Espresso Barbecue Sauce 16.000

Scott Suchman for The Washington Post

Smoke Signals May 20, 2015

Aaron Franklin, the acclaimed owner of Franklin Barbecue in Austin, won a 2015 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest, unprecedented for a barbecue pitmaster. Although Texans are said to eschew sauce, his strongly flavored espresso one has won over such skeptics.

It goes great with a variety of smoked meats, including his famous brisket.

Franklin’s recipe does not specify the type of brown sugar to use; we tested it using dark. He writes that the “brisket drippings are a matter of taste, but I believe this sauce needs the beefiness to make it taste right." We made it optional.

Make Ahead: The sauce can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Where to Buy: Dark soy sauce is a bit thicker than regular soy sauce but not as salty, with notes of caramel. Find it at Asian markets.


When you scale a recipe, keep in mind that cooking times and temperatures, pan sizes and seasonings may be affected, so adjust accordingly. Also, amounts listed in the directions will not reflect the changes made to ingredient amounts.

Tested size: 16 servings; makes a generous 2 cups

  • 1 1/2 cups ketchup
  • 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup dark soy sauce (see headnote)
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) freshly brewed espresso
  • Brisket drippings, for flavoring (optional)


Combine the ketchup, both vinegars, the dark soy sauce, garlic and onion powders and brown sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes, to form a sauce that's relatively thick and almost plum-colored.

Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the espresso. If using, add the brisket drippings (about a tablespoon, or to taste). Let cool before serving or storing.

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Recipe Source

Adapted from “Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto,” by Aaron Franklin (Ten Speed Press, 2015).

Tested by Andy Sikkenga.

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