Sweet Cherry Barbecue Sauce

July 8, 2016(updated on November 2, 2021)

Sweet cherry barbecue sauce. It’s bright, tangy, and perfect for the summer cookout season.

A four ounce jar of sweet cherry barbecue sauce

A couple weeks ago, just before I headed out of town to teach my Omega workshop and then go to my cousin’s wedding, I did a bunch of canning. I made roasted peach jam. I made a tiny batch of gooseberry jam. And I made a batch of sweet cherry barbecue sauce, using three pounds of cherries from my Canbassador booty.

Three pounds of sweet cherries in an All-Clad stock pot.

I have mixed feelings about barbecue sauce. I think this is, in part, because of my parents’ position on the stuff. My dad loves it (and once invested in a friend’s sauce making venture) and my mom can’t stand it. What’s more, I’ve spent the entirety of my adult life without any grilling space. So my ability to make things appropriate for barbecue is limited at best.

Three pounds of simmered sweet cherries for barbecue sauce.

However, in recent years, I’ve discovered just how good these homemade sauces are when poured into slow cookers and used as a tasty braising medium for things like pork shoulders and boneless, skinless chicken thighs. And so, I’ve gradually expanding the number I make each year.

The finished yield of sweet cherry barbecue sauce.

Whether you’re a huge fan of barbecue sauce or you’re lukewarm on the topic, I highly encourage you to explore this one!

Oh, and a quick tip about pitting cherries for things you’re going to cook down. Instead of working each one through the cherry pitter, remove the stems and heap them into the pan you’re going to use to cook the sauce. Add half a cup of water, cover the pot, and simmer the cherries for 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove the pot from the stove and let it cool. Then, reach in and use your fingers to pop the pits out of the cherries. Wear gloves if you’re concerned about staining your fingers. It takes no more than 10 minutes to pop the pits out of the cherries when prepped this way. Easy.

If cherry barbecue sauce doesn’t float your boat, try my classic, tomato-based recipe!

5 from 2 votes

Sweet Cherry Barbecue Sauce

Servings: 4 half pints


  • 3 pounds cherries pitted
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup minced onion
  • 2 garlic cloves crushed
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne


  • Combine all ingredients in a wide pot with a tight-fitting lid and stir to combine.
  • Place lidded pot on the stove over medium-high heat and cook for approximately 20 minutes, until the cherries and onions have softened.
  • Continue to cook, with the lid off, until the mixture has reduced by approximately half.
  • Remove pot from heat. Using an immersion blender, puree the mixture until smooth (you may have to tip the pan a little in order to do this without splashing). If you don’t have an immersion blender, scrape the mixture into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.
  • If the sauce is nice and thick, it is done. If it’s still a little watery, return it to the heat and cook a bit longer. At this point, taste it and add more salt or pepper, if necessary.
  • When it’s finished, remove the pot from the stove and funnel the finished sauce into the prepared jars. Wipe rims, apply lids and rings and process in a boiling water bath canner for 15 minutes.

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5 from 2 votes

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52 thoughts on "Sweet Cherry Barbecue Sauce"

  • I am not a big shopper, usually just mostly food stores, farm stands etc., but today I went to Sam’s Club.
    I didn’t find much real food but I looked at the cookbooks and what should I see! Marissa’s “Naturally Sweet” I was so excited to see your book! Naturally I bought it. : ) Looks like some jams or preserves are in my future.

      1. Great! Do you add anything else to the mix in your slow cooker? I’m really looking forward to using this with pork when the weather gets cold. Now I just need to get my hands on enough cherries. I think the are on sale this week, yay!

        1. Not really. I tend to season the meat with salt and pepper to taste after cooking. But the bbq sauce is pretty much enough to get the flavor job done.

            1. Pitted the cherries yesterday late in the day. Now the sauce is simmering. Why did I pick a day in the 90s?!

              I watched your video. Wow, your kitchen is small. It’s amazing that you do all this in that amount of space. Full of useful information. After the second time that someone asked about the apron, I would have ignored the question. ?

              1. Tastes very interesting. Jars are in the water bath and I’m drinking a glass of wine with ice in it. Hot!

                I wanted to use my spaghetti pot with canning rings on the bottom for these smaller jars but it was too short. Didn’t I see you recommend a small tall pot? I took a jam class from the county earlier this year. The woman who ran it usually uses her spaghetti pot with the strainer insert. Sigh, I don’t have that either.

                1. You are very patient.

                  All the jars sealed. Now I just wait (impatiently) for cold weather.

  • I’ll save this recipe for next year, no cherries this year thanks to lousy weather this spring.
    I have a sweet cherry tree that I thought was sour cherry when I planted it, and though the cherries a great eating fresh, they make(in my opinion) less than stellar jams and pies. So this barbecue sauce might be right up my alley, along with the Peach Barbecue Sauce that is my favorite!!

  • I love the tip on pitting cherries! Can’t wait to try it!
    I’m a big fan of BBQ sauce on pizza. Try it.

  • This looks like a great recipe, I can’t wait to try it. Also, love you tip on pitting cherries!

    My question is, do you still cook the sauce for the full 20 minutes (before removing the lid and continuing the cooking) if you’ve already cooked the cherries in the water (before pitting)? And do you drain the cooking liquid, or just add the other ingredients to the pot? Thanks for that clarification.

    1. Really, you simmer the cherries until they’re soft. That time is always going to vary. I put 20 minutes in, because that’s how long it took me. Your mileage is always going to be a little different. If you use my technique for softening the cherries before pitting, you don’t need to drain there. There shouldn’t be much liquid left after you’ve simmered them to soften.

  • Hello. When you say 3 pounds of cherries, pitted…. do you mean 3 pounds before or after pitting? I’ve never been too sure and just wanted to confirm! This and gingery pickled beets is on my list for this weekend so I’ll have beautifully pink hands!

    1. I mean that you want to have three pounds prior to pitting. Here’s how to tell the difference in the future.

      3 pounds cherries, pitted (means that the weight is taken before pitting)
      3 pounds pitted cherries (means that the weight is taken after pitting)

  • I’ve never cooked with cherries but love what others have done. The cherries I see in stores are (I don’t believe) usually marked as sweet, sour, or type, other than Bing cherries. Would Bing cherries work well or should I look for some other type? thanks so much!

    1. Bing cherries are sweet cherries. You will occasionally see cherries marked as pie or tart cherries, you wouldn’t want those for this recipe.

  • I was looking for a Sweet Plum barbeque sauce and cam across this one.. I plan to use your recipe & substitute the plumes – Red Beauty plum variety… Very sweet plum…

    1. I’ve not tried it with a sugar substitute, so I’m not sure how it will turn out. You could certainly try it, though.

  • Gosh I love this BBQ sauce. I’ve made 2 batches: First as written and allowed to thicken quite a bit for pulled chicken thighs or pork. Second, with chipotle vs cayenne as a true BBQ sauce. The second batch wasn’t as sweet with the same amount of brown sugar (different batch of cherries) so I had to add a bit more, plus more chipotle powder. Delicious! Smoky and warm. Sweet and spicy. This one will be great for ribs. Oh and the pitting tip? Works like a charm.

  • Oh my goodness! I have never been a BBQ sauce fan, or so I thought, but this recipe has changed my mind! So so good!

  • I just made this. I thought that it would make a nice Christmas gift for the BBQ lovers in the family. But it definitely won’t. Because I’m going to eat ALL of it! This tastes so amazing, and I’m not even a BBQ lover! Thank you for sharing this amazing recipe!

  • Marissa, a friend of mine made this sauce and is concerned that she canned it in pint jars instead of half pints as the recipe calls for. Is 15 minutes enough processing time for pint jars of this sauce. I believe it is, but wanted to ask.

  • Hi Marisa, Thank you for sharing this recipe. I’d like to use blueberries to make this, instead of cherries. It seems blueberries are more acidic than cherries, but I’m curious what weight of fruit I should use in order to ensure proper acidity for safety. I’m not sure what 3 pounds of cherries would weigh after being pitted. Thank you!

    1. I’d probably puree and seed the blackberries before adding the rest of the ingredients. So you might want to use a extra few ounces to account for the loss from the seeds.

  • I’ve made this sauce a few times and really love the complex flavor. I wondering though if it would be possible to safely substitute some or all of the brown sugar with maple syrup or honey, to give it a more more viscous texture that I’m more accustomed to in a BBQ sauce.

    1. Neither of those sweeteners is going to give you a thicker texture. The only thing that can do that is longer cooking for further reduction.

    1. If you are asking if this recipe was tested by an independent lab for acid levels, the answer is no. However, it was developed using ratios from existing tested barbecue sauce recipes.

    1. It typically makes between 4 and 5 half pints. Sorry that the yield was missing. I switched recipe card programs recently and that detail was stripped out of a lot of my recipes.

  • 5 stars
    This is my new favorite BBQ sauce! Never going back to tomato based canning recipes for BBQ again. SO much easier using cherries instead of peeling and cooking down all those tomatoes. I subbed ancho chili powder for the regular chili powder and the resulting sauce is smoky, deep and complex.

  • 5 stars
    I really enjoyed this BBQ sauce – thick smokey and sweet.. Since we’re in the heat of summer, I tried a couple tricks to keep things cooler. I let the cherries macerate with the brown sugar overnight – actually it was 2 nights, in the fridge. It seemed to soften them a bit. I cooked them in my electric skillet with the other ingredients – its rectangular and rather large. Then I poured it into a bowl to use the immersion blender. It was simple and rather fast. The icing on the cake was that it low calorie when I ran it through my recipe/calorie app.