The Most Popular Barbecue Sauces, Ranked

All of which cost less than $10.

June 22, 2023
Photo by Julia Gartland

Barbecue sauce does not belong in the top tier of condiments. It certainly doesn’t crack the top five (ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, hot sauce, and ranch are all superior). However, barbecue sauce—typically a reduction of tomato, sugar, vinegar, and spices—is still a practical and enjoyable condiment. Often thick, tolerably sweet, and with a glimmer of spice, it’s an adequate partner for anything that’s warm, salty, possibly grilled, and maybe a bit greasy. Think: typical barbecue offerings like ribs, chicken, pulled pork, baked beans, but also fried foods (nuggets, fries, wings, etc.), pizza, and burgers.

Unlike ketchup or mayonnaise—which thankfully maintain fairly standard tastes and consistencies (the eradication of watery mayo is one of society’s greatest feats)—barbecue sauce covers a wide spectrum of flavors and textures. Within the United States, this condiment has many different regional iterations. For instance, in North Carolina, the sauce is thin, vinegar-forward, and orange in color. If you head further south to Alabama, you’ll find a mayonnaise-based, “white” barbecue sauce. Of course, there are international variances as well, chiefly represented by the rich histories of Japanese and Korean barbecue sauces, often flavored by soy and mirin.

Despite its range, typically when someone asks for “barbecue sauce,” they’re referring to the sauce’s most centrally casted self: dark brown, viscous, sweet, and spicy. You can find some version of this barbecue sauce wherever you buy your groceries. With that in mind, we figured it would be helpful to taste—and rank—the barbecue sauces available to us.

The Criteria

The premise for this taste test is as follows: You’re opening a restaurant and your kitchen can only stock a single barbecue sauce brand. You’re factoring in flavor, but also cost, appearance, and brand recognition. Essentially, we’re picking the Heinz 57 of barbecue sauce.

It’s worth noting that to be eligible for consideration, the sauce needs to be available for purchase via Amazon. Local, regional, and homemade barbecue sauces are amazing, but are beyond the scope of this research.

Rankings: From Tolerable to Best

Photo by Paul Hagopian

8. Guy Fieri BBQ Sauce, $10

Here are some of my notes: “Tastes like paper,” “Actually really bad,” “Unnatural red color,” “Flavortown meets Chernobyl.” I’ll never not love Guy (I dream of “rolling out” in his cherry-red convertible), but his barbecue sauce does not bring the heat. Clocking in at $10 a bottle—the hypothetical restaurant is going to skip this, always.

7. 365 Barbecue Sauce, $3.29

A surprising disappointment from a Whole Foods brand whose products often punch above their weight. If it wasn’t for its favorable pricing, this would likely be off the list. It is cloying to the point that its most comparable flavors are candy and children’s medicine.

6. Traeger Classic BBQ Sauce, $7.95

Traeger makes fantastic grilling equipment and very average barbecue sauce. Of the eight sauces we tried, this was among the thickest and sweetest. While neither of those qualities are inherently bad, for this to become a versatile condiment, it needs a bit more balance.

5. Stubb’s, $7.99

Tomato and black pepper are the two most-prominent flavors in Stubb’s—and it works really, really well. You could slather this onto ribs and chicken or serve it alongside a bowl of onion rings; either way you’re having a good time. Also, from a visual standpoint, the sauce’s bright, but natural, red hue is very appealing.

4. Sweet Baby Ray’s, 2-pack for $10

An iconic sauce, Sweet Baby Ray’s loyal fans would undoubtedly love to see their preferred condiment at this hypothetical restaurant. However, the emotional attachment and brand recognition is what’s doing most of the heavy lifting here. From a flavor perspective, SBR is fine. It’s greatest attribute? Texture. It's just so dippable.

3. Kraft, $1.49

The biggest surprise of the bunch. Kraft strikes the right balance of sweetness, acidity, heat, and texture. This is the gold standard for widely distributed, always-accessible barbecue sauces. Also, you can pick up a bottle for less than $2.

2. Primal Kitchen Classic Barbecue, $6.49

We love everything about this sauce. Texturally, it’s smooth and luxurious without being overly thick and grabby. In terms of flavor, cumin does most of the (really good) work, adding spice but also a smoky earthiness. It’s dippable, but likely best used for marinades and glazes. We would happily accept this in our make-believe kitchen.

1. Bachan’s Hot & Spicy Barbecue, $6.83

Although slightly on the thin side, this sauce from Bachan’s is nearly perfect. It is, by far, the most complex in flavor—immediately offering notes of soy, brown sugar, and spice—and its deep, natural-red color has the most appetizing appearance. If you’re serving anything hot, salty, and greasy, this is the sauce you want alongside it.

Which barbecue sauce is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!
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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • rehpot74
  • rox L
    rox L
  • cosmiccook
  • Mary Hamad Kenkel
    Mary Hamad Kenkel
  • BBQ Fiend
    BBQ Fiend
Paul Hagopian

Written by: Paul Hagopian

Content @ Food52


rehpot74 June 17, 2024
Terrible article. When the author is supposed to be writing about the best sauces for a condiment that is one of the backbones of an entire style of cooking and they state that this condiment isn't even in the top 5 best condiments??? Then he puts RANCH ahead of it???? Why would you have this person write this article??? No validity to what he writes. Disregard the article completely.
rox L. July 27, 2023
I bought the Costco size of Bachman's BBQ sauce and am not impressed; it far too soy forward and other flavors are barely discernable. I think it needs too much dressing up to call a great sauce, I wish I could have sampled it before my purchase. Love the bottle though
cosmiccook July 20, 2023
Quite frankly, I would think people using this site would have an interest in seeking out Quality products. Many of the sauces mentioned in the are mass-produce sugar and salt laden products. I would rather read about niche/region specific small batch sauces--what turn to Food 52 for & what I expect of them.
BBQ F. July 20, 2023
Great point, there are some really awesome craft BBQ sauces in H-E-B grocery stores that should be on these lists. I'm a BBQ fiend and it seems like all the sauce lists that come out are from cheap blogging efforts as it contains the same suspects across every post.
Mary H. July 20, 2023
Both Kraft and SBR list High Fructose Corn Syrup as the FIRST ingredient. Not just one of the ingredients - bad enough - but the first ingredient. They're garbage.
cosmiccook July 19, 2023
Well, if Amazon purchase is the criteria, why not Bone Suckin & Pain is good? ONLY ones we use.
BBQ F. July 15, 2023
Texas Tang and Candy Jalapeño are two sauces that I would’ve liked to have seen on this list as a Serious Eats writer gave them exceptionally high reviews.

JetPilot July 14, 2023
Kraft as #3 and not even a KC Masterpiece mention that is found everywhere Kraft is? Man come on! For regional sauces you can get on Amazon, I would suggest trying two southeast GA/SC/NC sauces which are vinegar forward and thinner but still tomato based. Try Johnny Harris out of Savannah GA (makes a great lamb chop marinade too) and Williamson Bros. out of Atlanta GA. They are the go-to for anything pork, especially fork-pulled butt and ribs.
mimin July 14, 2023
You need to try Lillie’s brand. As a Memphian, theirs is closest to “real” Memphis sauce. They also make a couple other flavors. We’ve tried and enjoyed the Carolina Gold. Haven’t tested the others.
CliffG July 14, 2023
I was a confirmed user of their Smoky variety but I like a little more subtlety now.
mimin July 20, 2023
We just tried Bachan. It’s delicious, but not really traditional. Still, I’ll add it to my fridge staples.
CliffG July 14, 2023
I started using Bachan's when it was still a Bay Area local product and watched them expand their availability, love their marketing approach and the product. We also use it in our weekly stir-frys, drizzle it on the mushrooms as they begin to warm up. Their newly released product adds miso so it is a little thick and more umami. I grill almost all our proteins, 3-5 times a week and I actually add ginger when it goes on salmon!
[email protected] July 13, 2023
I really like Bachan's too. I haven't used it *as* a BBQ sauce (yet); I typically use it to jazz up various asian sauces and stir-fries. I get the jumbo size from Costco's. Can't remember the price, but it's reasonable. As for BBQ sauce, I like to buy a large bottle of Rudy's Barbeque Sause (spicy) at a BBQ chain in Houston. It lasts me a while and it's worth picking it up when I need more. Although, I will always revert to Kraft if necessary, There are way too many options at the grocery store and it all seems a crap shoot and then I'm stuck with a bottle of meh taking up valuable real estate in my frig.
leah K. July 14, 2023
I love Rudy's. We live in Colorado now but I sure miss my Austin, Tx Rudy's.
Drew July 13, 2023
Any sauce featuring HFCS (Kraft, Sweet Baby Ray's) should be automatically disqualified.
LSNfood July 15, 2023
You are absolutely correct. Why not cane sugar. High Fructose Corn Syrup is unacceptable.
Drew July 13, 2023
I'm a Stubbs fan, it's my go-to, but... no Bone Suckin' Sauce? Really???
BeadlesAZ July 13, 2023
Stubbs is fantastic! Very low sugar content and great taste.
Marion B. July 13, 2023
Going to try Banchan for sure. Here in DC we have a great local sauce, Capital City Mambo sauce, that's now getting a wider distribution. Thin but tasty, The hot version has a good balance of hot and sweet.
Fitchburg1 July 13, 2023
I searched the Food52 site and found very few bar-b-que sauce recipes. How about a call for everyone's favorite recipe? And have people identify their basic location; as noted, there are regional variations.
norwayguy July 13, 2023
I believe Sweet Baby Ray’s has High Fructose Corn Syrup as the very first ingredient listed on the ingredients label? Wouldn’t this be an issue for Food52?
Alex July 13, 2023
Tabasco Honey BBQ Sauce is sticky-sweet with a smoky finish from Tabasco Chipotle Sauce.Thick and rich, it’s perfect for dipping or slathering on a rack of ribs.Try it in our recipes for Smoke & Smolder Baked Beans or Pull Apart Chicken Sliders.
Lee July 13, 2023
I love Bachans!
Diane B. July 13, 2023
You need to try Old West BBQ Sauce made in South Dakota. I always serve it to
out of state company and they always have to buy some before they leave or have me ship it to them. Would love to hear your take on this sauce.
Kestrel July 13, 2023
Except that Bachan's is $18.48 at the Amazon link. And that is the cheapest option!
Paul H. July 13, 2023
Hey! I'm not seeing the same thing. For me, the link says the single bottle is currently $9.49.
abbyarnold July 13, 2023
they have it at Safeway and other grocery stores, or you can buy direct from Bachan's and they will ship to you. I can't remember what it costs at Safeway and Lucky. Online is $12.99.
DanaERT July 14, 2023
Costco has the original in a huge bottle for a great price! Should be national, I’d think, and not just one of their regional items.
Lizzi_G July 13, 2023
Night of the Living BBQ Sauce out of Kansas City. Just the right amount of heat and tons of flavor.