How to Make Honey-Garlic Sauce

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The flavor of Chinese honey-garlic ribs can be captured in a versatile sauce.
The flavor of Chinese honey-garlic ribs can be captured in a versatile sauce. (Image: AlexHuangbw/iStock/Getty Images)

Garlic's pungent character adds rich, savory flavor to a remarkable range of dishes. The taste becomes especially notable in full-flavored meats such as spare ribs and chicken wings. Sticky sauces help garlic adhere to these finger-friendly foods, and honey -- with its thick texture and robust flavor -- makes an especially good glue for the garlic. Honey-garlic sauces typically fall into two broad styles, either the Asian type used for honey-garlic ribs or a Western-style barbecue sauce.

Things You'll Need

  • Heavy-bottomed saucepan
  • Honey
  • Garlic
  • Water or other liquids

Asian-Style Honey-Garlic Sauce

Place a heavy-bottomed, medium-sized saucepan on your stovetop. Thin pots are risky when making sweet sauces, because they tend to heat unevenly and create "hot spots" in which the sauce can stick and scorch.

Measure 1 part soy sauce and 2 parts each of honey and brown, palm or turbinado sugar into the saucepan, to provide the base of your sauce. Add 6 to 8 parts of additional liquid to dilute the first group of ingredients. Water or chicken broth should account for most of that volume, but a splash of hoisin sauce, rice wine or dry sherry helps form a better-rounded flavor.

Crush or mince fresh garlic, allowing 2 to 4 cloves -- or more, if you wish -- per cup of sauce. Add a smaller quantity of sliced, slivered or grated ginger to taste, allowing at least a teaspoon per cup of sauce.

Heat the pot, bringing the sauce gently to a low boil. Stir frequently with a silicon spatula, to keep the sauce from sticking to the pot and scorching.

Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, until the flavors are well-infused and the sauce has thickened slightly. For a thicker sauce, whisk cornstarch into cold water and then stir that mixture into your sauce. Sauce continues to thicken as it cools, so add the starch a little at a time until it just reaches a suitable texture.

Honey-Garlic Barbecue Sauce

Set a heavy-bottomed, medium-sized saucepan on your stovetop. Measure in 1 part honey, 2 parts water and 4 parts ketchup or crushed tomatoes to serve as the base of your sauce. Use 2 to 4 cloves of crushed or minced garlic for every 1/2 cup of honey, to provide a suitable balance of the signature ingredients.

Add sweet, savory, spicy and aromatic ingredients to taste to round out those base flavors. Barbecue enthusiasts typically use varying combinations of molasses, prepared or dry mustard, hot sauce, granulated or dehydrated onion, soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce.

Complete your sauce's flavor profile by adding spices to the base mixture. These might include sweet or smoked paprika, black pepper, white pepper, cayenne, crushed red chilies, and other ground chilies such as anchos. These flavors complement the base notes of honey and garlic, rather than compete with them.

Bring the pot to a gentle simmer, stirring frequently to minimize the risk of sticking and scorching. When you're not stirring, cover the pot with a lid or spatter screen to prevent sticky, scalding-hot spatters from soiling your cooking area or burning your hand. Cook for a total of 20 to 30 minutes, until the flavors are well-infused.

Taste the sauce and assess its balance of flavors. Add salt, honey, garlic or additional spices as needed to bring the varying flavors into harmony.

Use the sauce immediately, or cool it and package it in a food-safe container for later.

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