How to Grill with BBQ Sauce

Chicken wings slathered in bbq sauce.

The sheen of sauce on chicken wings or a rack of ribs is one of the prettiest sights in the world, but that glazy goodness doesn’t happen automatically. Just like knowing when to fire up the grill so you don’t keep guests waiting, cooking with BBQ sauce is all about timing.

If you’ve ever given into temptation and slathered sauce all over your meat before putting it on the grill, you know this truth all too well. The end result is either burnt, gummy, or a weird mixture of both, none of which is particularly appetizing.

So how do you know when it’s time to apply the first coat? The secret’s in the sauce — literally.

How BBQ Sauce Reacts to Heat

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  • Almost all BBQ sauces contain sugar, which begins to burn around 350 degrees Fahrenheit. This means you can’t expose these sauces to high or direct heat for extended periods of time, making them unfit to be on the grill for as long as your food is.

    But you still want your sauce to come into contact with some heat so it can caramelize with the exterior of the meat to create that crispy crust everyone dreams of. To accomplish this, simply use a BBQ basting brush to apply the sauce toward the end of the cook (aim to have it on for about 10 minutes). Don’t be afraid to add a few extra coats of sauce as the clock winds down if you like a really sticky outer layer.

    Though it’s also fine to use BBQ sauce on food that’s already been cooked, remember that the meat won’t have a chance to caramelize or fully absorb flavors from the sauce without the heat of your grill.

    Keep in mind that these guidelines don’t apply to BBQ smoking or other low-and-slow cooking methods. Because you’d be dealing with temperatures around 225 degrees, the sugar content won’t burn and will actually be vital to achieving caramelization and mouth-watering flavors.

  • Plate of chicken wings slathered in bbq sauce with a side of celery and ranch dip.

BBQ Sauces to Try

Once you’ve got the timing down for grilling, you can experiment to find out which sauces you prefer on different types of meat. Our collection of BBQ sauces and BBQ sauce recipes are a great place to start on your journey toward more flavorful grilling.

And if you want to save some sauce for dipping or extra topping, we won’t blame you!