When the weather outside calls for a barbecue, this tangy, sweet cherry barbecue sauce pairs deliciously with grilled meats. The addition of cherries in this sauce adds a subtle succulence that lingers on your tongue. That slightly fruity, sweet and sour, smokey flavor establishes a balanced, pleasurable sauce that enhances the taste of your barbecued meats without overpowering them.
Rather than coating your meats with traditional, store-bought barbecue sauces, give this cherry barbecue sauce a try. The cherries take the place of tomatoes, adding a vibrant fruit flavor to the classic ingredients found in barbecue sauce.
What is in Cherry Barbecue Sauce?
Cherry barbecue sauce consists of an array of exciting ingredients listed below.
Fresh Fruit, Veggies, and Herbs
- Red pepper (fresh)
- Red peppers
Pantry/ Refrigerated Items
- Pomegranate molasses
- Chicken broth
- Apple cider vinegar
- Worcestershire sauce
- White pepper
- Smoked paprika
- Cayenne Pepper (Optional for extra spice)
In addition to adding thickness to the sauce, butter adds good fat to the cherry barbecue sauce. As the other ingredients meld into the butter, they add layers of lasting flavor that cover your tongue and remain on your taste buds longer.
Adding cherries to the barbecue makes for a sweet twist on the classic tomato barbecue sauce. I prefer using fresh cherries instead of canned cherries to avoid having to deal with excess sugars and sweetened sauces added to preserved cherries.
If you are using fresh cherries, you will need to remove the pits. Don’t fret. You can do this without a cherry pitter. Using a wooden skewer works just as well. After removing the stems, Press the thicker end of the skewer into the cherry while pulling the cherry up. The pit should pop out easily with this method.
Leeks are a subtle substitute for onions. They are the perfect ingredient to add depth of flavor without overpowering the other barbecue sauce ingredients. The delicate sweetness of leeks also blends beautifully with the sweetness of the cherries.
Other ingredients could replace the leeks in this dish if you prefer a more prominent zest. Try adding red onions, green onions, or shallots for an extra pungent depth.
Every great barbecue recipe needs an element of heat. Jalapeños implement that spice while also adding an earthy, fresh quality to your sauce.
As far as peppers go, jalapeños warm up a dish gradually, but if you want more fire on your palette, try cayenne peppers, hatch chilis, Fresno chilis, serrano peppers, cayenne peppers, bird’s eye chilis, habanero peppers, or scotch bonnet peppers.
Fresh Red Pepper
I love using fresh ingredients like red peppers in my sauces because they bring freshness to dry goods and pantry items. Try roasting the red pepper before adding it to your sauce for a bolder, smokier flavor. Roasting the red pepper also brings out its sweetness.
Lemon adds sour notes to your cherry barbecue sauce. The acidic notes playfully dance on your tongue and bring balance to the fatness and sweet flavor of the sauce. Cherries also pair well with limes, oranges, and other citruses.
Adding a fresh herb like basil brings out freshness while adding an extra element of natural sweetness to your sauce.
Once wine cooks, you notice less of its flavor as it enhances the taste of the other ingredients.
Butter and wine work together to create tasty sauces all of the time, so unsurprisingly, this common combination adds harmony to cherry barbecue sauce. The wine breaks down much of the fat in the butter, while the butter absorbs all that barbecue goodness, bringing all of the different ingredients together.
This special ingredient is a common staple in many Mediterranean kitchens, but pomegranate molasses can be hard to find in the U.S. If you have the time to wait, try ordering some from Amazon.
The zingy taste of pomegranate replaces honey or molasses to give the sauce a sour note rather than overly sweet. A similar taste can be formed by combining regular molasses, grenadine, and lemon. If you prefer more sweetness, using honey or molasses works just as well.
The pomegranate flavor in the molasses and grenadine compliment the flavor of cherries delightfully, but other fresh fruits or citruses can be added in place of pomegranate.
After making my sauce, I realized that the consistency was thicker than I prefer. Adding chicken stock thinned out the sauce without taking away from the depth of flavor.
I always prefer adding stocks to my sauces rather than water for better flavor. Vegetable stock can be used similarly, but try to avoid stocks with a tomato base as it will take away from the cherry flavor.
Apple Cider Vinegar
For most barbecue sauces, apple cider vinegar is a go-to. The unique flavor of pressed apples, fermented by acid-forming bacteria, gives barbecue sauces a tangy taste with a hint of apple sweetness. Because apples and cherries pair so nicely together, apple cider vinegar in cherry barbecue sauce is a cohesive ingredient. However, nearly any other vinegar can be used in its place. Be sure to taste how sour your sauce becomes, and base changes in the amount of vinegar on your pungency preference. Also remember, if you add too much acid, more fat (like butter or oil) will help to balance out the flavor.
Many people forget about Worcestershire’s sneakiest ingredient, anchovies. The anchovies give the sauce a fermented, smokey flavor that is hard to find in other sauces. For vegetarians or those who do not like Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce or miso paste make great replacements.
White pepper’s delicate taste, the smokey, earthy punch of paprika, the tingling, slight heat of cayenne, and a little salt and pepper are the final touches that bring this whole cherry barbecue sauce together. For more smokey flavor, add extra paprika; for more direct heat, add more cayenne pepper. If you, like me, love the subtle heat of white pepper paired with vinegar, add even more. Whatever it takes to get the balance you are looking for, these spices can get you where you want to be.
How do you make cherry BBQ sauce?
Once you have gathered all your ingredients, making this sauce couldn’t be easier.
To start, sweat the leeks in butter and add all of your fresh fruits and vegetables. (save the lemon and basil for the end.) Once these ingredients have cooked down and melded together in the pot, add your pomegranate molasses, stirring to distribute it amongst the fresh ingredients.
Add wine, apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, and all of your spices. After allowing the ingredients to cook for about 5 minutes, taste for spice levels and sour levels. Add more butter and the chicken stock if the sauce tastes too sour. Add more spices to increase the heat level if needed. Add basil and lemon. Blend all of your ingredients into a smooth sauce.
What do I put cherry barbecue sauce on?
Cherry barbecue sauce tastes great on smokey meats like ribs, pork chops, grilled chicken, etc… It can be drizzled over shish kabobs, poured on pulled pork, or even lightly tossed in pasta. The cherry taste, while noticeable, subtly adds a balance of acidity and sourness to heavier meats.
For vegetarians, try adding cherry barbecue sauce to your BBQ jackfruit or using the sauce as a dip for sweet potato tots.
What should I pair with my cherry barbecue sauce?
Coleslaw pairs perfectly with cherry barbecue sauce, especially slaws that also incorporate fruit. Try this recipe on minntetonkaorchards.com: https://minnetonkaorchards.com/apple-cabbage-coleslaw/
Since pomegranates and cherries commonly coincide, starting off a meal with hummus and a dollop of pomegranate molasses will lead nicely to the main event: the cherry barbecue sauce.
Any of your typical barbecue sides will also pair nicely with your sauce. Staples like macaroni and cheese, fried okra, collard greens, hash, rice, corn on the cob, etc…
We added this sauce to chicken drumsticks and paired it with toasted almond rice and pickled ginger carrots. Pickle plates before barbecue make the perfect appetizer to amuse your taste buds before jumping into the cherry goodness.
In my opinion, bourbon and barbecue were made for each other. Try a simple and refreshing bourbon and ginger with your cherry barbecue sauce or a nice brown ale like this Cigar City Brewing Maduro Brown Ale. The caramel, nutty notes of the beer will balance out the sour acidity of the sauce.
- 2 TBSP butter
- 12-15 cherries (pits removed)
- green parts of one leek
- 2 jalapenos (more or less depending on your spice tolerance)
- 1 small fresh red pepper (You can pre-roast this or just cook with other ingredients.)
- 1 TBSP pomegranate molasses (or more for added sweetness)
- 2 TBSP wine
- 1 TBSP apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 TBSP Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 tsp white pepper
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- salt (to taste)
- pepper (to taste)
- juice of one lemon
- 3 basil leaves
- chicken stock (as needed to thin out sauce consistency)
- Turn stove burner to medium-low heat. Melt butter in a saucepan and add leeks. Allow leeks to sweat for 1 to 2 minutes.
- Add all of your fresh fruits and vegetables: cherries, leeks, jalapenos, and red pepper. (Save the basil and lemon for the end.)
- After allowing ingredients to cook for around 5 minutes (until they have diminished in size and appear glazed with butter), add pomegranate molasses, stirring to distribute evenly over all ingredients.
- Add all other ingredients (excluding basil, lemon, and chicken stock), turn up the heat to medium, and cook for 3 more minutes, stirring regularly.
- Remove sauce pan from burner. Turn off the stove. Add lemon and basil and bled all of the ingredients.
- If the sauce is too thick, you can add chicken stock. You will need to cook the sauce for 3 more minutes on medium heat for the chicken stock to integrate with the other ingredients.
- Pour on your food of choice and enjoy!