Pork ribs glazed with sour cherry barbecue sauce.

Sour Cherry Barbecue Sauce

Pork ribs glazed with sour cherry barbecue sauce.

Sour cherries, being sour, are best cooked with sugar, so their most obvious applications are pies, pastries, compotes, and the like.  This is a problem because sour cherry trees are prolific, and a man can only eat so much pie.  Over the years we have struck upon other winning preparations for the efficient preservation and consumption of sour cherries, notably drinks like rum pot and cherry liqueur.  But to really showcase the fruit’s versatility we’ve been eager for ways to use them in savoury meat dishes.  Enter sour cherry barbecue sauce.

For most of my grown-up life my house barbecue sauce has been the Carolina-style recipe in Ruhlman and Polcyn’s Charcuterie.  It is what I call a “pantry sauce”: a dozen or so pantry items thrown in a pot and simmered to make something new.  The bulk of the sauce is ketchup, but it is punched up with Worcestershire, cider vinegar, brown sugar, mustard powder, paprika, and cayenne.

Most cherry barbecue sauces are conventional pantry-style barbecue sauces with some cherries added as an afterthought.  For my own recipe I didn’t want to do that.  I wanted the cherries to be the bulk of the sauce.  So no ketchup here.  The base is sautéed onion, garlic, loads of sour cherries, and brown sugar.  These ingredients on their own make a perfectly serviceable sauce, but to get the punch of classic barbecue sauce I still add vinegar, cayenne, and mustard powder.

This is an extremely versatile sauce.  Best with chicken or pork, as with the ribs shown above.


Sour Cherry Barbecue Sauce


  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 500 g sliced yellow onion
  • 50 g chopped garlic
  • 1.5 kgs sour cherries or sour cherry purée
  • 500 g dark brown sugar
  • 2 tsp mustard powder
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt


  1. Heat canola oil in a heavy pot.  Add onion and garlic and cook until onions are translucent.
  2. Add remaining ingredients.  If using whole pitted cherries I blend everything in the pot with an immersion blender at this point.  Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer gently for about 30 minutes.
  3. For a super-smooth texture like commercial barbecue sauce, process in an upright-blender.
  4. Pour into jars and refrigerate or freeze.  Lasts about a month in the fridge.

Yield: just under 2 L Sour Cherry Barbecue Sauce

Addendum. I have a dream.  My two little children will one day live in a province where the term “cherry” denotes the sour cherry varieties that grow here, not the bland Bings of BC.