Barbecue sauce is serious business in some parts of the country.  Texans like it thin and hot, while in Kansas City they prefer theirs thick and sweet.  Mustard and vinegar are key to South Carolina’s more piquant version.  And North Carolina boasts no fewer than three regional variations, with militant barbecue enthusiasts drawing battle lines over the inclusion (or exclusion) of ketchup in the recipe.

To my knowledge, Massachusetts takes no official stance on barbecue, so I feel free to vary my recipe according to my mood and the contents of my pantry.  The kids, of course, like a sweet and tangy, ketchup-based sauce with a modest amount of heat, so that’s what I made this weekend to celebrate the last of the snow melting off the grill and the weather being warm enough to cook outdoors.

The ketchup you use will make or break this recipe, so choose wisely.  Trader Joe’s ketchup, which is organic, corn syrup-free, tangy, and fruity, is my favorite.  I use a combination of smoked Spanish paprika and ancho chili powder for a lightly smoky flavor and gentle heat, but feel free to substitute regular paprika and whatever chili powder you like best.

Want some ideas for what to do with barbecue sauce?  See here.

Barbecue sauce

Yield:  Makes about 1 1/2 c.

2 tbsp. olive oil

1/2 large Spanish onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1 c. ketchup

1/4 c. cider vinegar

1/4 c. water

1/4 c. brown sugar

1 tbsp. paprika (preferably the smoky, Spanish variety)

2 tsp. chili powder (I use ancho), or to taste

Warm a saucepan over medium heat.  Drizzle in oil, then add onion.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is soft and just starting to brown, about 8 minutes.  Add garlic and cook another minute or two.  Stir in remaining ingredients and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 15 minutes.  Using a rubber spatula, transfer sauce to a food processor or blender and process until smooth.  Stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, the sauce will keep at least a week.