Armed with a stack of fluffy white bread slices, associate editor Hannah Hayes and I sampled six different brands of barbecue sauces commonly found in grocery stores throughout the South. What you like in a barbecue sauce depends on where you’re from and what you grew up eating. It’s almost as personal as your football team or place of worship. This taste test was limited to tomato-based “red” sauces, with the exception of one white barbecue sauce. We didn’t include mustard-based sauces in this taste test—although I personally love them, especially on pulled pork. Read on to find out which brands came out on top.
Big Bob Gibson Champion Red Sauce
This tomato-based sauce from Alabama’s Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q was named “Best Sauce on the Planet” at the American Royal International Sauce Contest. That’s quite a title to live up to, but we were fans of this rich, heavily spiced sauce. Made with raisin paste, brown sugar, and molasses, it’s definitely on the sweeter side, but it’s not cloyingly sweet. A hint of orange peel adds complexity. Try this sauce with pulled pork or chicken.
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- The Southern History Of Barbecue
Kraft Slow-Simmered Original Barbecue Sauce
This sauce packs a whole lot of spicy, tangy flavor. We detected a strong tomato (most likely ketchup) base, livened up with a good amount of smoke and heat—possibly from ground cayenne. The label is unclear about the specific spices used, other than paprika, dried garlic, and dried onions. Try this sauce on ribs or as a dipping sauce for chicken.
If you’re not a fan of overly sweet barbecue sauce, the sauce from this Texas barbecue joint might be your new favorite. We liked its savory, smoky flavor, which reminded us of a good charred salsa, or fire-roasted tomatoes. Vinegar, molasses, and black pepper balance out the tomatoes and add complexity and a nice amount of sweetness, tanginess, and spice. We think this sauce would be great on brisket.
Sweet Baby Ray’s Original Barbecue Sauce
Pineapple juice concentrate and tamarind make Sweet Baby Ray's sauce fruity, a little bit tropical, and, well...sweet. This sauce had the thickest consistency of the bunch, and a dark, rich color. We think it would work best with ribs or baked beans. (We’re going to overlook the fact that it’s made in Chicago.)
Made with tomatoes, onions, molasses, and spices (including turmeric), this “kettle-cooked” Kansas City-style sauce was the sweetest and darkest sauce we tested. We thought it would pair well with grilled chicken.
Big Bob Gibson’s Original White Sauce
The one outlier of the bunch was this white, mayonnaise-based sauce, a cult favorite in North Alabama. Typically served with chicken, this mild and tangy white sauce has a little heat from black pepper. If you’re looking for a change of pace from the usual tomato-based sauce, give it a try. Or use it as an easy dressing for coleslaw or dipping sauce for grilled shrimp.