The BBQ Sauce Taste Test: We Tried 7 Brands and Ranked Them

The BBQ Sauce Taste Test: We Tried 7 Brands and Ranked Them

Ariel Knutson
Jun 25, 2015
(Image credit: Kelli Foster)

Summer is in full swing, July 4th is right around the corner, and that means firing up the grill and eating all the barbecue you possibly can. Do you know what kind of BBQ sauce you're going to grab at the grocery store (if not going the DIY approach)? We've got your back.

Our office tried seven national brands of bottled BBQ sauce and ranked them from our least favorite to the very best. Want to see our top pick? It might surprise you.

(Image credit: Kelli Foster)

How We Selected the 7 Brands

There are a lot of different kinds of bottled BBQ sauce. There's the vinegary kind, the Kansas-city style, and BBQ sauce that has lots of tomato. How are you to decide between the three? I decided not to parse out the various kinds and just go for the best based on taste. It's just the way it is.

I chose these seven brands of BBQ sauce because they are widely available in the United States. I also noted that when Serious Eats did a similar taste test, they included many of these brands.

(Image credit: Kelli Foster)

The Taste Test Results

Here are the results, from the least favorite to most favorite BBQ sauce:

7. Jack Daniel's Original No. 7 Recipe ($2.99/28oz)

This was definitely the least favorite of the bunch. While a couple people found it had a nice tang and sweetness overall, others found it simply lacked flavor.

Taste Tester Quotes

  • Ick! I want to spit this one out immediately.
  • Just, ew.
  • Super tangy.
  • Sweet and yummy.
  • Not a lot of flavor.
  • Not memorable.
  • This was the worst.

6. Kraft Original Barbecue Sauce ($2.00/18oz)

This bottled BBQ sauce had a lot going on. Maybe too much.

Taste Tester Notes

  • Awful.
  • Slimy mouth feel.
  • Tastes like dry rub.
  • Too smoky.
  • Tangy, light, sweet.
  • This is too much.

5. Hunt's Original BBQ Sauce ($2.19/18oz)

Overall, our testers found that this bottle BBQ sauce was middle-of-the-road. The only notes against it were that it was a little boring, on the watery side, and lacked some flavor.

Taste Tester Notes

  • OK, kinda boring.
  • Nice.
  • Vinegary.
  • Too watery.
  • Tangy.
  • Don't like, no no no.
  • This is rank.

4. Stubb's Smokey Mesquite ($3.99/18oz)

I was a little surprised that this one didn't do as well as the others. It was a little more expensive than the others, and was packed with good flavor. However, some of the testers found it tasted a bit too much like ketchup.

Taste Tester Notes

  • Good vinegar, I like this one a lot.
  • Sweet and inoffensive.
  • Lots of tomato.
  • Tastes like McDonalds.
  • Glorified ketchup.
  • Too ketchup-y.
(Image credit: Kelli Foster)

3. Bull's-Eye Original ($2.99/18oz)

I love how one of the testers described this BBQ sauce as tasting like "fast food, but in a good way." The sauce was lightly sweet, very peppery, and bright. Can't go wrong here.

Taste Tester Notes

  • Wow, so sweet.
  • Tastes like ketchup.
  • Lovely! Lots of great pepper.
  • Tastes like fast food, in a good way.
  • Sweet, honey.
  • Bright, bold pepper.
  • This is my third favorite.

2. Sweet Baby Ray's Original ($2.59/180z)

Overall this BBQ sauce was very well-balanced. A lot of the testers noted it was peppery, sweet, and tangy all at once.

Taste Tester Notes

  • Well-balanced.
  • Eh.
  • Peppery ... I like it.
  • This is perfect.
  • This is my favorite.
  • Love!
  • Sweet, I like.
  • This is my second favorite.
  • This is my favorite.

1. Trader Joe's Kansas City BBQ Sauce ($2.69/ 18oz)

A couple of my colleagues are from Texas and have feelings about BBQ sauce. This one did not disappoint! In fact, one of them said it tasted just like home.

Taste Tester Notes

  • Fave! I want to keep eating it with a spoon.
  • Good! Just a touch sweet.
  • Sweet.
  • I loved G because it was sweet and tasted like a trip to the ball park. Play ball!
  • Love it! This tastes like home.
  • Bland.
  • Smoky.
  • Love!
  • Solid, deep flavor.
  • This is my favorite.
(Image credit: Kelli Foster)

Have you ever tried one of these BBQ sauces? Do you have a favorite? Or do you have a favorite we didn't mention in this post?

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