great a barbecue sauce would be made with a base of cherries instead of the normal tomatoes. I began experimenting with mix-ins, trying to keep the sugar as little as possible to let the cherry flavor shine. I also wanted a real BBQ flavor, which to me usually means smoke flavoring (once I realized it was real food - see what I mean in the ingredients section below!).
This recipe for smokey cherry BBQ sauce is the result of these tests which I'm so happy to share with you because you guys - this is good. It is all barbecue sauce, but it is different (obviously) from your run-of-the-mill tomato based sauce.
The smoke flavoring really elevates it from just a sweet sauce, but it is subtle even though when you're cooking it the smell seems strong. As it is stored the smokiness mellows to just about perfection.
In fact, this is so good I'm going to be gifting it to family and friends! A jar would make a nice small gift along with a small serving spoon, or it could be the start of a grilling basket full of tools, pot holders, or whatever else you can think of. Don't you love when you can get some things knocked off the list in the summer?
Let's make some homemade BBQ sauce!
Smokey Cherry BBQ Sauce Ingredients
The ingredients are simple and are all just thrown into a 6-quart pot as you get them prepped:
- cherries (fresh or frozen, any kind, you'll need about 3 pounds)
- apple cider vinegar
- Worcestershire sauce (Here is a link to the classic brand with no corn syrup, read labels to avoid brands with soy sauce and other ingredients not in the original added.)
- chili powder (I like this brand that doesn't use silicon dioxide.)
- liquid smoke
- cayenne powder (optional)
What is liquid smoke?
I wanted to talk about liquid smoke for a minute because I always thought it was some sort of fake flavoring. I seemed to always have an old bottle around, but I never really used it.
Then I read this at America's Test Kitchen and was surprised to know that it's natural and is literally just smoke and water. The smoke is fed through a condenser which changes it to a liquid. You can even do this at home, though it's not cheap or easy, but that's always one of my tests to see if something is real food ("could I make or harvest this if I wanted to?").
You do have to read labels though, since some brands add extra ingredients. You'll want to make sure your liquid smoke has only smoke and water as ingredients. This is the brand I use, and this is another good natural option.
How to Make Cherry BBQ Sauce From Scratch
After throwing the ingredients into the pot, you'll boil it and then let it cook, first covered and then uncovered for a bit longer to thicken.
After that the mixture will need to be blended smooth. While you can transfer the hot ingredients to a blender to do this, it will be messy with a potential for hot spatters being flung on you or your kitchen.
Enter one of my favorite kitchen tools: the immersion blender!
With this little hand-held blender, you can just stick it right into the pot and blend it until smooth. There's very little mess and it's much safer when dealing with hot foods like this.
The best thing is that immersion blenders are not expensive, though you will want to stay away from really cheap models that are made all plastic. Plastic and hot foods do not play well.
Once the BBQ sauce is blended, you can taste for salt and spiciness and cook it for a few more minutes, which is the perfect time to get your canner, jars and lids ready for water bath canning.
What is Boiling Water Canning?
Water bath or boiling water canning is super easy to do and with recipes like this full of vinegar and sugar is perfectly safe. Here is a video I made that walks you through all the steps for canning in a boiling water canner:
What if I don't want to can - can you freeze BBQ sauce?
Yes! All sauces like this freeze beautifully. You can even freeze them in the same canning jars, you'll just need to leave more headspace, about 1 1/2 to 2 inches, to allow for expansion when frozen. You can also freeze in freezer baggies, remove the air, and lay flat for more storage.
Of course canning is the way to go if you want to give this to others and it really is easy once you've seen the steps involved, so I encourage you to try it if you haven't already.
How long does homemade BBQ sauce last?
If canned homemade barbecue sauce will last up to 18 months, if frozen 6 months to a year, depending on your freezer (frost-free freezers tend to cause freezer burn since they are always running).
After opening or thawing, the sauce will keep in the fridge for about a month.
Ways to use barbecue sauce:
We've used this homemade smokey cherry BBQ sauce on so many things, but here are our favorites:
- grilled pork tenderloin and medallions (these are what you see in the photos)
- baked and grilled chicken
- spread over grilled kabobs/skewers with pork or chicken and vegetables
- basted onto shrimp skewers
Basically, if you've got a jar of this on your shelf, you've got in instant way to elevate basic food to something special.
Let me know if you make this smokey cherry BBQ sauce and what you use it for!
Other Easy Homemade Sauces to Try:
- Spicy Honey Sweetened Cherry Chutney
- Addictive Tomato Chutney
- Homemade Spicy Canned Plum Sauce
- Spicy-Sweet Canned Chipotle BBQ Sauce
Canned Smokey Cherry BBQ Sauce Recipe
- 3 pounds sweet cherries, any variety fresh or frozen
- 1 cup chopped onions
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 3/4 cup honey
- 3 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 teaspoons natural liquid smoke*
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 1-2 teaspoons cayenne powder to taste, optional
- Wash and pit cherries; add them to a 6-quart stock pot. Chop onions and garlic and add them to the pot. Then add all remaining ingredients to the pot and stir together.
- Heat the mixture to boiling, covered, and reduce heat to medium-low and cook covered for 15 minutes.
- Remove lid and continue to cook over medium-low until reduced and thickened a bit, about 20-25 minutes.
- Blend until smooth with a hand-held immersion blender or regular blender (be careful when using a regular blender with hot food and do it in batches).
- Return to low heat and cook until as thick as desired, 10-15 minutes. TIP: keep a wooden spoon in the pot and set lid on top of pot to protect from the thick sauce spitting - the spoon helps keep the lid ajar so steam can escape and the sauce can thicken.
- Taste for spiciness and salt, adding more if needed. While thickening, prepare your boiling water canner, half-pint jars, lids, and rings. (Go here to read a full tutorial if needed.) OR, prepare your freezer containers.**
- Fill warm jars one at a time with sauce leaving a 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe rim, attach lid and ring and place in canner. Repeat with remaining jars and sauce. (Refrigerate any leftover sauce that doesn't fill a jar completely.)
- Process for 15 minutes, remove lid, turn off the heat and let jars cool for 5 minutes in the canner. Remove the jars to a towel-lined surface to cool without moving for 24 hours.
- Remove rings, check seals by pulling gently with your fingers, label with contents and date, and store in a cool, dark place for 1 to 1 1/2 years.
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