Copycat Gates Barbecue Sauce (a.k.a. Fake Gates)

There are many Kansas City barbecue sauces that I enjoy: Rosedale is great when you want something sweeter, Jack Stack is nice when you want something thicker, but Gates is my all-purpose winner. I feel they do a great job of balancing the sweet and vinegar tang and pepperiness, and that’s what makes it so great on beef, pork, turkey or chicken. It’s even my favorite french fry dipping sauce.

But bottles of barbecue sauce are heavy to ship and to carry in luggage. So when I heard that there was a Gates knockoff recipe floating around online, I jumped on it. It’s not a bad sauce, but if you’ve had Gates and you know what it’s supposed to taste like, it’s just spicy ketchup. After a little reverse engineering (with a LOT of scaling down) and the purchase of a bottle of liquid smoke, we think we’ve hit on the best knockoff this side of the Atlantic.

I’ve scaled the recipe back to one quarter of the original. Because I’m not starting with ketchup, I’ve adjusted the salt, sugar and vinegar, so it won’t be 1/4 across the board.

1/4 c brown sugar
1 T + 1/4 t salt (adjust it if you want, but this seems to bring it closest to real Gates)
1 1/2 t celery seed
1 1/2 t cumin
1 1/2 t cayenne pepper
1 1/2 t garlic powder
1 t chili powder
1 t black pepper, coarsely ground
1/2 c apple cider vinegar
1 t liquid smoke
1 t Worcestershire sauce
2 c (500 ml) tomato sauce

Mix sugar, salt, celery seed, cumin, cayenne, garlic powder, chili powder and black pepper in a bowl. Whisk together vinegar, liquid smoke, Worcestershire and tomato sauce. When well combined, whisk in dry ingredients. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Yields about 3 1/2 cups of sauce and keeps refrigerated in a tightly covered container for 2-3 months.

10 thoughts on “Copycat Gates Barbecue Sauce (a.k.a. Fake Gates)”

  1. shoreacres

    Interesting that I’m just back from Kansas City. I went out for barbeque one night, fully prepared to compare it unfavorably to Texas barbeque. What caught me was the meat – it was absolutely marvelous and better than any brisket I’ve had. I asked the server what cut was used, and in fact it was shoulder. Very interesting.

    And now, I’m off to find some real Gates at my store. Texas may embargo the stuff at the border – if they do, I’ll have your recipe to try.

    1. Sarah

      Hi shoreacres,

      The meat in Kansas City is pretty extraordinary. It ‘s very interesting that you had shoulder – I use pork shoulder here pretty often and it’s very forgiving. I love brisket, but due to differences in butchery styles, they just don’t really cut that here. Plus, beef is extra expensive and I am loath to screw it up.

      If you’re back in KC and you do have the chance to go to Gates, be prepared for their unique greeting, “HI MAY I HELP YOU” shouted at you from behind the counter.

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  3. F Williams

    I’m from KC and having spent my life growing up with Gates BBQ on State Line just 4 blocks away over in Leawood..I can honestly say this is the closest I have ever come to their amazing sauce. The words ‘Beef on Bun and mixed meat platter box to go’ are forever in my memories. As well as the lines of people waiting out the door on Chiefs Sundays including myself.

    When you ask my boys what they miss from the states, it’s twizzlers and Gates BBQ. So thank you so much.

    This has to be nearly it…it’s fantastic and thank you so much. My husband says it’s the sauce we have tried every year to have shipped to us from there but they don’t do international shipping to us yet…Now I don]t really need to wait for them…

    I will admit, I did add: 1 1/2 t. more apple cider, 1/2 t. pepper and salt, 1/4 t. celery seed.. and I did it on the stove and let it sit to cool before bottling it.

    As long as I can remember, no one ever put the sauce in the fridge including my Gran. For ages they never sold the sauce to the public unless you knew Ollie himself and he would pack some up in Mason jars for you to take home…Lucky for our family she knew Ollie as there was never a lack of it in our house…

    Thank you again

  4. F Williams

    Sorry to add this on, but also add 1 t. of lemon juice. It tops off the zing that Gates gives..

    Thanks again

    1. Sarah

      Hi there,

      I’m so glad that you like it! I’m from the other side of State Line, right around Brookside. The idea of making sauce was so strange to me for so long that I tried to shlep it back to Germany after visits home for years. Now all we need to bring back are celery seeds and liquid smoke – much lighter!

      I skip the lemon juice part. I know some people really dig it, but I always taste the lemon juice as its own flavor and find that it doesn’t particularly blend. But that’s the beauty of making it yourself – you can play up the flavors you like and tone down ones you don’t.

      And I agree with you regarding refrigerating the sauce. It was never necessary in KC, but I’m too lazy to use a decent bottle or can it, and I don’t trust the seal on my fake Tupperware to keep it shelf-stable. I think I cooked it once, too, but again, lazy.

      Anyway, I’m tickled that you found this recipe useful! Thanks for commenting :)

  5. matthew

    When I saw how you wrote your recipe using little t for teaspoon and Big T for Tablespoon, I liked you immediately.

    I have a friend who’s recipes are fantastic and they use they same writing style

  6. ginasplace74002515

    Hi, I just ordered a couple bottles of Gates original bbq sauce. On a whim, I goggled a copycat recipe and bingo. There are lots of recipes online. But, so far, yours is the only one that uses tomato sauce instead of ketchup

    I noticed on the other websites it states to use Hunt’s, others say use Heinz, and another one says to use the generic brands from Costco. Had me confused. Do you use a specific brand of tomato sauce?

    Also some say to cook the sauce for a couple of minutes while others say not to cook. What’s the difference?

    I really appreciate your response because I plan on trying to make this bbq very soon

    1. Sarah

      Tomato sauce vs. Ketchup: This is a personal taste thing. Whenever I’ve tried to make a sauce that starts with ketchup, that’s all I taste. And since the recipe calls for adding salt, sugar and vinegar anyway, I just figured I’d play with the proportions until I got something that tasted right.

      Brands of Tomato Sauce: I almost never buy the same tomato sauce twice. And, since I’m in Germany, I don’t have access to the same brands. If I’m at a grocery store that tends to have good store-brand stuff, I just get one of theirs. So I use the plainest of plain tomato sauces, sometimes labeled ‘passata.’

      Cooking: Gates is pretty runny. Cooking it will help evaporate some of that extra liquid and get you a thicker texture, if that’s what you’re after. It might also intensify the sweetness and saltiness. I like it ‘raw,’ but you should play around and see what you think. Maybe whisk together a batch, then cook half of it and leave half raw and see if you notice a difference.

      Let me know how it goes! I’m interested in hearing your results.

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