Every product is carefully selected by our editors. If you buy from a link, we may earn a commission.
The 10 Best Bottles of BBQ Sauce at Your Grocery Store
The best bottled barbecue sauces offer what homemade versions offer — smokiness, sweetness, spiciness and tanginess, all balanced against each other.
Though purists will no doubt scoff, bottled barbecue sauce is not some great sin unto the world. Many of the best options are simplified versions of sauces made by pitmasters you or I could never hope to match.
But like most goods previously made in the home, store-bought sauce can also suck. Sometimes terribly so. The trap many fall into is excess in one of the four pillars of barbecue-sauce flavor — heat, smokiness, tanginess and, the most commonly abused, sweetness. We scoured the web, grocery stores and barbecue forums to find out which retail-available, bottled barbecue sauces are actually worth putting on the meat you’ve spent all day smoking.
Best Overall Barbecue SauceStubb's Original BBQ Sauce Read More
Best Budget Barbecue SauceBull's-Eye Original BBQ Sauce Read More
Best Upgrade Barbecue SauceDinosaur Bar-B-Que Sensuous Slathering Sauce Read More
Best Smoky Barbecue SauceJack Daniel’s Original No. 7 Recipe Barbecue Sauce Read More
Best Spicy Barbecue SauceRufus Teague Blazin’ Hot Sauce Read More
What Is Barbecue Sauce
Despite the best efforts of the bottom-shelf BBQ sauces at the supermarket, barbecue sauce is more than just sweet and smoky ketchup. In fact, it's far more than a monolith, with a wide range of styles originating in various regions throughout the (mostly southern) United States. But what they all share in common is a contrasting mix of sweet, spicy, smoky and tangy flavors that makes them the perfect complement to grilled and smoked meats.
Although people have been using similar sauces and marinades to cook meat since long before there was a United States of America, the BBQ sauce that we know and love got its start in the American South during the Colonial Period. It was there that a disparate collection of ingredients from around the world came together — vinegar and salt from Spain, tomatoes from South America, sugar and molasses from the Caribbean and chile peppers from Central America — and began to be mixed in various ways. Those combinations became honed over the ensuing decades (and a couple of centuries) to eventually transform into the variety of sauces we use today.
Types of Barbecue Sauce
Kansas City Style
The most widely available style of barbecue sauce at grocery stores is at its best a balanced mix of tomato (ketchup, most of the time), sweetness, tang and smoke. This is the gloopy reddish-brown sauce you slather all over ribs — it’s great for its strong hold to meats and overall body as well.
Sometimes called “mop sauce” or “mop style,” these are sauces with a tomato and vinegar base. They’re typically much lighter in body than KC-style sauces, but not as light as a Carolinian vinegar sauce. They’re also applied with a lighter hand than most sauces, and feature lots of garlic, black pepper and Worcestershire sauce.
Memphis barbecue tends to be served sans sauce, but there has been an uptick in Memphis-style barbeque sauces. The sauce is similar to a Kansas City-style barbeque sauce but with a richer sweetness thanks to molasses and a tad more brightness from a generous addition of vinegar.
Lexington Style (Western North Carolina)
Though some of North Carolina’s population may protest, this is essentially an earlier version of the uber-popular Kansas City sauce, sans-spiciness and with a lot more tomato product. If you don’t like the spiciness and bite that comes with a lot of KC sauces, this style is for you.
East North Carolina Vinegar-Based
It’s vinegar, pepper, salt and pepper flakes. The most fluid sauce there is gets most of its flavor from the tart vinegar and various pepper flakes and pepper powders added (cayenne being the most common). It may not be all that useful in caramelizing the outside of a pig, but it’s still delicious.
While not a traditional part of American barbecue culture, Japanese BBQ sauce makes for an excellent substitution when you're looking to mix things up. The thin and runny sauce is rich with umami flavor thanks to its base of soy sauce and mirin complemented by heavy doses of ginger and garlic.
How We Tested
It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it. We sought out the most acclaimed barbecue sauces available at grocery stores and tried them for ourselves. We tried them on their own, we tried them on chicken and ribs and brisket, and we tried them as dips and marinades. The following 10 are the bottles we liked best.