It’s not always easy to tell which brand of barbecue sauce is the best on the shelf. There are so many options it’s hard to know which one to choose. Luckily, we’re here to help, and we take our sauces seriously.
BBQing is an art, and it starts with making sure you have it premium cuts of meat work with. But to get that perfect blend of sweetness, smoke and tartness, you’ll also need to make sure you’re using a top-notch sauce. That’s why we’ve rounded up some of the best BBQ sauces around right now.
When searching for the perfect barbecue sauce, you’ll find dozens of hot and sweet sauces, many of which are available online from small producers. To find the best barbecue sauce for 2023, I’ve personally rounded up 15 bottles of hot, smoky, vinegary, sweet, and tangy sauces, along with several barbecue-loving friends, for one ultimate sauce showdown to find you the best barbecue sauce on the market.
What makes a good barbecue sauce?
It’s all relative, but most pitmasters agree that balance is the key to good barbecue sauce. Most sauces are made with a tomato base, vinegar, a sweetener like honey or molasses, and a hot ingredient. From there, the sauces are refined with spices and flavors, such as mustard, garlic, fruit and smoke. Any sauce that’s too overwhelming in one direction usually doesn’t work well. And super simple sauces without too much spice or complexity often fall flat.
We sampled many traditional Kansas City-style sauces for this list, a host of vinegar-heavy Carolina-style sauces, keto-friendly sauces, Bachan’s cult Japanese-style sauce, and a few Alabama white sauces to see which ones really tickled our taste buds. We tried each with plain unseasoned chicken breast, as this is a pretty blank slate as far as classic grilled foods go. When tasting, we noted things like overall balance, warmth, sweetness, overpowering flavors, or anything else that jumped out – both bad and good.
Learn more: Best meal kits of 2023
A quick note: In the North, sweeter varieties dominate the sauce market, but my taste testers and I all enjoy vinegar-based sauces too, so we’ve included several Carolina barbecue sauces (among other styles, like a Japanese barbecue sauce for umami, or brown sugar-based recipes for that iconic sweet flavor) to make this list as inclusive and unbiased as possible.
It took a lot of napkins to find the best barbecue sauce in 2023. Here they are.
Other BBQ Sauces We Tried That Didn’t Work
- Full Moon Alabama White Sauce: This sauce was positively addictive, but it might be an overstatement to call it barbecue sauce. I know Alabamans might not like to hear this, but Full Moon White Sauce is more like a really rich and flavorful ranch with lots of mustard, garlic and Worcestershire.
- Jack Daniels Original BBQ Sauce: This is another one that we all really liked. It has nice balance and strong spice, but eventually some of the others just pushed it off the top.
- Good for Food Keto BBQ Sauce: With only 10 calories and 3 grams of carbs per serving, this sauce was definitely edible, but not one of our favorites.
- Kraft Original BBQ Sauce: This one had very little dimension and was more like lightly smoked ketchup than a good BBQ sauce.
- Heinz Carolina Vinegar BBQ Sauce: This sauce wasn’t terrible but had too much vinegar for most of us.
- Caroline Heinz Mustard Sauce: It looked more like honey mustard than barbecue sauce. Not bad, but did not meet our requirements for this round of testing.
- Kings Delight Bar-B-Que Sauce: This Carolina-style sauce is flavorful but with so much vinegar, it’s less of a traditional BBQ sauce and more of a thin finishing sauce for pulled pork.