Cherry Bourbon Barbecue Sauce

Cherry Bourbon Barbecue Sauce - no refined sugar! | by @healthynibs

Cherries are the harbingers of good news. When those little rubies make their appearance, I know it’s almost time to break out my dresses, sandals, mini paper parasols for iced cocktails, and that itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow polka dot bikini. (Just kidding, I don’t actually own one.) Well, those cherries are coming out, which means summer is around the corner, friends! Let’s start brad pittin’ those cherries.

The Recipe Redux theme for this month is DIY kitchen essentials—kitchen staples that I bought in the past but now make from scratch. This might sound weird, but barbecue sauce is definitely a staple around my house.

Actually, that wasn’t always the case. It took me YEARS before I could bring myself to like barbecue sauce. I shake my finger at family barbecues and school outings. I don’t know what sauce they used, but I dreaded eating ribs that were slathered generously with vinegary red-brown barbecue sauce. It wasn’t until I discovered barbecued chicken pizza that I realized not all barbecue sauces are created equal. That was an important lesson in life.

Cherry Bourbon Barbecue Sauce - no refined sugar! | by @healthynibs

Barbecue sauce has saved my behind so many times in the last few years. You see, cooking dinner is the last thing I want to do sometimes. Shocking, but it’s the cold hard truth. On those lazy days, I usually throw chicken or salmon on a baking sheet, rub them with seasonings, bake and finish with some nice barbecue sauce on top. Or, I would spread sauce on a piece of naan, dress it with cheese and fixins, bake it, and I end up with the crispest thin crust barbecue pizza. Flavorful dinners in less than 30 minutes, courtesy of my old friend, the barbecue sauce. What would I do without that around?

Not too long ago, I started making my own barbecue sauce. My sister would probably say, “Why bother? Just buy it from the store!” Well, the store bought stuff has way too much sugar. I’m saving the sugar for dessert.

Cherry Bourbon Barbecue Sauce - no refined sugar! | by @healthynibs

I’m also trying to watch my refined sugar intake lately. Does that mean no more cookies?? Hardly. I still gotta live, after all. But I will try to cook more with natural sweeteners, like fruit juice and coconut sugar.

When I was looking up recipes to make barbecue sauce, I was astonished by how much sugar goes into making 2 cups of sauce! So instead of sweetening this barbecue sauce with sugar, I used pear juice and relied on the natural sugars from tomatoes and cherries. I was NOT at all disappointed with the results. It was so tasty, I had to stop eating it straight from the spoon!

Cherry Pitting

To make this sauce, I highly suggest getting yourself a cherry pitter. You don’t want to be going at these with a paring knife, unless you have hours to spare and you don’t mind if someone catches you red handed.

I bought this OXO cherry pitter, and it’s the best investment I’ve made in a while! It shoots those cherry pits out like it’s nobody’s business. If you’re ever cooking something that involves using too many cherries to count, you’ll probably want to drop a few bucks to get this. But if you don’t want to buy another gadget (and I completely understand), I heard about a trick from a recent Splendid Table podcast. You take an empty wine bottle, place a cherry on top, and stick a chopstick down the center of the cherry. The pits are supposed to shoot right down the bottle. I haven’t tried this myself, but it sounds like it might work!

So are you ready to grab a bag of cherries, make this barbecue sauce, and welcome summer with open arms?

Cherry Bourbon Barbecue Sauce - no refined sugar! | by @healthynibs

Cherry Bourbon Barbecue Sauce

This cherry bourbon barbecue sauce is rich in flavor without the sugar. It will make anything finger-lickin' good! Makes about 2 cups.

30 minPrep Time

25 minCook Time

55 minTotal Time

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Recipe Image


  • 12 oz. (340g) pitted red cherries (about 2 cups)
  • 2 TBS olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 medium cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp freshly grated ginger (I used a microplane grater)
  • 1 tsp ancho chile powder (or any chili powder you have)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 TBS tomato paste
  • 1 1/3 cups (3325g) tomato sauce
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) apple cider vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cups (360ml) pear juice
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 1/2 TBS bourbon


  1. Rinse and chop the cherries into quarters. Set aside.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onions and let it cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and stir for one minute. Add the chili powder and cayenne pepper and stir for 30 seconds. Mix in the tomato paste, tomato sauce, apple cider vinegar, pear juice, salt, and cherries. Stir until everything is incorporated.
  3. Cook uncovered until the sauce thickens, about 13 to 15 minutes. The sauce should be bubbling wildly. Reduce the heat a little, add the bourbon and stir. Cook for another minute or two, and turn off the heat.
  4. Let the sauce cool for about 10 minutes before putting it in a food processor or high-speed blender. Blend until smooth.
  5. Enjoy it at your next barbecue! Refrigerate leftovers in a jar for several weeks.
Recipe Type: sauces


1. Loosely adapted from Serious Eats.

2. You can make this sauce with frozen cherries as well. Just make sure to defrost the cherries first. I usually submerge the frozen cherries in a warm water bath for 10 minutes, then drain the water and squeeze the cherries for any excess. Roughly chop the cherries before cooking them. Frozen cherries will create a purplish barbecue sauce while fresh cherries create a red barbecue sauce.


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*NOTE: This post contains affiliate links.

Cherry Bourbon Barbecue Sauce - no refined sugar! | by @healthynibs

40 thoughts on “Cherry Bourbon Barbecue Sauce

    1. Lisa Post author
      Arman, I kid you not, I want to make an infused vodka recipe this summer!! You should be concerned.
  1. Joanne
    I felt like you were talking about my relationship with bbq sauce in this post! I hated it for most of my life, until I learned how to make it myself. Apparently when it's made with real ingredients, it's actually GOOD. Who knew?!
  2. Julia
    Cherry BBQ sauce is my fave! So worth all the cherry pitting that's involved! Love these skewers, m'dear! I could eat these every day of my life.
  3. Jessica @ Nutritioulicious
    I am so excited for cherries! I haven't bought any yet b/c they've been too darn expensive, but I imagine the price will drop soon. Now this sauce is just awesome! I make a cherry chutney in the summer, but definitely need to try this BBQ sauce recipe. And as usual your photos are gorgeous!
    1. Lisa Post author
      I've noticed that the price started dropping here this week, so hopefully it will be cheaper soon too! Thanks, Jessica!!
  4. Alanna
    Cherries are one of my absolute favorites! I seriously need to contain myself when they're around. I could definitely get down with this BBQ sauce - looks delicious on that shrimp!
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  6. Brian Jones
    Bourbon, Cherries in a BBQ sauce, be still my beating heart :) Definitely saving this for a few weeks as our cherry trees are heaving with fruit this year.
  7. Eileen
    Yes to homemade bbq sauce! I actually just made a batch of our house standard -- which is just the plain old Joy of Cooking recipe. Now I wish I'd seen this first! Maybe there can just be a selection of homemade bbq sauces out our house...
    1. Lisa Post author
      I definitely think there should be a selection of them because we can all use more, right? Thanks, Eileen!
    1. Lisa Post author
      With the warm weather there right now, I feel like the stars are telling me to bring the bikini!! SEE YOU SOON!
  8. Traci | Vanilla And Bean
    Fabulous recipe, Lisa! A surprise for me is the pear juice, but I'd go with it because it must add that subtle sweetness BBQ sauce is known for! Love it! Also, those cherries and the bourbon? Yes please! Homemade is the best! Love this, Lisa. You are an inspiration!
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  10. Nagi@RecipeTinEats
    Firstly, this is the most interesting but easy/doable bbq sauce I have seen all year. So THANK YOU I love it. Secondly, I love your photos and I am completely in love with your crockery. Lisa, I LOVE your food!!! I have to share this! I'll pin it to the BHG board. :)
    1. Lisa Post author
      Nagi, thank you so much for your kind words and the share!! I'm a fan of your recipes too! Have a great weekend!
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