Low & Slow

13 Best BBQ Sauce Brands, From Kansas City-Style to Alabama White

Food writers and chefs tell us about their can't-miss picks to slather on ribs, pulled pork, and more.

June 16, 2022
Photo by Bobbi Lin

Nothing gets me craving sticky barbecue sauce-coated chicken thighs or pulled pork like a warm evening. There’s just something about the heat—maybe it’s the near-constant earthy aroma of other grills at work—that screams "slather everything in barbecue sauce"! And it’s a year-round favorite too—barbecue is just as much of a welcome addition to a Super Bowl spread as it is a summer cookout. Apparently, other food writers and chefs think so too, so I asked some to tell me about their favorites.

So what exactly qualifies as “good” barbecue sauce? First and foremost, it must be flavorful and representative of the regional style. A Kansas City-style barbecue sauce will not taste or look like an Alabama White sauce in any way. KC barbecue sauce will be a perfectly balanced sweet and spicy sauce; you should taste equal hints of brown sugar, black pepper, and a little bit of tang from apple cider vinegar. It should be thick enough that you can baste ribs or toss pulled pork with it using equal ease. Alabama White sauce should be thick, tangy, and creamy, thanks to a combination of mayonnaise, vinegar, and pepper. Head over to the Carolinas and you’ll find two more styles of sauce—Carolina Gold, which is a mustard-based sauce popular in South Carolina, and a tangy, vinegar-based sauce known as Lexington-Style Sauce.

Beyond being regionally accurate, a good barbecue sauce should offer a little bit of versatility (it should work with pork and chicken, over grilled meats just as well as low-and-slow cooked cuts).

And finally, we will always have a bias towards small-batch makers and sauces straight from some of our favorite barbecue joints across the country like Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que and Stubb's Bar-B-Q in Austin.

Whether you’re into a vinegar- or mustard-forward, tomato- or mayonnaise-based sauce, you’re bound to find a new favorite in this list. Here are 9 killer barbecue sauces, recommended by food writers and chefs. Grab a few bottles and then all that’s left to decide is burnt ends or pulled pork mac and cheese?

The Best Barbecue Sauces

1. Cattlemen's Carolina Tangy Gold BBQ Sauce

“Our family was introduced to Carolina Tangy Gold BBQ Sauce several years ago by one of our neighbors who was originally from South Carolina. And it has been a staple in our house ever since. There’s just something about that sweet mustardy tang that we just love.” Michelle Braxton, recipe developer and blogger at Supper with Michelle

2. Stubb's Smokey Mesquite Bar-B-Q Sauce

“I’m pretty partial to the Stubb’s Mesquite Bar-B-Q Sauce. I’ve tried other brands but nothing beats the smoky-tangy-sweet balance of Stubb’s.” Amelia Rampe, food stylist and Studio Food Editor at the Kitchn

3. Stubb’s Smokey Brown Sugar BBQ Sauce

“I consider this an all-around versatile sauce for pulled pork or chicken—when I want something that’s mostly sweet with some depth, this is what I grab. It has layers of smoke and spice but not so much that it’s overpowering.” —Kelly Vaughan, staff writer for Food52

4. Wee Willy's Original

“This is the current favorite in our house! Whether it's going on baked tofu, shredded chicken, or smoked pork shoulder, it's our go-to—and our daughter loves it, too.” —Hannah Karns, sales director for Food52

5. Dreamland Barbecue

“I'm from Alabama, and the barbecue style there is something of a hybrid. You can find both the tomato-based Memphis-style sauces and the more mustard-forward Carolinas one. My very favorite sauce is from my friend’s pit, Rusty’s BBQ, where he makes it in sweet, spicy, and house varietals. But barring that, my favorite widely-available sauce—the one that reminds me of home and instantly transforms a pile of pulled pork—is Dreamland barbecue sauce, from a mini chain of pits started in Tuscaloosa.

"It has a good balance of vinegar, heat, and the umami from the tomatoes, and it isn't as sweet as many of the sauces I've tried from the grocery stores up north. it's popular enough that you can grab 32-ounce jars of it once you pass airport security in Birmingham, which I do when I have the chance, but barring that, you can order it from Dreamland's website or at a considerable mark-up from Amazon." —Margaret Eby, Editorial Lead

6. Big Bob Gibson White Sauce

“My other favorite barbecue sauce more unique to Alabama is Big Bob Gibson white sauce, a mayonnaise-based concoction that's particularly great on grilled or roasted chicken. It has this wonderful creamy-tangy-sweet-garlic thing going on, and it's also very versatile. You can thin it out to use as a salad dressing with excellent results.” Margaret Eby

7. Sweet Baby Ray’s

“Sweet Baby Ray’s Sweet n Spicy is the perfect flavor combo for any type of barbecue. Whether I use it as a dipping sauce or a marinade, I know it’s always going to be a crowd pleaser.” —Sam Cowit, email marketing manager for Food52

“I'll second Sweet Baby Ray's! It's my go-to store-bought sauce for chicken and ribs.” —Joe Maldonado, engineer for Food52

8. Bachan's the Original Japanese Barbecue Sauce

“I've been pretty obsessed with Bachan's Japanese barbecue sauce. It's made with soy sauce, mirin, rice vinegar, and other spices making it the perfect meld of sweet, savory, and tangy. I love using it as a glaze on ground chicken meatballs under the broiler, an immediate flavor boost. The origin story of Bachan's is also very touching, the sauce was created by Justin Gill in honor of his Japanese-American grandmother ("bachan" means "granny" in Japanese), and her prized recipe that has been passed down in his family for years.” Noreen Wasti, recipe developer and food stylist

9. Jones Bar-B-Q Sweet & Tangy BBQ Sauce

“Truthfully I’m not a huge barbecue sauce person, but I would happily douse any protein with this sauce. So tangy and delicious. It’s great as a marinade too when I’m not feeling super creative!” Sara Tane, food editor and private chef

10. Bone Suckin’ Sauce

“My dad makes the absolute best ribs. Like, so good that recently a vegetarian friend had to make an exception to try one. Needless to say they involve a top secret recipe, but the part I can share is our favorite barbecue sauce: Bone Suckin' Sauce. The perfect balance and sugar and vinegar, both the sauce and dry rub are fundamental to a good rack of ribs.” Courtney Kassel, food writer

11. Richard's Vermont Made

“I always grab a bottle of Richard’s Vermont Made Barbecue Sauces when I’m in search of barbecue sauce. The hot version is my favorite—properly spicy, balanced, and not too sweet. Christine Clark, writer, cheese educator, and co-host of “Is This a Brie” podcast

12. We Rub You

“An unexpected but then totally obvious brand I love is We Rub You, the Korean BBQ brand with a few different flavors and a great price point. My favorite is the Original Korean BBQ Sauce flavor that has great umami from the ginger and sesame, and still has the sweetness, kick and tang you want in a sauce. I love it over fish, juicy charred chicken, and steaks!” Fatima Khawaja, freelance chef

13. Rufus Teague Touch O' Heat Sauce

“My only choice for ribs and it has a special place in my heart because the design looks like something out of an Achewood comic.” —David Flood, CID manager for Food52


Pulled Pork

We couldn’t let you get away without sharing a few must-make barbecue recipes to pair with these sauces. First up: pulled pork. When you cook pulled pork (this one is made in a Dutch oven), the process sort of naturally creates a sauce with the steam, plus brown sugar, ground spices, a little bit of water, and cider vinegar. But everyone will probably ask you for just a little bit more sauce to put on top of the pork between a potato bun, so make sure you have an extra bottle of your favorite sauce on hand!

What's your favorite BBQ sauce brand? Let us know in the comments.

This post was updated in February 2022 to include additional recommendations from our editors. All products are independently selected by our editors, and Food52 may earn an affiliate commission.
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Rebecca Firkser is the assigning editor at Food52. She used to wear many hats in the food media world: food writer, editor, assistant food stylist, recipe tester (sometimes in the F52 test kitchen!), recipe developer. These days, you can keep your eye out for her monthly budget recipe column, Nickel & Dine. Rebecca tests all recipes with Diamond Crystal kosher salt. Follow her on Instagram @rebeccafirkser.


Szizza June 22, 2022
Disappointed you did not have one true Kansas City brand on the list. Try Jack Stack BBQ, Gates BBQ, Authur Bryant, and KC Joe's.
Babs June 19, 2022
Best BBQ sauce for country ribs in the crockpot:Great Lakes Brewing Company's Edmund Fitzgerald Porter hands down!
Nancy June 21, 2022
But if you use Edmund Fitzgerald Porter does your bbq sink?
(If in doubt, consult Stan Rogers song.)
tracy C. June 17, 2022
Do you have a recommendation for best barbecue sauce without sugar? Prefer to avoid sugar altogether in my barbecue.
Smaug June 17, 2022
You might try Googling it, there are a number of recipes out there (monkfruit seems to be a popular sweetener) and a number of commercial brands, though they seem to run to "no sugar added" but with sugary ingredients.
Nancy June 21, 2022
I would make one at home, to get a sugarless sauce without synthetic sweetener or other chemicals.
And you will get both complex sweetness (not refined sugar) and umami from the fruits, vegetables and condiments you include.
Smaug June 21, 2022
Pf course the sweetness of the fruits, vegetables and (probably) condiments comes from sugar.
Smaug February 11, 2022
Making barbecue sauce is fun; There's little restraint necessary as far as ingredients, nearly infinite viable combinations. And rather than being "representative of a regional style" it can be representative of your own style, which I think should be every home cook's aim; you're the only real expert on your own taste.
Liz S. June 17, 2022
100% agree Smaug!! There are lots of recipes online and they go together fast and easy with ingredients most home cooks already have. In the distant past, I have used Stubb's and Sweet Baby Ray's and they were good but not better than my own homemade. I control sugar (not sure how you can make bbq sauce without some and I use brown sugar, but also sugar in the organic ketchup that I use ... still, I use the amount that I want/like). At any rate, bbq sauce does not get a permanent spot in my frig ... I make a batch, freeze any that I don't use right away.
Lisa February 10, 2022
I'm going to try some of these. Thanks. When it comes right down to it, it is an individual's taste that determines the "best" of any food. I use an article such as this as a guide rather than accepting everything here as the best. Can't wait to get some ribs now with some new sauces! Thanks!
Giraffe F. January 28, 2021
Thanks for your great article! I definitely found lots of interesting sauces.
Mark M. January 16, 2021
The absolute best (I have a gallon coming in the mail today) is Kansas City Cowtown. Their original sauce is thick enough to stay on the BBQ meat but sugar isn't overwhelming. Seems like so much flavor in this sauce. It's superior, and I've tried 100s and 100s of them and nothing comes close.
CarolHughes October 5, 2020
Awesome list! My absolute go to faves are Sweet Baby Rays and a new one I stumbled across called Georgia Earle's BBQ Sauce out of Baltimore, MD. I was traveling there picked up a couple bottles to bring home and fell in love!
8989 August 16, 2020
There's a sauce out of Toledo, Ohio called Gertie's Barbecue Sauce. It's one of the best sauces I have had through out the country, and I am a big fan of barbecue. I have a friend out of Pheonix that is a certified Kanas City BBQ judge and he believes its one of the best in the country.
He says that Gertie's has a perfect smooth balance of sweetness, tang and heat. I have to agree 100 percent with him.
8989 August 16, 2020
There's a sauce out of Toledo, Ohio called Gertie's Barbecue Sauce. It's one of the best sauces I have had through out the country, and I am a big fan of barbecue. I have a friend out of Pheonix that is a certified Kanas City BBQ judge and he believes its one of the best in the country.