High-End Barbecue Sauces

Published July 1, 2013. From Cook's Illustrated.

We put four small-batch, mail-order barbecue sauces to the test against our supermarket favorite.

Overview:

Small-batch barbecue sauces promise pit-master magic—but are they worth their higher price tags? To find out, we mail-ordered four products that had some buzz, were award winners, or were marketed by barbecue pros.

We sampled the sauces plain and on grilled chicken, focusing on sweetness, complexity, texture, and overall appeal. Our two least favorite sauces were too sweet, containing twice the amount of sugar per serving as the others. A third sauce was watery and mild. But the fourth, our winner, delivered. With generous additions of vinegar, salt, and chili paste along with liquid smoke, it was tart, spicy, and more savory than sweet. It also had enough body to cling to the chicken.

To see how our high-end winner compared with our supermarket winner—a sweet, tomato-based classic—we held a taste test on grilled chicken. Votes were evenly split on these very different sauces. For traditionalists, our supermarket winner is best, but for a savory, tangy sauce with a kick, we recommend splurging on our high-end winner.

Small-batch barbecue sauces promise pit-master magic—but are they worth their higher price tags? To find out, we mail-ordered four products that had some buzz, were award winners, or were marketed by barbecue pros.

We sampled the sauces plain and on grilled chicken, focusing on sweetness, complexity, texture, and overall appeal. Our two least favorite sauces were too sweet, containing twice the amount of sugar per serving as the others. A third sauce was watery and mild. But the fourth, our winner, delivered. With generous additions of vinegar, salt, and chili paste along with liquid smoke, it was tart, spicy, and more savory than sweet. It also had enough body to cling to the chicken.

To see how our high-end winner compared with our supermarket winner—a sweet, tomato-based classic—we held a taste test on grilled chicken. Votes were evenly split on these very different sauces. For traditionalists, our supermarket winner is best, but for a savory, tangy sauce with a kick, we recommend splurging on our high-end winner.

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