Grilled chicken thighs with blueberry barbecue sauce dispenses with the artificial flavoring and high sugar content of most bottled BBQ sauces. (Stacy Zarin Goldberg for The Washington Post)

Grilled chicken thighs with blueberry barbecue sauce dispenses with the artificial flavoring and high sugar content of most bottled BBQ sauces. (Stacy Zarin Goldberg for The Washington Post)

Fresh blueberries give summer BBQ sauce a healthful upgrade

It dispenses with the artificial flavoring and high sugar content of most bottled BBQ sauces.

Blueberries give this lip-smacking barbecue sauce multiple levels of fresh appeal.

One hits you at first glance upon seeing its unexpected indigo color. Another — its flavor — is fresher than a traditional sauce, with the fruit lending its gentle, nuanced sweetness to the tangy-savory mix. That sweetness is backed up by a drizzle of molasses, so this sauce has none of the highly refined sugar that tops the ingredient list of most bottled barbecue sauces, nor the artificial additives.

Adding to its health appeal, the sauce also has less salt and more nutrients than its counterparts. With those selling points, the bounty of fresh berries at the market now (though frozen would work, too), and the fact that this luscious sauce is so simple and quick to make, why wouldn’t you?

Just simmer the ingredients until the berries are warm and bursting — less than 10 minutes — then puree. The accompanying recipe makes two batches worth, so you can serve a crowd, or keep any remaining sauce in the refrigerator for four days, or freeze it for several months. Here, the sauce is brushed onto chicken thighs toward the end of grilling and chars pleasantly on the meat without burning.

Grilled chicken thighs with blueberry barbecue sauce

For the sauce:

1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

½ cup canned, no-salt-added tomato sauce

2 tablespoons molasses

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1½ teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon yellow mustard

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the chicken:

1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Vegetable oil

For the sauce: Combine the berries, tomato sauce, molasses, vinegar, chili powder, mustard, salt and pepper in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally; once the mixture is barely bubbling at the edges. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring frequently, about 7 minutes, or until the berries soften and are nearly bursting. Cool slightly, then transfer to a blender and puree until smooth. You should have about 1 cup of sauce.

For the chicken: Season chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. Brush a grill or grill pan with oil and preheat it over medium-high heat. Grill the chicken for about 3 minutes per side. Lightly brush each side with the sauce and continue to grill 1 to 2 more minutes per side, until the chicken is cooked through and is nicely browned with visible grill marks.

Serve right away, drizzled with more sauce (about 1 tablespoon more sauce per portion).

The sauce can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.

Makes 4 servings. Nutrition per serving (using half the sauce): 220 calories, 33 grams protein, 8 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 150 milligrams cholesterol, 430 milligrams sodium, no dietary fiber, 6 grams sugar.

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