After Tasting 10 Brands, Our Test Kitchen Found the Best Barbecue Sauces

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.

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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

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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.

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Best Sweet and Savory Blend: 365 Everyday Value Barbecue Sauce

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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.

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Best Tangy Barbecue Sauce: Austin’s Own

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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.

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Federalist Pig Will Open a Mobile Barbecue Kitchen in Hyattsville

One of Washington’s top barbecue joints is on the cusp of expansion—though like everything else in the pandemic, Federalist Pig‘s second location will look a little different than planned. Owner Steve Salis had to push back the opening of his Hyattsville restaurant—a bigger, meatier version of the Adams Morgan original—and plans to open the venue, formerly a tire shop, in spring 2021. In the meantime, pit master Rob Sonderman will operate a mobile barbecue trailer in the restaurant’s Hyattsville parking lot. It’s equipped with a commercial kitchen and custom-built, wood-burning J&R Smoker from Texas. The venture is scheduled to open by October for carryout, delivery, and limited picnic table seating.

“We’re doing our best to move things along,” says Salis, who entertained plans of a mobile barbecue kitchen pre-Covid to help with catering and events. “I thought, let’s push this to the front of the list.”

The trailer isn’t as mobile as a food truck, though it may roam from time to time. For the most part it will remain in the lot, where Sonderman will turn out a menu of smoked wings, ribs, sausage, and pulled pork from the new wood smoker. As in Adams Morgan, he plans to run specials like smoked pork belly “burnt ends,” sandwiches—including vegetarian offerings—and sides-with-a-twist like smoked-cheddar Mac and chipotle/garlic green beans. The beverage menu is still in the works, but you may find glass bottle sodas and possibly pouched cocktails down the line. 

Part of the impetus behind the Federalist Pig expansion was to give Sonderman more room—and more equipment. The small Adams Morgan shop turns out an impressive level of barbecued meats with a single gas-assisted smoker, but the kitchen often runs out on busy days. When the brick-and-mortar opens it’ll be equipped with two more J&R wood smokers as well as more indoor and outdoor seating. 

In the meantime, the mobile kitchen isn’t the only new Fed Pig spinoff. Salis, who owns Kramers (originally Kramerbooks), installed a “Fedwich” sandwich pop-up in the Dupont bookstore and cafe this spring. He’s also planning a barbecue pop-up at Noma beer garden Wundergarten, which will run for four Fridays in October andhmay become a more permanent thing. An expansion of the Adams Morgan flagship is also in the works for next year. 

Federalist Pig Mobile Kitchen.  5504 Baltimore Ave., Hyattsville. 

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.

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