Low Sugar Mango BBQ Sauce – Great for Pork Ribs

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Delicious Smoked Pork Ribs with Low Sugar BBQ Sauce. Find out how to create a spicy and naturally sweet no sugar added BBQ sauce without using ketchup or loads of added sugar. 

A rack of Smoked Ribs coated with a Low Sugar BBQ Sauce

Recipe Highlights

  • This no-sugar-added BBQ sauce uses mango and caramelized onions to give natural sweetness to the dish (and avoid added sugar).
  • It’s the perfect sauce for any pork dish from baby back ribs to smoked pork shoulder.
  • The heat level is low and can easily be modified to your dietary needs or low sugar BBQ preference.

For this recipe we’re using baby back ribs, smoking them in the 3-2-1 method, and finishing them with a low sugar spicy mango BBQ sauce. The sweetness of the sauce comes from the natural flavors of the mango fruit.

Every January my family endures a 10-day sugar detox. The first year it was hard, especially for my husband. He’s accustomed to eating lots of deli sandwiches, which were off limits (since most sandwich breads have added sugar, not to mention sugar added into the brines of deli turkey meat).

One of the other challenges comes in the form of things like dry rubs and BBQ sauces for the foods we like to cook. This means zero brown sugar in any dry rubs (gasp!). And most BBQ sauces were also off limits because they are full of sugar. Don’t even get me started on store bought sauces.

Several racks of ribs cooking on a smoker

So we’ve come up with some great ways to add natural sweetness, without the processed sugar in many BBQ sauces and rubs, that doesn’t sacrifice flavor.

The Cut — Baby Back Ribs

We used baby backs ribs for this BBQ sauce recipe. You can use any rib cut you prefer or even pork butt or shoulder.

Sauce Ingredients

Full portions are in the recipe card. To get the right texture we will blend at the end so don’t stress too much on the chopping skills.

  • Unsalted butter and extra virgin olive oil – This will be the base to caramelize the onions.
  • Yellow onion – Sliced since we will caramelize and then blend it.
  • Garlic – Minced
  • Jalapeño – Stems and seeds removed to keep the heat level lower
  • Tomato paste
  • Spices – Cayenne pepper, smoked paprika, dry mustard, kosher salt, black pepper
  • Liquids –  Apple cider vinegar, worcestershire sauce and lime juice
  • Mango – We use the frozen cubes but you can use a fresh mango as well.

Seasoning – No Sugar Dry Rub

2 Racks of Ribs coated with Rib Seasoning

We coat our ribs with a slather of mustard so the dry rub will stick (we use Dijon as a binder), then apply our no-sugar seasoning. In our case we are using our poultry or chicken seasoning. Alternatively if you can’t find a store bought version you can try one of our other no-sugar added seasonings:

  • SPG Rub – This is equal parts kosher salt, coarse black pepper, and granulated garlic.
  • Beef Seasoning – This is a combination of herbs, heat, and savory flavors.

For our rub, we go heavy savory flavors like onion powder, dry mustard and paprika to offset the typical mix of sugar

How to Make a Low Sugar BBQ Sauce

How do we get the sweetness if we are trying to minimize added sugar? Naturally, from mango and caramelized onions.

  1. Start by caramelizing some onions for the sauce, which really brings out the natural sweetness in the onions. Caramelized onions are insanely delicious and they add richness and sweetness to the sauce.
  2. Instead of ketchup (which usually has lots of added sugar) use tomato sauce and tomato paste to get richness and consistency (just make sure the tomato sauce contains no added sugar).
  3. Add seasonings for heat and flavor (chili flakes, cayenne, paprika).
  4. Add fruit: add a cup of frozen mango cubes to achieve that natural sweetness I was looking for. One cup of mango provides a great balance of sweetness. But if you prefer more sweetness feel free to add more mango cubes (I suggest adding it by ¼ cup increments at a time so you don’t overdo it).

Now that you have your sauce, next up smoke your ribs.

Cooking Method For Ribs

For BBQ ribs the best method we like to follow is one where we smoke, then wrap, then unwrap and glaze the ribs. You can find more details at our full guide on the 3-2-1 method of smoking ribs.

  1. Preheat Smoker: Set your smoker temperature to 250 degrees Fahrenheit using a fruit wood like apple or cherry. Prep and season the ribs.
  2. During The First 3 Hours, you’ll want to spritz your meat occasionally to keep it moist. We use apple cider vinegar. It adds a touch of sweet due to the apple, so a nice way to offset a savory rub.
Spritzing Ribs on a smoker
  1. Wrap: When comes time to wrap the ribs, place your meat on some foil or butcher paper, generously apply your BBQ sauce, then wrap completely.
  2. The Final Hour: remove ribs and carefully open the foil. Gently coat both sides of the ribs with your low sugar BBQ sauce and place back on smoker with bone side facing down. This will tack up the sauce. Remove after 30 minutes to 1 hour or until the sauce looks like it has set.

Tools Used

For the sauce we use a 3-quart Dutch oven and a good hand immersion blender. You can also use a good traditional blender as well. The important part is that it needs to be strong enough to liquify the BBQ sauce.

For the cooking process of smoking we use the Thermoworks Smoke Unit to monitor the temperature of the cooking chamber and the ribs.

Variations and Adaptations

After testing this recipe with no sugar added several times, we took the same sauce recipe and added some molasses and ¼ cup of turbanado sugar for comparison. There is definitely some depth of flavor and smokiness that the molasses and sugar adds to the sauce. But contrast that with tomato paste which has concentrated flavor and the mango with the natural sugars, and we definitely didn’t miss it that much.

(If you are sugar-free right now then just cut out the molasses and sugar. It’s a very small amount to begin with. The tomato paste and sauce combined with the caramelized onions and mango add plenty of natural sweetness and richness. )

A rack of Smoked Ribs with Low Sugar BBQ Sauce before slicing

If you’re sugar free (or low sugar) this recipe will definitely please your guests for a backyard party if you’re looking to get that sweet and smoky BBQ sauce flavor without the excess sugar.

More Low to No Sugar BBQ Recipes

About Vindulge

Mary (a certified sommelier and recipe developer) and Sean (backyard pitmaster) are co-authors of the critically acclaimed cookbook, Fire + Wine, and have been creating content for the IACP nominated website Vindulge since 2009. They live in Oregon on a farm just outside Portland.

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Now on 2nd edition

Fire + Wine Cookbook

“This book is a one-stop guide for anyone truly interested in elevating their BBQ experience into a culinary work of art.”
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*This post contains an affiliate link for the ThermoWorks Smoke digital read thermometer. We only recommend products we use and love! And you can’t smoke meat to the perfect temperature without a good thermometer, and this one is awesome. 

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Smoked Ribs with Low Sugar BBQ Sauce
5 from 1 vote

Low Sugar Mango BBQ Sauce Recipe with Smoked Ribs

Smoked Pork Ribs with a Spicy Mango Low Sugar BBQ Sauce. Learn how to create a spicy and naturally sweet BBQ sauce without ketchup or excess sugar.
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 5 hours
Servings: 4 servings


For the Ribs:

  • 2 racks St. Louis trimmed spare ribs, (You can also use baby backs)
  • 4 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • ½ cup poultry seasoning, (Our poultry seasoning is sugar free)
  • For the spritz: add one cup apple cider vinegar and one cup water to a food safe spray bottle

For the Mango Low Sugar BBQ Sauce:

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 jalapeño, stems and seeds removed, chopped
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3 ounces tomato paste
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ½ tablespoon smoked paprika
  • ½ tablespoon dry mustard
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ teaspoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 cup mango cubes, (I use frozen but fresh mango works as well. 1 cup is equal to one fresh medium sized mango.)


For the Ribs:

  • Preheat your smoker to 250 degrees, we use cherry wood. Add a water pan if using an offset or a pellet grill. No need for one in a Kamado style smoker like Big Green Egg.
  • Prepare your ribs (can be done the night before) by removing any silver skin on the bone side of the ribs. Apply Dijon mustard and coat ribs and then apply dry rub liberally.
  • Smoke (3 Hours): Place ribs on the smoker, bone side down, for approximately 90 minutes, allowing bark to set on ribs. Then for the next 90 minutes, spritz ribs every 15 minutes. Once bones start to show, it's time to wrap.
  • Wrap (2 hours): Remove ribs from the smoker and place in foil. Add a generous amount of your BBQ sauce by coating the ribs and then wrap meat side facing down. When wrapping, wrap tightly. Place back on smoker for 2 hours.
  • Sauce (1 hour): After hour 2 or wrapping, remove ribs and carefully open the foil. Gently coat both sides of the ribs with more sauce and place back on smoker with bone side facing down. This will tack up the sauce. Remove after 30 minutes to 1 hour or until the sauce looks like it has set. Serve and enjoy.

For the Low Sugar BBQ Sauce:

  • Caramelize: In a large pot set to medium heat, melt butter and olive oil and add the onions. Stir occasionally until the onions start to caramelize and are sweet to the taste (roughly 25 minutes).
  • Combine: Next add the garlic and jalapeño and stir together for 2 minutes. Add apple cider vinegar, tomato paste, and stir to combine.
  • Combine: Add your dry seasonings, Worcestershire and lime juice, and the mango cubes and bring to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes, or until the mango cubes have softened.
  • Blend: Using a hand immersion blender, or countertop blender, blend your sauce until smooth and there are no chunks.


Variations: If you’re not watching your sugar too strictly you can add molasses and a small amount of turbinado sugar to the sauce. Just add 2 tablespoons molasses and 1/4 cup turbanado sugar at the same time you add the dry seasonings, Worcestershire and lime juice, and the mango cubes. 


Calories: 293kcal | Carbohydrates: 19g | Protein: 12g | Fat: 19g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 8g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 46mg | Sodium: 727mg | Potassium: 620mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 10g | Vitamin A: 1558IU | Vitamin C: 22mg | Calcium: 136mg | Iron: 5mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 5 hours
Course: Entree
Cuisine: barbecue, bbq, BBQ sauce, low sugar
Servings: 4 servings
Calories: 293
Keyword: low sugar BBQ sauce, mango bbq sauce
Like this recipe? Leave a comment below!

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About Mary

I'm Mary, a wine/food/travel writer, Certified Sommelier, mom of twins, former vegetarian turned BBQ fanatic, runner, founder of Vindulge, and author of Fire + Wine cookbook. Thanks for stopping by!

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  1. sounds like a great recipe to try on my Big Green Egg next Summer. I like the low sugar aspect of this recipe.

  2. Wow a 10 day sugar free cleanse sounds like a lot of active thinking about what you eat :O I don’t use much sugar in my cooking as I tend to go more spicy and savory, but I’m sure it’s on lots of prepared products that I eat that I don’t think of

  3. 5 stars
    Yay for yummy low-sugar food! I’m glad you avoided the artificial sweeteners too…yuck. And thanks for the sourdough shout-out! So glad you all like it as much as we do. Soon we’ll need to do a carb-cleanse…ugh!