The Sauces Our Editors Agree Will Deliver the Most Oomph and Yum to Your Meals

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Pasta with Rao's Homemade Marinara Sauce on a plate with a fork
Credit: Photo: Paola + Murray; Food Styling: Maggie Ruggiero; Prop Styling: Carla Gonzalez-Hart

Proteins and veggies get a lot of love, but let’s be honest — it’s often the sauce that takes dinner from ho-hum to heck yeah! To make sure these kitchen MVPs get the spotlight they deserve, we’ve given them their own Kitchn Essentials section. There’s chili crisp, jarred pasta sauce, meal starters, and more — including two new winners. Pick up one — or some — and get ready to level up your cooking.

1 / 9
Chili Crisp

You know when a dish is just missing that certain something? It probably needs Lao Gan Ma Spicy Chili Crisp. Our editors put it on practically everything: eggs, roasted vegetables, sandwiches, rice bowls, dumplings, baked potatoes (you get the idea). It's intensely savory, crunchy, and just the right amount of spicy.

2 / 9
Hot Sauce
Hot N Saucy

It wasn't easy picking just one winner from the ever-expanding hot sauce category, but this small-batch sauce brand is it. The bright and bold flavors, like Beet N Fresno and Sweet Potato N Habanero, bring a sweet complexity to breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

3 / 9
Tomato Sauce

Rao's Homemade Tomato Basil Sauce is absolute perfection. It's rich and balanced, nailing the ideal ratio of spices to tomatoes (without that too-acidic tang you sometimes get). And, yes, it’s absolutely worth the few extra bucks it’ll run you.

4 / 9
Fish Sauce

Red Boat is the best of the best. The freshly caught wild anchovies are salted immediately and then fermented for 12 months in wooden barrels. Savory, pungent, a bit sweet, and deeply complex, this sauce will bring its magic to Thai and Vietnamese dishes and is also great to have around for boosting marinades, salad dressings, meaty stews, and more.

5 / 9
Simmer Sauce
Thrive Market

For a chef-quality dinner on demand, turn to this Indian vegan simmer sauce to transform vegetables, proteins, and grains. The rich, silky blend of coconut cream, tomatoes, and spices does all the work for you. Our Copy Chief, Lauren Kodiak, always keeps a few jars in her pantry for busy nights.

6 / 9
Meal Starter
was $58.00

Omsom provides the ultimate dinner assist — each kit has all the sauces, aromatics, and seasonings you need for specific Asian recipes, like Japanese Yuzu Misoyaki and Chinese Mala Salad. "The bulgogi starter was the one thing I constantly cooked with and ordered this year,” says Social Media Editor, Andrea Kaufman. “Super easy and super good — it got me to eat tofu for the first time in years!”

7 / 9
All-Purpose Sauce
Williams Sonoma

Just like the name implies, Not Just Salad Dressing is so much more than salad dressing. This Miso Lemon Vinaigrette goes far beyond greens (although if you're looking for a way to add more salad to your day, start here!). Use the zippy, umami-packed multi-tasker for marinating meat, flavoring noodle bowls, or amping up roasted veggies.

8 / 9

These convenient little tubs of basil pesto taste like pure Italian sunshine. Pasta is a natural pairing, of course, but this pesto is also a great way to brighten up fish, pizza, or eggs. You can also stir some into sour cream or plain yogurt for an almost-instant party dip.

9 / 9

Made with three Mexican chiles — arbol, chipotle, and mulato peppers — and seasoned with soy oil, peanuts, salt, and garlic, La Comandanta’s smoky salsa macha gets its crunch from the addition of pumpkin seeds and hand-roasted sesame seeds. And despite being 80% chiles, this salsa isn't particularly spicy. It packs medium heat with maximum flavor.