How do you make something taste like BBQ?
As a dietitian with a background in culinary nutrition, recipe development, and food science, I’ve learned how to make food taste like BBQ.
If you’re wanting to fake an authentic gilled BBQ flavor, it can be done, and this is how…
- The key to creating an authentic BBQ taste is incorporating 4 flavors: acid, savory, smoke, and sweet.
- Start with acidic ingredients like vinegar, tomato sauce, or Worcestershire sauce, combined with savory seasonings such as paprika, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, or smoked sea salt.
- Add smokiness in the cooking method or the ingredients. Cook with wood chips, charcoal, or use natural smoke flavor using liquid smoke or smoked paprika for an additional kick of flavor.
- To bring a balance of flavors together, add some sweetness with molasses or brown sugar.
What Does BBQ Taste Like, Anyway?
BBQ is one of those flavors that’s hard to describe totally.
Ultimately, it comes down to 3-4 flavor components: acid, savory, smokey, and sweet.
Certain variations have less or more of one of those flavors, but they can generally be found across all BBQ recipes.
Is it possible to make something taste like BBQ without a BBQ?
Sure, it’s possible to create a BBQ-like flavor without cooking it on an actual barbeque.
There are 3 key things to focus on (1) the cooking method, (2) the ingredients, and (3) adding smokiness.
1. Cooking Method
There are several cooking methods, like grilling, roasting, and slow cooking. You can use them to mimic the smokiness of grilled foods.
If you’re grilling:
Charcoal grills will be your best bet for that classic smokey flavor, but if you don’t have a charcoal grill, try adding liquid smoke or wood chips to the pan while cooking. This will give your food that smoky flavor without having to use an actual BBQ.
Another way to do this inside if to use a cast iron skillet or stovetop grill to achieve that smoky flavor without the hassle of an outdoor grill. You can also try adding liquid smoke or wood chips to the pan for added smokiness.
If you’re roasting:
Use a hot preheated oven and try to get the food as close to the source of heat as possible.
This will help to caramelize and char the food, giving it that smoky flavor. Darker, fatty cuts of meat are good choices because they will caramelize and char quickly.
If you’re slow cooking:
Add some liquid smoke (sparingly) to your slow cooker for that same smoky flavor.
Go for ingredients that have bold flavors, like peppers, onions, garlic, and spices like paprika and chili powder. You can also use a sauce or marinade for more flavor.
The main formula for the perfect BBQ includes acidic, savory, sweet, and smokey ingredients.
Smoke is a whole section on its own, but you’ll also want to mix spices and herbs to intensify the flavor.
I suggest combining at least one of each of the following categories for a balanced mixture:
- Vinegar: One of the most common bases for BBQ sauces. Will add tanginess to the dish. White vinegar works best, but you can also use red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar for a more complex flavor.
- Ketchup: Adds sweetness and a slight tang to your dish. Go for an unsweetened variety or make your own with natural sweeteners like molasses or honey.
- Mustard: A sharper, slightly sweet flavor to the dish. Use either yellow or dijon mustard, depending on your preference.
- Worcester sauce: Made from many ingredients, including garlic, vinegar, and anchovies. It adds a nice balance of sweet and savory flavors to the dish.
- Citrus: Adds brightness and tartness to the dish. Use either fresh or bottled citrus juice like lemon or lime depending on your preference.
- Onion: Adds both sweetness and a savory flavor to the dish. Use onion powder, chopped or sliced onions, or even a sweeter variety such as Vidalia or Spanish onions.
- Garlic: Adds depth and complexity to the flavor profile. You can for garlic powder or minced garlic. You can even go the extra step to roast garlic cloves for an even richer flavor.
- Paprika: You can use regular or smoked paprika. Regular paprika is ideal for a milder flavor, while smoked paprika will add a smoky element.
- Chili powder: Adds heat and depth of flavor to the dish. You can use either a mild or spicy chili powder, depending on your preference.
- Cumin: Adds an earthy flavor to the dish. You can use either ground or whole cumin, depending on your preference.
- Salt and pepper: Always a must, these two seasonings will help to balance out the flavor profile.
- Brown sugar: Easy to find and adds a nice caramel flavor to the dish.
- Maple syrup: A more unique sweetener that can add a unique flavor profile.
- Molasses: Provides an earthy, robust sweetness. Great for BBQ sauces or marinades.
That signature BBQ smoke flavor can be added in a few ways during the cooking process:
- Liquid Smoke: This is a concentrated liquid made from real smoked wood chips and can be added to sauces, marinades, or directly on the food.
- Smoking Guns: These are electrical devices that use wood chips to create smoke. The smoke can be used to flavor dishes without the heat of an actual BBQ.
- Wood Chips: If you’re grilling, try adding some pre-soaked wood chips to the pan. This will give your food that smoky flavor without having to use an outdoor grill. If you are grilling, add some smokey wood chips to the fire for added smokiness.
- Smoked Salts: You can also use smoked salt on your finished dish. This will impart a deep flavor without having to cook with it directly.
- Charcoal Grill: If you have access to a charcoal grill, use it! Charcoal grills are great for imparting that smoky flavor to your food.
- Broiling: Broiling is a great way to get that char and smoky flavor without the hassle of an outdoor grill. The best method here is to get the food as close to the source of heat as possible for a bit of charring at the end of the roasting process.
With all these techniques combined, you can easily make delicious BBQ dishes without firing up the grill.
Creating A Homemade BBQ Sauce from Scratch
Before you start making your own BBQ sauce, you should have an idea of what type of BBQ you’re going for.
Take note of some of the regional flavors:
- Memphis: Sweet and tangy with a tomato base
- Kansas City: Thick and sweet with molasses tones
- Texas: Spicy and smoky
- Carolinas: Vinegary and pungent
- Alabama: A sweet and smoky mustard-based sauce
You’ll also want to consider the type of meat you’re cooking:
- Ribs: Because this is a tougher cut of meat, you’ll want to use a thicker sauce with more sweetness and acidity.
- Pork: A thinner, sweeter sauce is ideal for pork, as it can help tenderize the meat.
- Chicken: Chicken is dry meat, so a thinner, tangier sauce works best with chicken as it helps keep the meat moist while cooking.
- Brisket: A thicker sauce with lots of smokiness and sweetness is best for brisket.
Your BBQ sauce doesn’t have to perfectly fit any of these regions (and it extends beyond the south!), but this helps to give you an idea of what you need first – your base.
- Pick your base: Your base will be an acid (vinegar, lime juice, etc) and a sweetener (honey, brown sugar, molasses). Once you’ve decided on this combo, start adding in your other ingredients.
- Pick your flavors: Now it’s time to decide what flavors are going in your sauce. Depending on the type of BBQ you’re going for will dictate what flavors to use.
- Add your spices: Start out with a small amount of each spice, tasting as you go to make sure the flavors are balanced.
- Simmer and reduce: Now that all the ingredients have been added, it’s time to simmer the sauce. This reduces the liquid, thickening it up and allowing all the flavors to meld together. You can also reduce the sauce while cooking, so if you add the sauce before the meat is done, you may skip this step.
Once your sauce is done, it’s ready to be used!
You can use your homemade BBQ sauce as a marinade for meats, baste over them during cooking, toss after cooking, or just serve on the side.
It can also be used in other ways like dips for fries or wings, and even mixed into sauces for pizza.
If you’re watching your sodium intake, check out this list of low-sodium store-bought BBQ sauces.
How To Grill In The Oven: Oven-Baked Grilled Chicken
Prep the chicken:
- Preheat your oven to 375°F and season 1 pound of chicken thighs generously with one tablespoon olive oil and 1 teaspoon of each: salt, pepper, garlic powder, paprika, chili powder and cumin.
- Soak wood chips in a bowl of water for 15 minutes.
- Line the pan with the wood chips and place the chicken thighs skin-side up on top.
- Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes or until internal temperature of chicken reaches 165°F.
- Turn on your oven’s broiler and place the pan with the chicken on the top rack. Broil for 4-5 minutes until chicken skin is crisp, golden and charred in places.
Homemade BBQ Sauce:
- In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup ketchup, 2 tablespoons of white vinegar, 1 tablespoon mustard (yellow or dijon), 1 teaspoon each: garlic powder, smoked paprika and chili powder.
- Add 1 tablespoon of brown sugar and a pinch of salt to the bowl and whisk everything together until combined.
- Brush the chicken thighs with the BBQ sauce and bake for an additional 5 minutes or until the sauce has thickened.
- If you don’t have wood chips, you can substitute them by adding smoked salts or liquid smoke to the BBQ sauce.
- For a more intense smoke flavor, you can use two pans of wood chips instead of one.
- To make the BBQ sauce spicier, add in 1-2 teaspoons of red pepper flakes or hot sauce to the mixture.
- For an even crispier skin on your chicken, lower the oven temperature to 350°F and cook for an additional 5-10 minutes.
- If you don’t have a broiler, heat your oven to 500°F and increase cooking time to 10-15 minutes or until chicken is crispy.
Enhancing the flavor of BBQ with Complementary Side Dishes
An often neglected aspect is how you will serve up the perfect sides to create a truly mouth-watering BBQ experience.
Here are my top favorite BBQ side dish combinations:
- For ribs: I like to pair ribs with corn because its sweetness contrasts with the smokiness of the ribs. You can easily add your corn to the grill, as well, to get a nice char on it. You can also do boiled or baked corn with a little butter, as well!
- For hamburgers: You can’t go wrong with burgers and fries! You can get super creative with french fries, too. Try adding different spices, herbs, and even garlic to give them an extra kick. You can also do sweet potato fries or veggie fries for some more color.
- For chicken: Depending on where you are, you will also find some baked beans when BBQ chicken is nearby. This is because the sweetness and moisture in the beans and tomatoes contrast nicely with the texture or the chicken.
- For pulled pork: In most regions, you’ll often find coleslaw paired with pulled pork. That’s because the creamy, tangy slaw provides the perfect balance to the smoky pulled pork. Whether you go for a vinegar or mayonnaise base for your cole slaw, this combo is a winner!
- For beef brisket: I recommend going for something sweet. Try a baked sweet potato or traditional coleslaw with a sweeter dressing. The sweetness will pair perfectly with the smokiness of the brisket.
Frequently Asked Questions
How To Add Smoky Flavor To Food?
While cooking, adding a smoky flavor to a food can be accomplished by using ingredients like smoked paprika, liquid smoke, or wood chips.
Also, grilling your food over charcoal or wood chips.
How To Make Chicken Taste Like It Was Grilled?
To make the chicken taste like it was grilled, try marinating your chicken in a mixture of oil and spices before cooking.
Then cook the chicken on the stovetop with a grill pan to get that char-grilled flavor.
How To Get Charcoal Flavor On Stove Top?
To get a charcoal flavor on the stovetop, you can use a cast-iron grill pan and preheat it until it’s very hot.
Then cook your food on the griddle for a few minutes to get that smoky char-grilled flavor. Or you can also use wood chips or smoked salts in your marinade for an even smokier flavor.
If you aren’t able to achieve that real BBQ flavor in the oven or on the stovetop, you may have to get the real thing. Cooking on the Biolite Fire Pit is one great way to get started!