Yup, that’s a gallon of tomatoes.

I gardened in Colorado, at almost 7,000 feet in elevation, for 10 years. Our last frost date typically fell after the first week of June, and our first frost was in early September. We were having a really good year when we managed a 100 day growing season. Nights, even at the height of summer, were in the upper 40’s/low 50’s. That was NOT tomato growing country.

I learned every trick in the book to try and eke out more than 4 or 5 ripe tomatoes in a season. I grew short season determinates. I started them indoors. I grew them in a small greenhouse. I covered them with blankets as frost approached. I picked them green and stored them in my basement, crossing my fingers for a few more blushes of color before Halloween. I managed to can 5 or 10 pints of tomatoes in a good year.

When my husband asked me, “what do you want to grow more of, now that we’re moving to a warmer climate?”, my answer was, “tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes”. I dreamed of the day when I would have so many tomatoes that I could actually try out recipes for things like homemade ketchup. Well, my friends, that day has come.


I’m proud to say that I grew everything in this container except for the celery.

But when I got to thinking about it, how much ketchup do we eat, really? I have a bottle languishing in the back of the fridge, that I dig out when I make oven fries or the occasional meat loaf. But one bottle might last me a year or more.

So…what uses a lot of tomatoes and is something we eat all the time? Barbecue sauce. We use it on burgers of all kinds. We use it on chicken. We use it on most any meat we grill, really. So when I was still up in the Spokane Washington area, I made my first homemade barbecue sauce, after looking at many recipes. And it turned out OK. But it wasn’t great. KC Masterpiece Original (our go to store bought brand) was better.


I like to call this shot “everyone in the pool”

So the search continued. And then I found this recipe, based on a recipe in the book Blue Ribbon Preserves. Ancho chiles…sounds good. We love dried chiles, and I grow poblanos (which is the fresh version of an ancho). Uses 4 quarts (ahem, that would be ONE GALLON) of fresh tomatoes. I’ve got those. Described as “a spicy variation on straight-up all-American BBQ sauce. There’s a familiar tangy sweetness, intensified by the slow burn that comes from a triple dose of chile — fresh, dried, and ground.” Sounds perfect. And so, last year, I made my first batch of Ancho Chile Barbecue Sauce. And I’ll probably never try another recipe. Yup, it’s that good. We were down to one 8 oz jar. It was time to make some more.

New to canning? I’m not going to give a lot of details about how to prepare your jars, secure the lids, and boiling water bath canning in general. But it IS important, and you DO need to know it. Please check out this site before you start.

Ancho Chile Barbecue Sauce (with personal tweaks, but of course. I’ve kept the ingredients mostly the same, but have varied the method quite a bit)
A note on tweaking canning recipes. What is important for safety is the correct ratio of tomatoes to other vegetables, and the correct amount of vinegar. So don’t go cutting the amount of tomatoes, or doubling the amount of onions or peppers. But if you want to substitute red onion for white, or a couple of jalapenos for an Anaheim pepper – keeping the total VOLUME the same – its ok. You can vary the amount of sweetener and salt. These are there for flavor, not preserving quality. When in doubt, stick with original recipes from tested sources.

Makes from 56 to 80 oz, depending on how much you reduce the sauce.
I make this over the course of two days, because, you know, I have other things to do.

  • 4 quarts peeled, cored, and chopped ripe tomatoes (this is the hardest part – trust me. Note: a boiling water dip will help make the skins easier to remove)
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 1-1/2 cups seeded, de-ribbed, and chopped red bell peppers
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 4 fresh hot red chile peppers, such as Fresnos, seeded and finely chopped (I used New Mexican – also called Anaheims. I’ve never grown a Fresno, which I understand is similar to a jalapeno).
  • 2 to 4 dried ancho chile peppers, stemmed and seeded (guess how many I used?)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 whole black peppercorns (I just add about 1/2 tsp ground pepper to the sauce and skip the whole fiddly spice bag seep and removal routine that they suggest)
  • 1-1/4 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup barley malt syrup (or dark corn syrup) – I used molasses instead. It’s a common ingredient in BBQ sauce recipes, and I don’t keep barley malt or dark corn syrup on hand)
  • 2 tsp kosher salt (or 1 tsp regular – kosher is much courser and so measures double the volume for the same weight)
  • 2 tsp dry mustard
  • 1 tsp hot red pepper sauce (Tabasco-style)
  • 1/2 tsp ground ancho or red chile, or to taste (I used dried chipotle powder. The subtle smokiness is really a great addition)

Toast the dried chiles in a skillet, pressing down gently to flatten and soften, just until they become pliable and fragrant. Or, use a toaster oven and “toast” on a low setting for a bit. I’ve been doing it this way for years. Remove stems and seeds (which is easier to do after they are toasted – wear gloves if you are sensitive).

Combine the tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, celery, fresh chiles, toasted dried chiles (torn into pieces), and garlic in a larger than one gallon pot. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring to prevent scorching. Reduce heat and simmer until the vegetables are soft and the tomatoes broken down, about 30 minutes, stirring frequently.

Blend mixture with a hand held stick blender until smooth. Seriously, if there was ever a recipe invented for a stick blender, this is it. The original recipe calls for using a food mill or sieve. I have a food mill, but the thought of running about 20 cups of hot tomato mixture through it, and in the process dirtying several pots, myself, and the kitchen with tomato spatters in the process, makes me want to go to the store and buy barbecue sauce. While the end result will not be as smooth as ketchup, it will still be very finely ground. Good enough!

Simmer resulting mixture, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is reduced by half and will mound up gently on a spoon, about 45 minutes to an hour. Transfer mixture to a large crock pot. (You can continue this on the stove instead, but it is really difficult to achieve a thick tomato mixture without scorching in a conventional pan, unless you want to stand at the store and stir for 90 minutes.)

Add the brown sugar, wine vinegar, molasses, salt, pepper, dried mustard, hot sauce, and ground chipotle chile to the tomato mixture, stirring well. Simmer on low, placing a wooden spoon or some other utensil across the top of the crock to prop open the lid so steam can escape. Cook until the mixture is the consistency of ketchup, stirring occasionally. Depending on the heat of your crock pot and the size of your opening, this can take up to 8 hours. Taste and add additional ground red chile if desired. The first time I made this, I did reduce it all the way down to a total of 56 oz. It was too thick for us. The second time, I ended up with about 80 oz total.

As you near what you think is the end of your sauce reducing time, prepare canner, lids, and jars according to the usual method, keeping jars hot until needed. I used 12 oz jars and 16 oz jars, and added a few minutes to the cook time to accommodate the extra mass.


OK, not the most glamorous shot, but its worth gold to me.

Ladle the hot sauce into hot jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles using a plastic knife or chopstick, and readjust headspace as needed. Wipe jar rims with a clean, damp cloth and center the hot lids on jars. Screw band to fingertip-tight.

Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely submerged. Bring to a boil and process, covered for 15 minutes (18 minutes for 12 oz, 20 minutes for 16 oz – check an elevation chart and add additional time if you are above 1,000 ft). Remove canner lid; wait 5 minutes, then remove jars. (I know, this is a weird instruction, and I’m not quite sure what the point is, or if you should turn the heat off during this time. But this sauce has been simmered within an inch of its life at this point. It’s not like a few extra minutes in the canner is going to overcook it, so why not?) Cool, check seals, and store in a cool, dark place for up to a year.

Miles Away Farm Blog © 2013, where we KNOW there is another 20 lbs of paste tomatoes out in the garden, just waiting to be picked. Be careful what you wish for, right?