This recipe builds on the Moroccan red pepper sauce harissa with the addition of sun-dried tomatoes, a multitude of smoky dry spices, Aleppo pepper and fresh herbs to create an unbelievable harissa flavored bbq sauce that works as a sauce, dip or relish. The flavors are intense but not spicy hot.

small bowl of smoky harissa bbq sauce with jar of sauce next to bowl.

I’ve been enjoying the flavors of harissa, a spiced pepper paste from Morocco so much that I recently created my own recipe for a Harissa Spice Blend. There is something about its blend of smoky, subtly spicy, nutty flavors, the chili, fresh herbs, and caraway (yes, caraway is a key ingredient in most versions) that lends so much flavor to any dish. So much so, that I wanted to incorporate these flavors into a BBQ style sauce fused with a tomato relish type vibe inspired by a recipe my friend makes down the street at her bakery, Umplebys! If you are ever in town up here in New Hampshire, you should stop in!

What is harissa or harissa paste?

  • Harissa is a condiment from North Africa, made primarily from red peppers, chilis, garlic, sometimes oil, and some spices such as cumin and coriander.
  • Caraway seeds is a surprising ingredient in all the harissa condiments I’ve researched online and tasted.
  • Sometimes harissa has ground rose petals in it as well, for a subtle sweetness. I took this cue from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Rose Harissa Recipe and included it in my spice blend.
  • Harissa varies widely in spiciness from one brand to another. I’ve bought an imported, inexpensive tube of it and it was knock your socks off spicy, and I’ve bought a jar of gourmet, locally made paste that was more saucy and fairly mild.
  • North African cuisine incorporates Harissa paste into everything from stews to meats.
pan of homemade harissa bbq sauce.

Why this recipe works

  • Harissa paste vibes- the blend of tomato and roasted red peppers with chili flakes and chili powder create the exact flavors of harissa paste, and then some. It’s like harissa paste leveled up, with more to offer. Read on.
  • Texture- the blend of chopped sun-dried tomatoes, sauteed onions, garlic, fresh herbs all create a full bodied texture, with the smooth red pepper puree in the background.
  • BBQ vibes- a bit of brown sugar and the smokiness from the paprika as well as the Aleppo chili flakes and the liquid smoke create the ultimate BBQ flavors.
  • Versatility- this sauce is thicker than most, similar to a relish and with enough body to work as a dip, condiment or topping. It can be incorporated into recipes that call for harissa paste, but stands on it’s own for other applications.
spoonful of harissa bbq sauce.

Ingredient notes

  • Roasted red peppers from a jar are pureed for the signature background flavor harissa paste has.
  • Chili peppers are the other key ingredient in harissa paste, usually, in the form of large dried peppers that are rehydrated and ground. Here, the heat is dialed back and the preparation is easier, with Aleppo chili flakes and chili powder.
  • Dry Spices- I’ve included the ones ever present in harissa, such as cumin, coriander, smoked paprika, garlic and chili powders, as well as caraway.
  • Tomato (paste and sun-dried)- here’s where the fusion of flavors begins. Chopped sun-dried tomatoes and tomato paste rich tomato flavor that lend the tomato relish and bbq flavors. You can used rehydrated sun-dried tomatoes or those that are packed in oil, drained.
  • Onion and garlic- these are sautéed before the other ingredients are added.
  • Brown sugar and mustard are added to help with the bbq flavors.
  • Fresh herbs- fresh oregano and thyme add a lot of flavor. I highly recommend using fresh over dry if you can.

harissa bbq sauce ingredients all measured out and sitting in cast iron pan together.

Step-by-step instructions

This bbq sauce couldn’t be easier. The following prep is all that is needed:

  1. The chopped onions and minced garlic are sauteed in olive oil for 10 minutes.
  2. The pureed roasted red peppers and chopped sun-dried tomatoes are prepped and added to the pan with the onions/garlic.
  3. The rest of the ingredients are added and stirred together over medium heat for about 20 minutes, taking time to add a bit of water twice as the liquid easily evaporates.
  4. You can add more spice if you like things very spicy, or leave as is after tasting to adjust.
  5. The sauce/relish can be kept in a covered jar for a week or so, but it won’t last that long.
measuring the finishes harissa bbq sauce.

Above: checking out the amount the recipe makes, which is about 1.5 cups.

Tips for making and serving this recipe

  • I definitely recommend mixing up a full recipe of my Harissa Spice Blend, as linked in the notes below. I have several harissa spice based recipes that you can make with the blend, such as Mushroom Bacon, Harissa Popcorn, Sticky Chicken Wings and Carrots, Mini Veggie Tostadas, and my Whole Cauliflower Sheet Pan Dinner. Yes, I am obsessed with harissa!
  • Harissa paste substitute- this recipe can be used in place of harissa paste called for in recipes. It lends a lot more complex and well rounded flavors that store bought harissa paste, which focuses on roasted red peppers, garlic and chili, with some brands being crazy hot and others not so much. I like how you can determine the amount of heat you like with this recipe versus store bought harissa paste.
  • Condiment- this harissa BBQ sauce can be put out as a condiment for everything from your morning eggs, any Northern African dishes you might prepare such as Shakshouka, or in a sandwich.
  • BBQ Sauce- as written, this recipe was inspired to season your next BBQ meal, so go forth and BBQ! Stay tuned for a veggie (maitake mushroom) version of a BBQ “pulled pork” style sandwich any day now!
a jar of harissa bbq sauce with a spoon stuck into the jar ready to scoop some out.
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small bowl of smoky harissa bbq sauce with jar of sauce next to bowl.

Homemade Harissa BBQ Sauce

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Prep Time20 minutes
Cook Time20 minutes
Make a batch of Harissa Spice Blend (optional): 15 minutes
Servings4 1.5 cups total
This recipe builds on the Moroccan red pepper sauce harissa with the addition of sun-dried tomatoes, a multitude of smoky dry spices, Aleppo pepper and fresh herbs to create an unbelievable harissa flavored bbq sauce that can be used as a sauce, dip or relish. The flavors are intense but not spicy hot.
Kitchen Tools
  • 1 saute pan, I love cast iron


  • 1 jar roasted red peppers (12 oz)
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste (I use no salt added)
  • 1 tsp Aleppo chili flakes (sub red pepper flakes see notes)
  • 6 halves sun dried tomatoes packed in oil (chopped/blended, can sub rehydrated dry ones see notes)
  • 1 cup onion (chopped)
  • 2 garlic cloves large (minced)
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard (i.e. brown not yellow)
  • 1 tbsp fresh oregano (chopped)
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme (chopped)
Harissa Spices (see notes)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder (I use chipotle chile powder for smokiness but use whatever blend you like)
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
Additional Optional spices (harder to get for some)
  • 1/2 tsp sumac
  • 1/2 tsp caraway seeds (ground-I use a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle)
  • 1/2 tsp liquid smoke (I like Colgin's see notes)


  • Chop the onion and saute in the 2 tsps of oil on medium heat for 5 min. As they soften, add in the minced garlic and saute for another 5 minutes until they begin to brown.
  • Rinse and puree the roasted red peppers and chop the sun-dried tomatoes. If you cannot puree the roasted red peppers, you can mince them up and smoosh them as they cook.
  • Add all the ingredients into the pan with the sautéed onion and garlic, and begin to stir and cook on medium-low for 10 minutes, covered, stirring occasionally.
  • The liquid will evaporate. Add 2 tablespoons of water, stir and cook another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, keeping the heat low enough to just keep it cooking. Add another tablespoon or two of water if the mixture dries out too much.
  • After a full 20 min of cooking, taste and adjust for any flavors. At this point the mixture is nice and jammy, and ready to put in jar and refrigerate or use.


Aleppo chili flakes are smoky and tangy and less harsh than typical red pepper flakes.
Sun-dried tomatoes- you can rehydrate dry sun-dried tomatoes versus buying them packed in oil. Either works. I like the flavor in the oil, but the oil is not added in, just what lingers on the tomatoes.
Spice blend- If you like harissa flavors, and want to be able to make more of my or your harissa recipes, consider using 2 tbsps of my Easy Homemade Harissa Spice Blend in place of the listed spices here. You’ll have enough on hand for many batches of popcorn if you make it this way!
The caraway and sumac are listed as optional since you may be less likely to have them on hand. Caraway lends a nuttiness and is present in most harissa pastes, and sumac lends a tang.
The Colgin’s liquid smoke is totally optional, but I’ve come to like the subtle authentic smoked flavor it brings recipes and it makes the sauce really come alive.

Nutrition (an estimate)

Calories: 85kcal | Carbohydrates: 15g | Protein: 2g | Fat: 3g | Saturated Fat: 0.4g | Sodium: 1.585mg | Potassium: 392mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 6g | Vitamin C: 51mg | Calcium: 73mg | Iron: 2mg | Magnesium: 28mg | Net Carbohydrates: 12g
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