15 Popular Barbecue Sauce Brands, Ranked

Few cuisines in the United States can rival the cultural importance of barbecue. Distinct regional styles exist across the country, each with a unique history, and a trained barbecue connoisseur could probably tell you which region a certain rack of ribs is from based on just the flavor of the sauce.

And the history of barbecue sauce goes back longer than you might think, with the African origins of seasoning meat with peppers and citrus going back to the late 17th century. Since then, hundreds of different types of barbecue sauce have filled the aisles of grocery stores around the country to meet the demand for this delicious condiment.

And with all those choices, it's not easy to know which one to pick. Fortunately, we rounded up some barbecue sauces made by popular brands like Heinz, 365, and Sweet Baby Ray's (to name a few) and tasted them on a neutral medium (grilled chicken breast) to get a sense of which sauces are worth picking up next time you're at the grocery store. So read on to get the inside scoop on how to make sure your next summer barbecue comes with the perfect sauce.

15. Happy Belly Original BBQ Sauce

"Happy" isn't quite the word we would use to describe our bellies (or our taste buds) after tasting Happy Belly Original BBQ Sauce, which is why it clocked in at the very bottom of our list. For starters, the consistency is all wrong. It's not rich and thick like a BBQ sauce should be, but gooey and gelatinous, a bit like watery mucous. The texture is also eerily smooth and when you put a dollop of Happy Belly on a plate, it remains shiny, unlike some other sauces where you can see evidence of real crushed tomatoes.

And when it comes to flavor, it's not necessarily that Happy Belly tastes that terrible — it just doesn't really taste like BBQ sauce. Upon further investigation of the ingredient list, we found that other than the generically identified "natural flavors" and "spices," monosodium glutamate was the ingredient listed that was most powerful on the palate. Although there is a big misconception about MSG that it causes headaches, abdominal cramps, and sweating, these effects have never been scientifically verified. That said, the fact that MSG isn't what you want to taste when you're eating BBQ sauce doesn't need to be scientifically verified.

14. G Hughes Sugar Free BBQ Sauce

We had complicated feelings about G Hughes Sugar-Free BBQ Sauce. While we understand that some people need a sugar-free BBQ sauce and that they still want a little sweet finish to the smoky, umami flavor that they've come to expect from barbecue, the biggest problem with G Hughes was the taste of sucralose. While sucralose has less of an aftertaste than many low or zero-calorie sweeteners, its presence was noted with an overly sweet, somewhat artificial flavor that lingered in the mouth.

We sampled the hickory flavor, so we knew we were in for something smoky, and in that department, G Hughes did not come up short. An intense hickory taste lingered on the palate, and texture-wise, the sauce was a touch on the gelatinous side, but easy enough to dip and pour. So if you love a smoky BBQ sauce and are after a sugar-free alternative, G Hughes might just be for you.

13. Primal Kitchen Unsweetened Classic BBQ Sauce

We recognize the importance of a BBQ sauce without sweeteners, and we're glad that there are a few options on the market for people with dietary restrictions — but without sugar, BBQ sauce just isn't quite the same. Primal Kitchen Unsweetened BBQ Sauce used date paste as a sweetener, and we did not feel that this provided enough sweetness to make up for the lack of sugar. While we appreciate the lack of artificial sweeteners, and therefore did not leave a chemical aftertaste in the mouth, the lack of sweetness lent the sauce an unpleasantly astringent flavor that was difficult to enjoy.

In terms of the balance of spices, which is a key factor for BBQ sauces, the taste was overwhelmed by the presence of black pepper, which eclipsed the other flavors. We found the texture quite watery, so it did not work well for dipping, but we suspect that this sauce, because of its acidity and intense flavor, might work well as a marinade. When it comes to BBQ, if you're looking for a simple way to make your BBQ meals more nutritious, you can try Primal Kitchen.

12. Organicville Original BBQ Sauce

Don't get us wrong, we appreciate organic food wherever we can get it. But we shouldn't have to sacrifice taste for it, and it seems like that's what you have to do if you plan on eating Organicville Original BBQ Sauce. Instead of sugar, it's sweetened with agave nectar. We found that it gave this BBQ sauce a slight caramel flavor, which was not exactly representative of the taste we were looking for in a BBQ sauce.

While we appreciated that all the ingredients were organic, the balance of spices was off and didn't mesh well as one cohesive flavor. Also, the taste of cumin was overpowering and dominated the other flavors in this mix. In terms of texture, Organicville was a tad on the runny side but still thick and rich enough to be used as a dipping sauce. It hit the marks for a middling option but didn't wow us. 

11. Bull's Eye Original BBQ Sauce

Of the "classic" BBQ sauces that we rated, Bull's Eye Original BBQ Sauce was not high on our list. For an "original" BBQ sauce that was not marketed as a hickory flavor, we found the smoky flavor of this sauce to be as overwhelming as the bull logo on the front of the bottle. It also tasted heavy on the vinegar, which gave it an astringent taste that was not pleasant and lingered in the mouth.

It wasn't all bad, though: Texture-wise, Bull's Eye was near perfect. A rich consistency that held together and could hang on to your food — perfect for dipping and slathering. Also, we found that the sauce had just the sugar content to add a rich sweetness that counterbalanced the vinegar flavor without being overwhelming. In terms of the more affordable sauces on our list, Bull's Eye is not a terrible option.

10. Kikkoman Teriyaki Korean BBQ Sauce

Barbecue has a ton of regional variation. Carolina barbecue is different from Texas barbecue, which is certainly different from Korean barbecue. Kikkoman Korean BBQ Teriyaki Sauce has a different flavor profile from most of the other sauces. While many of the other sauces on the list include tomatoes and cumin, the primary ingredient is soy sauce, which makes it extra salty and gives it a deep umami flavor. Notes of ginger, garlic, and sesame oil give this Kikkoman sauce a distinct, well-rounded flavor profile that is balanced out by the sweetness of sugar, apples, and pear juice.

We found the consistency of this sauce less than ideal for dipping and slathering, however. Be sure to shake the bottle vigorously before you pour it because the liquids and solids easily separate from one another. Because of its intense salty flavor and runny consistency, we imagine that this BBQ sauce is better suited for marinating or drizzling on top of meat.

9. Heinz Kansas City BBQ Sauce

When it comes to barbecue, Kansas City is not messing around. The city has a strong barbecue culture, and what makes Kansas City barbecue sauce sweetly unique is that it contains brown sugar and blackstrap molasses, which gives this sauce a distinctly rich flavor and a super dark color. Kansas City barbecue is made with dry rub, so the barbecue sauce that accompanies it is typically extra sweet to contrast the salty meat.

Although we respect all different types of barbecue, we found this sauce altogether too sweet and lacking a strong enough tangy vinegar component to balance it out. The sugary molasses flavor is very intense and mutes the other spices. The texture, however, provides just the right thickness to smear all over a rack of ribs or squeeze onto a pulled pork sandwich. Since we tasted our sauces with neutral food, it's possible that we didn't get the full Kansas City experience, but the sweetness was just a little too intense for us.

8. Lillie's Carolina Barbeque Sauce

Carolina barbecue sauce is all about the marriage between tomato and vinegar, both of which are showcased in a bottle of Lillie Q's Carolina BBQ Sauce. The bottle itself has an elegant blue and white color scheme that we found attractive, and when we opened it up, we found a decent barbecue sauce with a strong tomato taste and citrus undertones. We thought that the sauce was too acidic, and didn't have enough sweetness to balance it out.

There was also a discernible sweet and tangy taste of tamarind, which surprised us, though we didn't think fit well with the flavor profile. The consistency was runnier than the average barbecue sauce, and although we thought the taste was a little off, Lillie Q's has a complex flavor and we could imagine adding it to a juicy Southern meatloaf or a pot of barbecue baked beans.

7. Sweet Baby Ray's

If you're looking for a bottle of barbecue sauce that's got a classic flavor and a low price point, Sweet Baby Ray's is for you. You can't miss the classic-looking label on the bottle, which gives it a nostalgic look. Though we found this sauce a little on the sweet side for our liking, it's a reliable choice that's available in almost any grocery store.

Sweet Baby Ray's isn't winning any awards for being healthy or having an inventive flavor combination, but what it lacks in originality it makes up for in predictability. There's a hint of smokiness, just the right amount of vinegar, and it's (surprisingly) sweetened with pineapple juice, and it all comes together to give you a barbecue sauce that tastes exactly like you'd expect. The ketchup-like consistency also makes it easy to use in a range of applications from dipping french fries and onion rings to slathering up a mouth-watering rack of ribs.

6. Soy Vay Asian Honey BBQ Sauce

If you're looking to barbecue with an Asian twist, then try Soy Vay Asian Honey BBQ Sauce. After practically drowning ourselves in all the tomato-based sauces on this list, we found Soy Vay to be a welcome departure from the traditional flavors of American barbecue. Although we did note hints of tomato flavor, it's not the star of the show here.

Soy Vay is pleasantly sweet, and the presence of honey gives it a slightly floral taste that pairs well with the richness of sesame seeds. One caveat is that the sesame seeds get stuck at the top of the bottle, and even after several vigorous shakes, they weren't dispersed evenly throughout the sauce. The source of salt is soy sauce, and although we appreciated its umami quality and fermented funk, we found Soy Vay very salty. Soy Vay has a runny consistency, which makes it less of a dipping sauce, but great for marinades and finishing off a dish with a splash of salty sweetness. It's also certified kosher, making it perfect for a Shabbat dinner.

5. Aplenty Hickory Bacon Bourbon BBQ Sauce

We didn't have high hopes for Aplenty Hickory Bacon Bourbon BBQ Sauce. Just getting the whole name out is a mouthful, and we thought there'd be too many flavors flying around this bottle to make for a good BBQ sauce. But we were pleasantly surprised to find that all the different flavors in this sauce (and there are flavors aplenty) mesh well to create a cohesive taste experience.

The rich flavor of bacon is accompanied by an oaky bourbon and an intense smoky hickory, which is balanced out by the slight tang of vinegar. And if you're wondering how they fit all of these flavors into one bottle, take a look at the ingredients list. Aplenty contains salted bourbon, natural smoke flavor, and even bacon fat, which gives the sauce a unique richness. If you're looking to give your brisket a boost or add extra flavor to smoked short ribs, this dark brown sauce has the right flavor and consistency to do the job.

4. 365 Organic Memphis Madness

There is a Memphis barbecue myth that when you go to an authentic BBQ place in this West Tennessee barbecue mecca, they won't serve it with sauce, but the makers of 365 Memphis Madness BBQ Sauce would beg to differ. Although Memphis barbecue indeed starts with a dry rub, so it's already flavorful before you sauce it, most barbecue joints there will serve their ribs and brisket up with plenty of sauce, and if it's anything like Memphis Madness, we would be hungry for a second helping.

This sauce has enough sweetness to balance the slight tang of vinegar and the flavor of hickory that gives it a rich, intensely smoky umami taste. The texture is also close to ideal: thick enough to cling to a piece of meat, but not gooey. To boot, all of the ingredients in this 365 product are organic. If you're a fan of a smoky-tasting BBQ sauce, this is the one for you.

3. Bone Suckin' Sauce

It's hard not to be charmed by the old-fashioned-looking jar that houses Bone Suckin' Sauce, a popular BBQ sauce in the more expensive range of the sauces we tasted. And the inside was just about as charming as the outside. The highest-rated of the tomato-based sauces on our list, the acidity of the tomato is complemented nicely by Worcestershire sauce, which gives Bone Suckin' Sauce a uniquely deep, umami flavor. To balance it out, there was just the right amount of sweetness.

We also found the texture of this sauce to be near-perfect. If you put a dollop on a plate, it spreads just a little, but not enough to make for a watery mess, and it's just thick enough to slather it all over a twelve rack of ribs before they hit the slow cooker or put on top of some smoked chicken for a little extra flavor. The color of Bone Suckin' Sauce is an attractive, deep red that comes from the tomatoes, and it'll make you want to lick the jar clean.

2. Stubb's Spicy Bar-B-Q Sauce

Stubb's Spicy Bar-B-Q Sauce calls itself a "legendary" barbecue sauce. We're a little wary of braggarts, but we feel that Stubb's deserved the distinction. This tomato-based sauce stood out not only because it had a bit of heat to it (habanero peppers to be exact), but because it had all the subtle sweetness, vinegary tang, and smoky punch that we expect from a quality barbecue sauce.

Like the Kansas City style barbecue sauce on this list, Stubb's is sweetened with sugar, molasses, and brown sugar, and the combination is just enough to add a rich flavor without overpowering the other elements. This sauce has a distinct, lingering hickory flavor that is rounded out by a dash of vinegar and just enough heat to keep us interested, but not enough to sound the fire alarm. In terms of consistency, Stubb's was a bit runnier tha the average ketchup, but still thick enough to use for dipping or spicing up some BBQ chicken.

1. Bachan's Japanese Barbecue Sauce

When we gave the Bachan's Original Japanese BBQ Sauce bottle a squeeze, we weren't thrilled with the runny consistency. But there are tons of different types of barbecue sauce, so we kept open minds and realized that we couldn't judge this condiment by our preconceived notions of what we thought barbecue sauce should be. Bachan's struck a remarkably fine balance between salty, sweet, and umami, and ended up being our favorite sauce on the list.

The taste of soy sauce and mirin stands out in particular. These two funky fermented products are powerhouses of umami flavor, and they're balanced out with the addition of just enough sugar to keep the tongue entertained without being overwhelmingly sweet. Bachan's reminded us of teriyaki sauce, but it had a deep, slightly tomato-y flavor that set it apart from your average teriyaki and put it squarely in the realm of barbecue sauce, and we're glad it's there. Bachan's runny consistency and salty taste profile would make it perfect for marinating meat or seasoning vegetables for a bold barbecue flavor that you may not be used to.


To conduct this savory study, we compiled a list of popular BBQ sauces that encompassed all different styles of barbecue from Memphis and Kansas City to Korea and Japan. We blind-tested each sauce on its own to let each one stand on its own. We then tested each sauce again on a neutral medium of grilled chicken to make sure we got a sense of how it tasted in a real-world application. After taking copious notes about on the flavor balance, texture, and overall taste of each sauce, we compiled our ratings and came up with this list.