Rich and tangy tomato-based sauces like this one are usually associated with the Kansas City style of barbecuing, which has a touch of sweetness and heat. Our version uses tomato sauce as a base, then adds bourbon, dark brown sugar, molasses (for sweetness), and chili powder (for a little bit of heat). After about 30 minutes of simmering on the stove, this tasty homemade sauce is ready to brush on chicken while it cooks on the grill. Serve it at your next backyard barbecue with classic fixin’s like coleslaw or macaroni salad.

Special equipment: You’ll need a pastry brush or barbecue basting brush for this recipe.

Game plan: The sauce can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Let it come to room temperature before using.

  • Yield: 4 to 6 servings
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Total: 1 hr 20 mins

Ingredients (12)

  • 3/4 cup tomato sauce
  • 1/4 cup bourbon
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons dark molasses, also known as robust (not blackstrap)
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts or bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper


  1. Place the tomato sauce, bourbon, vinegar, brown sugar, ketchup, molasses, Worcestershire, and chili powder in a small saucepan and whisk to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the flavors have melded and the sauce has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 25 to 30 minutes. Equally divide the sauce between 2 small bowls and set it aside to cool to room temperature. Reserve 1 bowl of sauce for serving and the other for brushing onto the chicken while it cooks on the grill.
  2. Heat a gas or charcoal grill to medium (about 350°F to 450°F). Meanwhile, if you’re using chicken breasts (either boneless or bone-in), cut them in half crosswise. Pat the chicken pieces dry with paper towels and place on a baking sheet. Coat them all over with the oil and season with salt and pepper.
  3. When the grill is ready, place the chicken on it (skin-side down if using skin-on), cover the grill, and cook until grill marks appear on the bottom, about 5 minutes. Flip the chicken pieces over, cover the grill, and cook until grill marks appear on the second side, about 5 minutes more.
  4. Flip the chicken again and generously brush the pieces using the bowl of sauce set aside for that purpose. Cover the grill and cook for 5 minutes. Flip and brush the chicken, and continue to flip and brush every 5 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest piece reads 160°F to 165°F and the meat near the bone is no longer pink, about 10 to 15 minutes more (about 25 to 30 minutes total cooking time). Remove the chicken to a clean serving platter and pass the remaining bowl of barbecue sauce on the side.