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Is brown sauce bbq sauce?

Barbecue sauce is a flavorful condiment that is commonly used as a marinade or dipping sauce when grilling meat. There are many different styles and flavors of barbecue sauce, but they generally contain tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, and spices. Brown sauce, on the other hand, is a traditional British condiment that is made from a simple blend of vinegar, flour, spices, and sometimes tamarind. At first glance, these two sauces may seem very different. But are they really so different? Let’s take a closer look at the ingredients, flavors, and uses of brown sauce and barbecue sauce to determine if brown sauce can be considered a type of barbecue sauce.

Ingredients in Brown Sauce vs BBQ Sauce

The primary ingredients in traditional brown sauce are malt vinegar, spirit vinegar, molasses, dates, tamarind, spices, and flour. The flour helps thicken the sauce. Here is a comparison of the common ingredients found in brown sauce and barbecue sauce:

Brown Sauce BBQ Sauce
Malt vinegar Distilled white vinegar
Spirit vinegar Apple cider vinegar
Molasses Brown sugar
Dates Tomato paste
Tamarind Tomato puree
Spices Spices like garlic, mustard, pepper
Flour Corn syrup or honey

As you can see, while brown sauce and barbecue sauce share some ingredients like vinegar and spices, brown sauce relies more heavily on fruit ingredients while barbecue sauce uses more tomatoes. Brown sauce also uses flour to thicken it whereas barbecue sauce gets its thickness from corn syrup or honey.

Flavor Profiles

The flavor profile of brown sauce is quite different from traditional barbecue sauce:

Brown Sauce BBQ Sauce
Sour from the vinegar Sweet and tangy
Fruity from molasses and dates Smoky flavor
Slightly bitter from tamarind Robust tomato flavor
Malty and caramelized Sticky and thick texture

While the spices add some similar flavors, brown sauce has a much more complex, fruited flavor profile compared to the sweeter and more tomato-heavy taste of barbecue sauce. Brown sauce strikes a sour and slightly bitter flavor note while barbecue sauce is all about the sweet and smoky.

Uses in Cooking

The uses of these two sauces in the kitchen differ as well:

Brown Sauce BBQ Sauce
Condiment for roasted meats Basting sauce for grilling
Paired with fried foods Dip for chicken wings or tenders
Additive to gravies and stews Glazing sauce for roasted or smoked meat
Sandwich spread Hamburger topping

Brown sauce is more of an accompaniment to add flavor to roasted or fried dishes. BBQ sauce plays a central role in recipes by providing a sticky glaze or bold dipping component. Brown sauce accents food while barbecue sauce defines it.

History of Brown Sauce vs BBQ Sauce

The origins of these sauces also shed light on their differences:

Brown Sauce BBQ Sauce
Created in England in the 1800s Evolved in the southern U.S. in the 1700s-1800s
Adapted from ancient Roman garum sauce Origins linked to Native American and African American cooking
Traditionally made with vinegar and tamarind Early recipes based on vinegar, tomatoes, sugar
Ancient European condiment tradition Quintessential American condiment

Brown sauce has its roots in Roman cooking while barbecue sauce grew out of African American and Native American traditions. Their origins on separate continents contributed to their vast differences.

Standard Brands

Looking at the best-selling brands provides more evidence of the differences:

Popular Brown Sauce Brands Popular BBQ Sauce Brands
HP Sauce Sweet Baby Ray’s
A1 Steak Sauce Kraft
Daddies Sauce KC Masterpiece
Heinz Brown Sauce Stubb’s

HP Sauce and Daddies are two of the top brands for brown sauce but would never be shelved in the barbecue sauce section. The famous barbecue sauce brands like Sweet Baby Ray’s and KC Masterpiece are not interchangeable with brown sauce.

Nutrition Comparison

There are also nutritional differences between the two sauces:

Brown Sauce (per 2 Tbsp) BBQ Sauce (per 2 Tbsp)
30-60 calories 60-150 calories
200-800mg sodium 400-1000mg sodium
5-15g sugar 15-40g sugar

Barbecue sauce contains significantly higher amounts of calories, sodium, and sugar compared to brown sauce. Brown sauce has a more tangy vinegar base while barbecue sauce is packed with sugars.

Cost Comparison

You’ll also see a difference when you compare prices:

Brown Sauce BBQ Sauce
$2-5 per 12 oz bottle $3-7 per 18 oz bottle

Brown sauce is generally cheaper per ounce compared to the higher priced barbecue sauces on the market.


After looking closely at the ingredients, flavor profiles, uses, origins, brands, nutrition, and prices of brown sauce versus barbecue sauce, it’s clear these are two distinct condiments. While both are vinegar and spice-based sauces used for meat dishes, brown sauce has a more bitter, fruit-forward taste profile compared to the sweeter and smokier barbecue sauce. Brown sauce is enjoyed more in Britain and Europe while barbecue sauce is a staple American condiment. So in summary, while brown sauce possesses some sauce qualities, it does not fit the flavor profile to be considered a true barbecue sauce.

Next time you reach for a condiment for grilled chicken or ribs, be sure to grab barbecue sauce for that sweet and tangy flavor or brown sauce if you want more of a malty, vinegary kick.