Taste Test Alert: We tried 6 store-bought barbecue sauces and have a winner

Ryan Shepard
Southern Kitchen

Barbecue sauce is one of the greatest condiments ever created. It’s versatile, customizable and readily available at any grocery store near you making it convenient. But with the myriad of brands promising that pitmaster approved flavor, it can feel impossible to pick just the right pre-bottled sauce. 

Of course, it’s totally possible to whip up your own classic barbecue sauce at home, but if you’re feeling a little less ambitious (like me), there are perfectly suitable pre-made versions that taste exactly you carefully measured ingredients in your own kitchen.

The only downside here is that, with what seems like countless options lining the shelves at the grocery store, which brand of bottled barbecue sauce is actually the best? Luckily I’ve spent a fair amount of time diligently testing six different major brands and after tasting sauces all afternoon, I’ve found a winner. Each sauce was poured on top of chicken thigh that were seasoned with salt and pepper and then roasted on a baking sheet in the oven at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes. The results varied, but one sauce came out on top. 

Sixth Place: Publix Original BBQ Sauce 

When I first poured Publix’s Original Barbecue Sauce over the chicken thighs, I couldn’t help but notice how watery the consistency was. I had very low expectations here but after some time in the oven, I loved how the Publix sauce caramelized on the chicken. The result was a beautiful glaze. Unfortunately that’s where the sauced peaked. The flavor itself was decent but reminded me of the barbecue packets you’d get at a fast-food restaurant. Not offensive, but not exactly the best sauce around. Additionally the flavor of the barbecue didn’t penetrate into the chicken resulting in a lot of seasoning on the skin and bland meat. 

Fifth Place: Heinz Classic Original Barbecue Sauce

Heinz Classic Original Barbecue Sauce certainly delivers on its “sweet and thick” promise. A nice thick paste coated the chicken and I was really excited to try a bite of this sauce. Sadly, it was overly sweet—almost artificially so—and tasted nothing like the molasses the ingredients list boast. If you’re looking for a sauce that can hold it’s own on the grill, this is a pass. 

Fourth Place: Sweet Baby Ray’s Barbecue Sauce

The ranking here shocked me. This is the sauce my family uses to make my favorite baked beans, ribs and steaks. I truly believed that Sweet Baby Ray’s Barbecue Sauce would be the clear winner but it wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, Sweet Baby Ray’s sauce is delicious. The sauce hugged the meat like a thick jam in the best possible way. The smokey flavors are balanced with a nice brown sugar-y note that makes for one decent ’cue sauce, but there are other brands that just do it better.  

Third Place: KC Masterpiece Original Barbecue Sauce

KC Masterpiece’s barbecue sauce is just plain delicious. The sauce is nice and thick, the flavor is sweet, slightly tangy and smokey. For the price ($1.69/bottle) is a hard sell to beat. KC claims to “kettle cook” their sauce and I’m inclined to believe them. This stuff tastes like someone who knows what they’re doing made it at home. The one downside it’s a little sweeter than I would like but if that isn’t a problem for you, definitely pick up a bottle the next time you’re in need of a sauce. 

Runner Up: Kraft Original Barbecue Sauce and Dip

Holy smokes, literally. Kraft’s Original Barbecue Sauce and Dip blew almost every other brand out of the water. This sauce has a powerfully smokey flavor that can more than hold its own on the flames of a hot grill or in the oven. The sauce coated the chicken thighs beautifully and the flavor penetrated into the actual meat. It was the sauce I had a hard time stopping myself from eating. It’s a surprisingly (to me at least) solid choice. 

Winner: Stubb’s Original 

I was nervous when I poured Stubb’s Original Legendary Bar-B-Q Sauce over the meat. It has an almost roasted orange appearance that I’d never seen in a barbecue sauce and I took that as a sign that I was in for trouble, and I was, in the best possible way. This is the first sauce I taste tested and honestly nothing compared. A quick look at the ingredients and you’ll see tomato paste, cane sugar, paprika, distilled vinegar, onion powder and various other spices that help to flavor one solid barbecue sauce. The tomato paste shines through here but is perfectly balanced with the sharp notes of vinegar and the sweet softness of both brown and cane sugars. Instead of a smokey flavor, which most of the other sauces had, Stubb’s barbecue sauce has a nice roasted element to it making it stand above the crowd. If you’re looking for a bottled sauce that taste homemade, look no further. 

Ryan Shepard is the editor-in-chief at Southern Kitchen. Though originally from Los Angeles, she has lived in Atlanta since early 2017 and cannot imagine calling any other city home (except maybe New Orleans). Before joining Southern Kitchen’s staff, Ryan worked on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on public policy issues. When she’s not at work, she enjoys hunting down the best Mexican food in the city and drinking whiskey, obviously.