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paleo homemade barbecue sauce

Slow Cooker Barbecue Sauce {Refined Sugar Free}

My husband loves barbecue sauce.  It is his favorite accompaniment to this simple grilled chicken that is a summertime staple in our house.  However, barbecue sauce is typically loaded with added sugar, so I stopped making homemade barbecue sauce when we started to reduce the amount of added sugar we eat.

But sometimes you just want an favorite meal.  So I decided to re-work my homemade barbecue sauce recipe.  That meant reducing the overall amount of added sugar.  And replacing the refined sugar with maple syrup if you prefer or want the recipe to be vegan).

ingredients for healthy homemade barbecue sauce without refined sugar
ingredients for healthy homemade barbecue sauce

There was one other problem with my homemade barbecue sauce recipe, and it had nothing to do with ingredients. The sauce required simmering for multiple hours on the stove. That is fine in the fall or winter, but during summer in North Carolina, it is ridiculous to cook something for hours when it is 90+ degrees outside. 

The first few attempts at this lower-in-added-sugar barbecue sauce were a little, well, tart.  To balance out the flavors, I reduced the amount of apple cider vinegar and added an orange (a whole orange – not just the juice). The result was a sweet, tangy, and flavorful barbecue sauce.

homemade slow cooker barbecue sauce paleo

This homemade barbecue sauce recipe makes about three cups of sauce and can be stored in an airtight container for up to two weeks in the refrigerator or two months in the freezer.

Healthy Homemade Barbecue Sauce Recipe {Paleo, Gluten-free, Vegan}

homemade slow cooker barbecue sauce paleo

Homemade Barbecue Sauce {Paleo, Gluten-free, Vegan}

Yield: 24 servings
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 11 hours 40 minutes
Total Time: 11 hours 45 minutes

Sweet and tangy healthier barbecue sauce that is refined-sugar free.


  • 1 28-oz can Whole Tomatoes*
  • 3/4 cup Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1/4 cup Maple Syrup
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1/4 cup Yellow Mustard
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 Orange, peeled
  • 4 Garlic Cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon Freshly Ground Pepper


  1. Add all ingredients to slow cooker
  2. Blend with immersion blender
  3. Cook for 12 hours on high heat, stirring periodically, with lid open slightly to allow for evaporation


Recipe makes approximately 3 cups of sauce.  Nutrition information is based on a 2 tablespoon serving.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 24
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 23
*Note: Tomatoes consistently test positive for pesticide residues, including organophosphate pesticides.  That is why I choose to buy organic or pesticide free tomatoes.  Read more about pesticides and produce.

There was another benefit of using a slow cooker over the stove-top simmer method. Much easier clean-up! No matter how much I stir the stove-top version of a homemade barbecue sauce, it always sticks to the bottom of my pot. At best, that can lead to a super messy clean-up. At worst, a burnt bottom sauce that is a little too “smokey” to keep. Even though it takes longer, I definitely prefer the slow cooker method!


  1. Karman | The Nutrition Adventure

    Can only imagine how good the flavors of orange and honey make this sauce!

  2. Tried this on lamb chops! yum yum! Thanks for this. By the way I only made half and it was great! Buby J.

    • I never thought to try it with lamb chops – I am so glad you like the barbecue sauce Judi! I have used it as the base of a brisket braise… that was delicious too! Thanks for reading!

  3. Such a great recipe! So many bbq sauces call for ketchup and sugar. Love the addition of orange and cloves too! I not only pinned this I printed it too:)

    • Thanks Mona – the orange definitely adds complexity to the sauce and gives it some additional sweetness. I hope you like it!

  4. love that this doesn’t have ketchup in it or any refined sugars!!

    • Thanks so much AZ! We really enjoy this tangy bbq sauce – especially since we have reduced the amount of added sugar we eat each day.

  5. I’ve been wanting to make my own BBQ sauce. Love this one. Looks great!

    • Thanks Marisa! I haven’t bought barbecue sauce in years… homemade from healthier ingredients definitely makes for a tasty sauce!

  6. Kathryn's Kitchen Blog

    This looks great!

  7. Kelli McGrane

    Such a smart idea to add a whole orange – I never would have thought of that! I just made pulled pork, so this BBQ sauce is perfect timing 😉

  8. I’ve always wanted to make my own BBQ sauce!! Looks so good!

    • Thanks Laura – this is my husband’s FAVORITE sauce to go with grilled chicken. I try to always have some in the refrigerator for him!

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