It’s not always easy to tell which brand of barbecue sauce is the best on the shelf. There are so many options out there, it’s hard to know which one to choose. Luckily, we’re here to help, and we take our sauces seriously.
There is an art to barbecuing and it starts with making sure you have a few suitable cuts of meat to work with. But to achieve that perfect blend of sweetness, smokiness and acidity, you’ll also need to make sure you’re using a top-notch sauce. That’s why below we’ve rounded up some of the best barbecue sauces out there right now.
In your search for that perfect barbecue sauce, you’ll find dozens of savory and sweet sauces, many of which are available from smaller manufacturers online. To find the best barbecue sauce of 2023, I personally gathered 15 bottles of spicy, smoky, vinegary, sweet and savory sauces, along with some enthusiastic barbecue-loving friends, for an ultimate sauce showdown to find you the best BBQ sauce on the market.
What makes a good barbecue sauce?
Everything is relative, but most pilots agree that balance is the key to a great barbecue sauce. Most sauces are made with a tomato base, vinegar, a little sweetener like honey or molasses, and an element of heat. From there, sauces are fine-tuned with spices and flavors such as mustard, garlic, fruit and smoke. Any sauce that is too overwhelming in any direction usually doesn’t work well. And super simple sauces without a lot of spice or complexity often fall flat.
We tasted a lot of traditional Kansas City-style dips for this list, a bunch of vinegary Carolina-style dips, some keto-friendly dips, Bachan’s favorite Japanese-style dips, and some Alabama white dips to see which ones really tickled our taste buds. We tried each with plain unseasoned chicken breast, as it’s a blank slate as far as classic grilled foods go. While tasting, we noticed things like overall balance, heat, sweetness, overpowering flavors, or anything else that popped — both bad and good.
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A quick note: Up north, sweeter varieties dominate the sauce market, but my testers and I all enjoy vinegar-based sauces, so we’ve included a few Carolina barbecue sauces (among other styles, like Japanese BBQ sauce for umami, or brown sugar-based recipes for that iconic sweet flavor) to make this list as priceless and decadent as possible.
It took a lot of napkins to find the best barbecue sauce in 2023. Here they are.
Other BBQ sauces we tried that didn’t make the cut
- Full Moon Alabama White Sauce: This sauce was positively addictive, but it might be a stretch to call it barbecue sauce. I know Alabamans might not like to hear this, but Full Moon White Sauce is more like a really rich, flavorful ranch with lots of mustard, garlic, and Worcestershire.
- Jack Daniels Original BBQ Sauce: This is another one we all really liked. It has a nice balance and strong spice, but in the end some of the others just took it out on top.
- Good for Food Keto BBQ Sauce: At only 10 calories and 3 grams of carbs per serving, this sauce was definitely edible, although not one of our favorites.
- Kraft Original Barbecue Sauce: This one had very little dimension and tasted more like slightly smoky ketchup than a good BBQ sauce.
- Heinz Carolina Vinegar BBQ Sauce: This sauce wasn’t terrible, but it had too much vinegar for most of us.
- Heinz Carolina Mustard Sauce: This was more like honey mustard than barbecue sauce. Not bad, but it didn’t meet our requirements for this round of testing.
- Kings Delight Bar-B-Que Sauce: This Carolina-style sauce is delicious, but with so much vinegar, it’s less of a traditional barbecue sauce and more of a subtle finishing sauce for pork.