Supermarket Barbecue Sauces

Published August 1, 2009. From Cook's Country.

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The sweeter the better—as long as molasses is in the mix.

Overview:

Update: June 2013

We were disappointed to learn that Kraft, manufacturer of our favorite supermarket barbecue sauce, Bull's Eye Original, recently changed its formulation to sweeten with high fructose corn syrup instead of sugar. In a 2-tablespoon serving, total sugars have increased by 1 gram to 12 grams, and sodium decreased from 310 mg to 280 mg. However, in a blind tasting of the new sauce on grilled chicken breasts, our tasters felt that the flavor and consistency are still good, and Bull's Eye received a tied score in direct comparison with our top-rated gourmet barbecue sauce.
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Whether you use it to baste, dip, or slather, chances are you have a bottle of barbecue sauce tucked into the door of your refrigerator. But is it the best-tasting brand? To find out, we gathered eight national brands (drawn from a list of top sellers from Information Resources, Inc., a Chicago-based market research firm) and asked 21 tasters from America’s Test Kitchen to sample each sauce… read more

Update: June 2013

We were disappointed to learn that Kraft, manufacturer of our favorite supermarket barbecue sauce, Bull's Eye Original, recently changed its formulation to sweeten with high fructose corn syrup instead of sugar. In a 2-tablespoon serving, total sugars have increased by 1 gram to 12 grams, and sodium decreased from 310 mg to 280 mg. However, in a blind tasting of the new sauce on grilled chicken breasts, our tasters felt that the flavor and consistency are still good, and Bull's Eye received a tied score in direct comparison with our top-rated gourmet barbecue sauce.
_________________________________________________________

Whether you use it to baste, dip, or slather, chances are you have a bottle of barbecue sauce tucked into the door of your refrigerator. But is it the best-tasting brand? To find out, we gathered eight national brands (drawn from a list of top sellers from Information Resources, Inc., a Chicago-based market research firm) and asked 21 tasters from America’s Test Kitchen to sample each sauce cooked (broiled on chicken thighs) and raw (on its own and as a dip for chicken nuggets).

Barbecue styles vary greatly by region, but we’d argue there’s an all-American supermarket style. It’s on the sweet side and balances tang, smoke, and tomato flavor. You can use it like ketchup. The sauces that fit that profile rated better than those closer to authentic regional barbecue styles. The latter failed, in part, because they weren’t sweet enough. Lacking sugar, they struck our tasters as out of whack.

Total sugars proved the determining factor in our tasting. As a group, the sauces with more total sugars rated better than the sauces with less. (It is possible to have too much of a good thing, as one of our sauces proved.) And not all sugars are created equal. Our top picks are the only two in our lineup that list molasses as their third ingredient; other brands contain it, but in lower relative concentrations. When the robust, distinct flavor of molasses was in short supply, the sauces fell flat.

Taken as a group, these sauces underwhelmed us and in the main failed to make food taste better. Our advice? Make barbecue sauce yourself—it’s not that hard.

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  • Product Tested

    Price*

  • Prices are subject to change.
  • Recommended - Winner

    Bull's-Eye Original Barbecue Sauce

    This "robust," "spicy" sauce won points for its "great, sticky crust" in the broiled chicken tasting. It also finished first as a dip for chicken nuggets. Tasters praised it as "fresh tasting, smoky, and tomatoey," "tangy," and with a "good balance of smoky and sweet." "Almost perfect," one noted.

    $2.39 for 18 ounces

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  • Recommended with Reservations

    KC Masterpiece Original Barbecue Sauce

    This "potent" sauce has "a pleasant kick" that one taster described as "very sweet and tangy with a smoky hook." A second taster "could eat this one right out of the bottle, but several others detected distasteful hints of "raisins" and "prunes." Everybody, however, liked its "velvety" texture.

    $3.69 for 28 ounces

  • Recommended with Reservations

    Sweet Baby Ray's Award Winning Barbecue Sauce

    Tasters said the burn and spice were nice, but the high sugar content ("way too sweet") was not. In sum, as one taster put it, "spicy, but totally flat otherwise." This sauce has the most total sugars by far, and lists high-fructose corn syrup first.

    $1.67 for 18 ounces

  • Recommended with Reservations

    Hunt's Original Barbecue Sauce

    Tasters thought this "thin," middle-of-the-road sample tasted like "sweet and sour sauce," "melted fruit roll-ups," and "barbecue Jolly Ranchers." "Middling potency and sweetness, not a standout but fine" and "solid if uninspiring."

    $1.25 for 21.6 ounces

  • Recommended with Reservations

    Kraft Original Barbecue Sauce

    Tasters were divided. Some appreciated the fact that this sauce "packs a punch" and liked its deep smoky flavor. Others judged that same smoke flavor as "overwhelming" and "harsh."

    $1.89 for 18 ounces

  • Not Recommended

    Jack Daniel's Original No. 7 Recipe Barbecue Sauce

    We heard a chorus of complaints. "Robitussin," "juniper," "nail polish remover," "rancid beer," and "sweat socks" were among the unpleasant flavors tasters detected. Tasters also found it "way too smoky." "Tastes so awful I spit it out."

    $2.99 for 19 ounces

  • Not Recommended

    Stubb's Original Bar-B-Q Sauce

    "I wouldn't call this a barbecue sauce," one taster observed about this peppery," "sour," and "acidic" sauce. The "tomato and vinegar flavors are not balanced or united said another. Several thought it resembled "spicy ketchup or marinara sauce," not barbecue sauce.

    $4.49 for 18 ounces

  • Not Recommended

    Texas Best Barbecue Sauce

    With drastically less total sugars than our winner, it's no surprise that tasters found this sauce "an apple among oranges" and "not balanced with sweetness" We liked it in a previous tasting, but the formula has changed twice in recent years. This was the only brand with no molasses whatsoever, and our tasters missed it. They complained loudly about this "very acidic," "tomato-heavy" sauce.

    $4.99 for 17.5 ounces

*PRICES SUBJECT TO CHANGE
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