Brown Sugar vs. Molasses


BBQ sauce can mean a lot of different things to different people. It depends on the region they come from, the meats they like to eat, their family traditions, and their own personal preferences. Everything from vinegar to mayonnaise to hot peppers can be in a BBQ sauce, and there is really no wrong way to do it. Even “mistakes” can lead to great flavor finds.


Today, let’s look at the two most popular sweet ingredients to be found in BBQ sauces, how they are used, what they are combined with, and what meats pair with them the best.


  • Molasses

Usually featured in southern-style or Kansas City style sauces, molasses is a thick, brown syrup-like substance. It is actually a by-product of the sugar-making process, leftover when the sugar crystals are extracted from the cane or sugar beets used as the primary ingredient.


This syrup has a deep, dark sweetness, almost tinged with a burned or bitter flavor that adds an extra dimension to your dishes.


Sometimes combined with vinegar to brighten it up, or with hot peppers to impart some heat, molasses sauces are very sticky and gooey. This means they are usually applied towards the end of the cooking or smoking process, or sometimes applied altogether after the cooking.


Pork ribs or burnt ends, which are the fatty edge pieces of beef brisket, are perfect choices for these kinds of sauces. The molasses creates a crusty, sugary finish to these kinds of fatty pieces of pork or beef.


  • Brown Sugar

Brown sugar can come about in two ways. It is either claimed from the sugar process before it is completely refined, leaving some molasses in it, or it can be created by simply adding white sugar and molasses together.


Brown sugar will do more to thicken up your sauce than molasses will, and it has a more simple and sweet taste. It has more depth than white sugar, but it is easier to deal with than molasses, which can be sticky and cumbersome. Brown sugar can be used to cut the acidity in a tomato or ketchup-based sauce. Hearty sauces like this are also better for the end of cooking, or to be served with the cooked meat at the end.


If you are not looking for a thick sauce, however, brown sugar can also be employed in creating a “mop sauce.” This is a thin and watery sauce that is applied during the low and slow smoking process. And while it is not a thick sauce, it is full of flavor. Usually, this style would include an acid such as apple cider vinegar or citrus, salt and pepper, and some kind of chilies for heat.


Meat choices for this include pork ribs, beef ribs, a shoulder cut for pulled pork, chicken thighs, steaks, and briskets.


As you can see, “sweet” does not have just one definition when it comes to Barbecuing. From a recipe with a hint of sweetness to a thick, gloppy treat of a sauce, there is something for everyone. Get experimenting and find out what works best for you and yours!

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