We Tried 10 Brands of Jarred Marinara Sauce — And We’ll Be Stocking the Winner in Our Pantries Forever

updated Feb 20, 2024
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Group photo of marinara pasta sauce.
Credit: Mackenzie Filson

Through my dad, I inherited a very Italian American step-family — the kiss-on-the-mouth-hello, 🤌-emoji using, “You put WHAT in your gravy?” kind of family. I’m grateful to have them, because they’ve properly ruined me for jarred pasta sauces forever — especially a classic like marinara. But, as I’m sure you can relate, sometimes the jarred stuff simply must do when you don’t have a Sunday to devote specifically to sauce making

Credit: Mackenzie Filson

Thankfully, the jarred pasta sauce aisle at the grocery store has exploded in the last few years, and there are even some that are chef-made (and chef-approved) that should solidly earn a spot in your pantry. For the purposes of science (and not leaving any future pasta nights up to chance), I ended up taste-testing 10 jars in total, which was just enough before my fridge shelf started to creak a bit too loudly.

In total, four of the jars were major winners, and, as you’ll find, each had their own selling points.

Quick Overview

The Best Jarred Marinara Sauces at-a-Glance

Best Jarred Marinara Sauce: Rao’s Homemade Marinara Sauce
Runner-Up: Carbone Marinara Sauce
Honorable Mention: Michael’s of Brooklyn Marinara Sauce
Best Bang-for-Your-Buck:Trader Joe’s Tomato Basil Marinara Sauce

Credit: Mackenzie Filson

Best Overall: Rao’s Homemade Marinara Sauce

By and large, most of the tomato sauce ingredient lists that were sampled looked basically identical. You’d think there’s not much taste variation, but it becomes very clear very fast how far the quality of those ingredients will get you. With this in mind, Rao’s Homemade Marinara had all those ingredients working overtime, volume 15, flavor-phasers set to stun. It’s the sauce equivalent of “Shine Theory,” improving anything it touches.

Immediately, this sauce made me go, “Wait what’s that? And that?” The flavors just kept developing, which is not something I expect in most taste tests, let alone one for marinara sauce. I kept glancing at the ingredient list, comparing and contrasting each ingredient to figure out how Rao’s Homemade made this garlic-laced, savory, basil-speckled dream of a marinara with imported Italian tomatoes. I may never know, and that’s fine. I can handle a bit of mystery, as long as I always keep a jar of this on hand. 

Buy: Rao’s Homemade Marinara Sauce, $5.30 for 24 ounces at Amazon

Credit: Mackenzie Filson

Runner Up: Carbone Marinara Sauce

Some nights you need a sauce that’s ready-to-go and ready-to-impress — a sauce that makes anyone who comes over go, “You must have spent all day on that sauce.” Well, jokes on them because Carbone’s jarred marinara can yield that same response fresh out of the jar.

Silky and smooth, with a satisfying slick of rich olive oil to give it heft, this marinara had me feeling inspired. I instantly started scheming all the different uses for it that don’t involve pasta, where those imported Italian tomatoes really make a difference like a shakshuka or soup base. It would also be great for cooking scallops and mussels, or layering in an eggplant Parmesan. 

Buy: Carbone Marinara Sauce, $8.29 for 24 ounces at Target

Credit: Mackenzie Filson

Honorable Mention: Michael’s of Brooklyn Marinara Sauce

It’s true — I judge most sauces against the sauce of my mom’s Sardinian friend, Rita. She’d always make a quick sauce from mostly scratch, with the good, imported ultra-pulpy fruity tomatoes sold at the Italian restaurant she worked at alongside my mom. Most sauces miss this crucial mark, turning into overly salty red sauces that miss out on the fact that tomatoes are a fruit!

That is, until I tried the marinara sauce from Michael’s of Brooklyn. Michael, he gets it. This sauce tastes jarred straight from Rita’s kitchen, with a bright, fruity acidity and plenty of garlic-imbued bits of tomato and peppery olive oil. Is the first ingredient “love”? It just might be. I also love that the label includes many exclamation points, because this sauce makes it feel like there’s a series of exclamation points dancing on top of my taste buds. 

Buy: Michael’s of Brooklyn Marinara Sauce, $8.49 for 32 ounces at Amazon

Credit: Mackenzie Filson

Best Bang-for-Your-Buck: Trader Joe’s Tomato Basil Marinara Sauce

Where does one even start with the Trader Joe’s Tomato Basil Marinara? I almost didn’t want to reduce it to the best “budget” pick, because it really holds its weight against (and was even leagues better than) some of the pricier sauces that didn’t make my list. The price tag is amazing ($1.99!), but the flavor is really what impressed me — full-stop.

It’s balanced with plenty of sweetness and acidity, and packed with herbs (making a strong case for dried herbs being just as worthy in a sauce). Most importantly, Trader Joe’s Tomato Basil Marinara has a smooth thickness that does the most important task of all: coat and stick to all those noodles (no watery sauce leftover at the bottom of the bowl here). 

Find it in stores: Trader Joe’s Tomato Basil Marinara Sauce, $1.99 for 24 ounces at Trader Joe’s

How I Tested the Jarred Marinara Sauces

As for my methods, I conducted the taste test blindly, as well, to keep things as neutral as possible so as to not get too distracted by the flashier, big-name-recognition jars or less well-known store-brand jars. I tasted each sauce right from the jar and at room temperature with just a spoon — any good jar worth its weight in sauce should taste good right out of the jar, whether it’s heated up or not. 

In general, I judged each sauce on thickness, depth of flavor/complexity, and versatility (as in, is it best simply for slicking noodles or does it have baked pasta/soup base/breadstick dipping potential, too?)

Did your favorite jarred marinara make the list? Tell us about it in the comments below.