Whether your grilling, slow cooking or just adding a bit of kick to your bag lunches, the right barbecue sauce is essential for country-style dishes. If you manage to find the right one—the kind with the right amount of sweetness, tang, smokiness and powerful flavor—you’re set. But have you been to the grocery store lately? (Of course, you have!) There are more barbecue sauces than you could ever imagine. Don’t waste your time trying bottle after bottle of OK sauce—rely on our Test Kitchen who put 10 big names to the test.
What Makes the Best Barbecue Sauce?
While sampling all these sauces (blindly, of course so we weren’t biased), our Test Kitchen kept these qualities in mind:
- Flavor: While there are lots of variations on barbecue sauce, a good all-purpose sauce should be tangy, a bit sweet (but not overly so) and taste good enough to lick off your fingers.
- Texture: A good barbecue sauce should be smooth and thick enough to coat everything from ribs to grilled chicken. It shouldn’t be overly sticky or gooey.
- Appearance: How does the sauce look? Does it look like something delicious enought to put on your pulled pork sandwich?
Our Test Kitchen Preferred Barbecue Sauce
Best People-Pleasing Barbecue Sauce: Sweet Baby Ray’s
Everyone needs a great bottle of barbecue sauce that’s not only delicious, but that perfect blend of flavors to please everyone at the potluck. This sauce is Sweet Baby Ray’s. This classic brand offered a mildly sweet barbecue flavor with just a hint of vinegar. Sweet Baby Ray’s sauce also offered just the lightest touch of heat, too—perfect for adding just a little pep to your grill-out.
All in all, it’s the right balance here: Nothing too overpowering so you won’t blow Grandma away with heat, but you’ll also get nods of approval from your favorite foodie.
Best Sweet and Savory Blend: 365 Everyday Value Barbecue Sauce
365 Everyday Value (a Whole Foods and Amazon exclusive) impressed our judges with its perfect balance of flavors. This BBQ gave us rich and sweet molasses balanced out with savory, smoky flavors. The hint of smoke here is nice so you get that flame-grilled taste even if you haven’t fired up the ol’ grill.
Texture-wise, the Test Kitchen found this Whole Foods brand to be right in the middle—not too thick or thin. This makes it easy to brush onto chicken or spread onto a sandwich without having to worry about it either dripping off. This brand was just a touch on the sweeter side overall—if you prefer something with a bit more bite, check out our second pick.
Best Tangy Barbecue Sauce: Austin’s Own
For folks looking for a sauce with a bit of a vinegar kick, grab a bottle of Austin’s Own. This barbecue sauce gave us a lot to work with: tangy vinegar, sweet honey, smoke and just a touch of heat. This brand also gained some extra points for its homemade appearance—we couldn’t get enough of the big pepper flakes inside (pssst… for homemade renditions of BBQ sauce, try these recipes).
This sauce is a bit thinner than most bottled barbecue sauces. That’s not a problem when you’re mopping it over wings on the grill, but it’s worth noting if you plan on using it in recipes where you need a substantial sauce.
What to Make with Barbecue Sauce
It might be a silly question to ask what to make with barbecue sauce. The obvious answer is barbecue! But there’s a lot more to the condiment than just grilling. A good bottle of BBQ can make for some tasty slow cooker meals, like pulled pork. For a quick appetizer, just toss some meatballs in your slow cooker with some barbecue sauce and watch as your guests gobble them down. Better yet, check out our 50+ recipes that call for our best sauce.
One of our Test Kitchen’s favorite ways to use their preferred sauces is to make slow-cooked country ribs. They’re a delicious way to get a taste of summer (even in the cold months). We promise you’ll be licking your fingers when you’re done.
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