For Wisconsin-style BBQ,
Just Add Beer

As the spring rains subsided and temperatures warmed up this week, we finally got all our growing fields planted here on the farm. This weekend, we’ll celebrate by firing up the grill!

by John D. Ivanko
Add your favorite local ingredients to your barbecue sauce for a regional twist. Photo courtesy iStockphoto/Thinkstock (
Courtesy iStockphoto/Thinkstock
For our Wisconsin-style barbecue sauce recipe, we added beer as a tribute to our state’s brewing industry.

As the spring rains subsided and temperatures warmed up this week, we finally got all our growing fields planted here on the farm. This weekend, we’ll celebrate by firing up the grill! As we kick off summer with Memorial Day, barbecue season will be on a roll.

May is National Barbecue Month, but we celebrated early a few months ago when Lisa developed two barbecue sauce recipes for her article on homemade condiments in the July/August 2013 issue of Hobby Farm Home. No need to twist John’s arm when it comes to taste-testing BBQ sauce recipes—just hand him a spoon!

Different regions have their destinct styles of barbecue sauce. The two key ones Lisa writes about (and developed recipes for) in the Hobby Farm Home article are Kansas City-style and South Carolina-style. Barbecue sauce in the South generally is thinner—making it great for marinades—with a mustard or vinegar base. As you travel north, barbecue sauces get sweeter and thicker, with more of a tomato flavor.

But the best part about barbecue sauce is there are no rules: Just throw your desired in a saucepan, bring to a boil, and then simmer until it’s as thick as you like. It’s as simple as that!

Interestingly, with all these regionally influenced barbecue sauces focusing on local ingredients (you’ll find lots of southern-inspired recipes with bourbon), we felt compelled to tap into our Wisconsin roots and create a sauce inspired by our fine state’s beer-brewing industry. Our recipe follows below, but feel free to experiment with different beers, as the type of brew will influence the flavor.

Remember, beer as a recipe ingredient is intended to enhance flavor, not overpower it. Add the beer slowly, and don’t use too much. Also, only cook with beer you like to drink, as those flavors will permeate the sauce. We like to make this with lager-style beer, which is generally milder and not overly hoppy. But we’ve also experimented with some fruit ales in this sauce, which adds just the right amount of fruit and kick.

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Use this sauce to baste chicken for grilling or try it as a dipping sauce or in place ketchup, such as with fries or on top of a burger. One thing is for sure: Once you make your own BBQ sauce, you’ll never go back to the processed, bottled kind. Happy National Barbecue Month!

Recipe: Wisconsin-style Barbecue Sauce with Beer

Yield: Approximately 1 cup


  • 1/2 cup chopped onion (about 1 small)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. cider vinegar
  • 1 cup beer
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 T. Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 tsp. yellow mustard powder
  • 1 tsp. chili powder

In medium saucepan over medium heat, sauté onions and garlic in olive oil until onions are tender.

Add remaining ingredients and blend well. Bring to boil, then reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes or until it reaches desired thickness. If sauce gets too thick, add more beer or water.

Brush on chicken during last 5 minutes of grilling or serve warm on the side.

Store unused sauce in refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Savoring the good life,

John and Lisa's Signatures

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