The Best Barbecue Sauce Picks for Your Cookout

Updated: May 18, 2024

Get ready for grilling season by snagging the best barbecue sauce. Our team of pitmasters sampled 11 brands to find the ones right for chicken, pork and more.

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Tkp Bbq Sauce TestTMB Studio

Who can resist the smell of barbecue in the summer—or anytime really? Grilled chicken, pork, beef and even vegetarian options only get better when brushed with a bit of barbecue sauce.

The best way to take these dishes from good to gotta-have-the-recipe great is a flavorful barbecue sauce. Before you add just any ol’ bottle to your basket, check out what our pros—serious grillmasters in their own rights—say. They got to work sampling 11 brands to find the best barbecue sauces.

Lillies Smoky Barbeque Sauce
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Best Barbecue Sauce Overall

Lillie’s Q Smoky BBQ Sauce

Lillie’s Q Smoky BBQ Sauce earned universal praise among our taste testers for its complex yet crave-able flavor. In the words of the Test Kitchen’s Josh Rink, “It has a bit of sophistication without being fussy.”

The flavor of this sauce is so rich thanks to a list of flavorful ingredients (and, no, you won’t find high fructose corn syrup on that list!). It contains a bold balance of brown sugar, ketchup and apple cider. From that base, plenty of spices and extras are layered over the top. Our team picked up notes of mustard, onion, garlic, paprika and cayenne. This sauce also contains a bit of Worcestershire sauce which helps give a boost of savoriness.

This sauce from Lillie’s Q also has the perfect consistency; it’s thick enough to brush over baby back ribs but thin enough to drizzle over the top of a beef brisket sandwich.

Head of the Test Kitchen, Sarah Farmer, sums up this sauce perfectly: “This is exactly what I look for in a barbecue sauce. I’d use this on everything from my boneless ribs to appetizer meatballs to chicken wings.”

Stubbs Bbq Sauce
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Best Spicy Barbecue Sauce

Stubb’s Original Bar-B-Q Sauce

If you prefer your sauce with a bit of a kick, the Test Kitchen recommends Stubb’s Original Bar-B-Q Sauce.

This smooth, tomato-red sauce is packed with flavor. At first blush, you get the tanginess of vinegar and molasses, but soon the sauce reveals its full flavor. This flavor is rich and spicy thanks to a blend of chili pepper, paprika and black pepper.

“That kick of pepper really comes through,” says the Test Kitchen’s Ellie Crowley.

While this sauce does have a kick, it’s the sort of heat that keeps you coming back for more—not reaching for a glass of milk to cool your tongue. Though if you do need to cool off a bit as you enjoy Stubb’s slathered over your pulled pork sandwich, add a spoonful of creamy coleslaw to your plate. It’s the perfect barbecue side.

Sweet Baby Rays Barbecue Sauce
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Best Mild Barbecue Sauce

Sweet Baby Ray’s Original Barbecue Sauce

Not everyone is looking for the heat of cayenne or the bite of vinegar in their barbecue sauce. For a mellow sauce that’ll please any backyard barbecue guest, try Sweet Baby Ray’s Original Barbecue Sauce.

“This brand has less spice and heat,” says Josh. “But it’s really well-balanced and tasty.”

So where does that balance come from? It comes from a blend of vinegar, tomato paste, molasses and, if you can believe it, pineapple juice! Together, these ingredients and a few spices make for a very classic and straightforward sauce.

One thing to know about Sweet Baby Ray’s sauce: It’s thick. This texture is great for brushing on grilled chicken but isn’t ideal for drizzling over a barbecue chicken pizza.

Sticky Fingers Barbecue Sauce
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Best Slightly Sweet Sauce

Sticky Fingers Sweet & Smokey Barbecue Sauce

While barbecue sauce is associated with savory foods like pork and chicken, it’s important to remember that some of the foundations of this condiment are sweet, like molasses and brown sugar. If you like your sauce slightly sweet to balance the smokiness of a good rack of ribs, try Sticky Fingers Sweet & Smokey Barbecue Sauce.

“The first thing that hits my tongue is sweetness,” says Josh. At first blush, you get that molasses tang with this sauce.

“But more complex flavors and spices develop the longer you taste this one,” Josh explains. “It starts sweet but finishes with warmth.” As you eat rib after rib or dip chicken tender after tender, you’ll pick up some of the pleasant nuances of this sauce like cayenne, celery seed and tamarind.

What to Look for When Buying Barbecue Sauces

While taste is important, it’s not the only factor to consider in a barbecue sauce. Here are the three hallmarks of the condiment to consider to get the whole picture.

  • Appearance: Barbecue sauce should have a rich color ranging from tomato-y red to mahogany. They should look well blended, though flecks of spices are always welcome.
  • Texture: The best sorts of sauces should coat everything from chicken to ribs nicely. Thin sauces that drip right off just won’t make the cut.
  • Flavor: While there are many regional barbecue sauces out there, our team stuck to the most classic variety which typically includes a blend of molasses, vinegar, tomato and assorted spices. Ideally, all these ingredients should work in harmony to create a tangy, sweet sauce that tastes great on everything from country-style ribs to chicken nuggets.

Why You Should Trust Us

As a former Taste of Home editor, I tested kitchen tools, ingredients and so much more. When I wasn’t working on Bakeable, I was spending a lot of time on my own baking and crafting projects.

Taste of Home Executive Culinary Director Sarah Farmer, Food Stylist Josh Rink and Culinary Assistant Ellie Crowley all tested barbecue sauces for this guide. Since 2oo4, Sarah has been working at Taste of Home developing recipes, food styling, managing the Test Kitchen and so much more. Josh draws on his past experience as a barista, baker and caterer in his work styling foods and starring in cooking videos. Ellie primarily works in the prep kitchen, and in the past was a high school Culinary Arts instructor for 11 years.

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How We Tested the Best Barbecue Sauces

At Taste of Home, we take testing seriously. Our team researched bottled sauces and snagged the most popular brands—plus a few with small but devoted followings. For this taste test, our crew gathered up 11 different sauces and put them head to head.

As always, the identities of the sauces were kept secret until sampling was complete to avoid any biases. Each sauce was judged according to appearance, texture and flavor.

FAQs

What are the 4 types of barbecue sauce?

While many barbecue sauce styles can be attributed to different regions of the country, they can also be categorized by their major ingredients. The four main types of barbecue sauce have a base of tomato, mustard, vinegar or mayonnaise.

What is the difference between Kansas City BBQ sauce and Memphis BBQ sauce?

Kansas City and Memphis are known for their barbecue scenes—and their signature barbecue sauces. Both Kansas City’s and Memphis’ sauces are tomato-based with that typical barbecue sauce tang. However, Memphis barbecue sauce is more thin and spicy, while Kansas City-style barbecue sauce is thick and sweet.

What type of BBQ sauce is best for pulled pork?

Memphis barbecue sauce tends to complement pulled pork because of its consistency and flavor. The spicy heat contrasts nicely with the sweetness of the pulled pork, and its thinness makes it easy to distribute.

What kind of BBQ sauce is good on ribs?

While personal preference or regional differences may say otherwise, Kansas City barbecue sauce’s sweet, thick texture makes it a perfect option for cooking ribs.

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