Best BBQ Sauces
We love our barbecue, and understand it can be a challenge to ‘do-it-all’. Sometimes it is well worth buying a product that is consistent and well made. To help with that endeavor, we have tasted multiple barbecue sauce choices in the market with the goal of providing you a guide to styles and choices that are worth buying and using to make your well-cooked food shine. Here’s the round up of the results of our search.
Best Overall – Stubb’s Original BBQ Sauce
The key to this sauce is that they hit a great center swath of flavor and texture. Really, it falls somewhere between vinegary Carolina and smokey Texas style sauce. This gives it a slightly lighter texture than many people expect from commercial barbecue sauces. The flavors are pronounced enough that it carries through this thinner consistency. It has a subtle background sweetness with the maple characteristics that come from brown sugar and molasses, but you would still not classify it as a sweet sauce specifically. It is this balance that places it at the top of the heap, in our estimation, of a vast multitude of commercially produced sauces. It also hits a decent price point, not the cheapest, but certainly approachable for the consumer. If you want a sauce that checks the boxes, will enhance the flavor of your hard work cooking barbecue, this is a great and safe bet.
Tomato Puree (Water, Tomato Paste), Distilled Vinegar, Sugar, Molasses, Salt, Spices (Including Black Pepper, Paprika, Chili Pepper), Corn Starch, Brown Sugar, Contains Less than 0.5% of: Onion, Garlic, Guar Gum (Thickener), Xanthan Gum (Thickener), Natural Flavor (Including Hickory Smoke).
Best Value – Cattlemen’s Kansas City Classic BBQ Sauce
Interestingly, Cattleman’s made their bones in the restaurant industry as the go-to sauce for places that offered decent barbecue, but that wasn’t their mainstay product. Don’t misunderstand, it also appeared in barbecue joints that wanted the consistent flavors and textures that come with a commercial sauce without the bother of making their own product. It has just a little tang from vinegar, offset by a sweetness with obvious molasses influences. The heat is very mild, mostly from mustard with some black pepper. The texture is heavy so it clings well, making it usable for the post cooking process, and as a dip or spread while eating barbecue. Honestly, it probably will not blow your dinner guests away, but it is tasty, and priced very well relative to the market. You will get no complaints whenever you choose to serve and use this sauce. It also comes in some convenient seriously bulk packaging.
Distilled Vinegar, Tomato Paste, Sugar, Corn Syrup, Molasses, Water, Salt, Mustard Bran, Natural Hickory Smoke Flavor, Spices, Onion Powder, Celery Seed, Sodium Benzoate (as a Preservative), Garlic Powder, and Natural Flavors.
Best Sweet BBQ Sauce – Sweet Baby Rays (original)
Right up front, there are those who are put off by high fructose corn syrup, and that is the first ingredient. Since this is, after all, our choice for the best sweet style sauce, we did not find that very surprising. With vinegar as the second ingredient, the texture is brought from the starch. And it has texture, high on the list for the thickest sauce of all we sampled. That being said, the flavor comes across as fairly balanced in addition to a noticeable sweetness. The sugars make it especially good for chicken, as it caramelizes into a great coating. If your tastes run to the sweet side of barbecue you will fall in love with this product, as have many folks in the marketplace.
High fructose corn syrup, distilled vinegar, tomato paste, modified food starch, Contains less than 2% of: salt, pineapple juice, natural smoke flavor, spices, caramel color, sodium benzoate as a preservative, molasses, corn syrup, garlic, sugar, tamarind, natural flavor.
Best Mustard Based – Famous Dave’s Georgia Mustard BBQ Sauce
Famous Dave’s has a good line of sauces with a very loyal following. The mustard variety has a nice kick that melds together the high acid vinegars and the spicey heat of mustard and other seasonings. They also keep this one slightly to the thick side so that it stays on the food well. We tended to favor this one as a serving sauce with dry cooked barbecue and enjoy how it can really bring out the flavors of the food it is added to. The blend of flavors with the noticeable mustard aspect also makes this a great addition to your baked bean side dish. You can certainly find sauces with more prominent mustard flavors, but we enjoy the balance Famous Dave’s brings to the table.
Water, distilled vinegar, tomato paste, mustard (water, vinegar, mustard seed, salt, turmeric, spices), apple cider vinegar, sugar, brown sugar, salt, Worcestershire sauce concentrate (vinegar, molasses, corn syrup, water, salt, caramel color, garlic powder, sugar, spices, tamarind), food starch-modified, spices, dried garlic, xanthan gum, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate (preservatives).
Best Vinegar BBQ Sauce – Wells Hog Heaven Barbecue Sauce
For the vinegar-based sauce purist, there is an argument to be made that this is too thick, but it is still the thinnest of the sauces in our group. It is vinegar forward, no question. For those who know their history of barbecues, the colonial cooks at the earliest stages of what became American barbecue, were basting meats, pork in particular, with vinegar and butter to tenderize and flavor the meat while it cooked over the open fire. They didn’t have access to the full array of spices that we do, and that makes this sauce more than a one trick pony with regards to flavor. With a hint of sweet and some noticeable peppers flavor, this sauce is very versatile. Our favorite was to use this as a marinade as part of the prep process.
Distilled vinegar, salt, sugar, water, smoke flavoring, peppers, spices, xanthan gum
Best Spicy – Lillie’s Q – Hot Smoky Barbeque Sauce
There’s no question when you taste this sauce by itself, it has some heat. Not killer by any stretch, but you know it is a spicy sauce. It really shines when you add it to your food, either during cooking or at service. The food brings a bit more balance so that you can enjoy the heat along with the other flavors that are blended in. Not a surprise when you consider that Chef Charlie McKenna, a two-time world champion barbecue competitor and restauranter, was responsible for the recipe development. Tang from vinegar and lime, some zip from mustard, in addition to peppers, help make this a well rounded and spicy sauce that will not kill the flavors of your food. It may add a little sweat to your brow, but it will be worth it as your taste buds are opened up to all the flavor your food has to offer.
Ketchup (red ripe tomatoes, distilled vinegar, sugar, salt, onion powder, spices, and natural flavoring), brown sugar, cider vinegar, filtered water, mustard (distilled vinegar, water, mustard seed, salt, turmeric, paprika, spice, garlic powder), natural smoke flavor, contains less than 2% of spices, apple juice concentrate, salt, lime juice concentrate, Worcestershire sauce (distilled vinegar, molasses, corn syrup, water, salt, caramel color, garlic powder, sugar, spices, tamarind, natural flavor), garlic and onion powder.
Best Gluten Free BBQ Sauce – G Hughes Smokehouse Original Barbecue Sauce
Our favorite part about this sauce, which some could argue is only about being part of a dietary trend, is that it was developed by an award-winning pit master, Guy Hughes. So yes, it may meet a trendy niche, it is also built on a solid barbecue heritage. That, and it is really tasty with good texture. With some citrus tang to underlie the vinegar, the sweetness it does have creates a solid balance. Texture is good, other flavors are well rounded with a nice zip and noticable smoke components. In short, it is a well-made sauce that also happens to be gluten and sugar free. Even if you just want to watch your calories a bit, this sauce will fill the bill and help you make some tasty barbecue.
Vine-Ripened Crushed Tomatoes (Water, Crushed Tomatoes), Cider Vinegar, Modified Cornstarch, White Vinegar, Salt, Lemon Juice Concentrate, Spices, Dehydrated Onion, Caramel Color, Hickory Smoke, Garlic Powder, Xanthan Gum, Sucralose. CONTAINS: SULFITES
Best Homemade Barbecue Sauce Recipes from Award Winning Pitmasters
Do you like a great BBQ sauce to go on your ribs and BBQ meats? We’ve taken the time to collect 5 tasty recipes and Pitmasters who proudly stand behind them. These sauces can help you level up your game for cookoff competitions or these recipes can be made at your next BBQ party. So if you have any questions if they’re any good, we’ve collected helpful background info on them. If you’re looking to try your luck in the BBQ cooking circuit check our list of BBQ tools to have in your arsenal.
Here are the best BBQ sauce recipes your taste buds are screaming for!
1. Myron Mixon’s Basic Hickory BBQ Sauce
Myron Mixon is a celebrity in the BBQ world and a 4-time BBQ champion in his own right. He’s also a real showman when it come s to ruling the airwaves with top-rated series such as BBQ Rules and BBQ Pitmasters on the Discovery channel. He recently shared his winning BBQ sauce that is reportedly excellent for pork, beef, and lamb. It’s a woodsy hickory flavor BBQ sauce that has hints of sweet and strong residual flavors.
But does his recipe really measure up? Even the top champions all borrow from each other from time to time. Here’s what goes into his award-winning recipe.
- 2 cups ketchup (or tomato paste)
- 2 tablespoons garlic powder
- 2 tablespoons onion powder
- 2 tablespoons smoked sweet paprika
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- Two-thirds cup of cider vinegar
- One-quarter cup brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 2 tablespoons maple sugar
- 2 tablespoons fresh-ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
Place everything into a blender and then give the mix these ingredients by pulsing a few times. After that, you transfer this mixture to a medium pot and simmer on medium heat is mixed well. It doesn’t need to boil but simmering is just fine. After a couple of minutes, allow the sauce to cool and then transfer to a clean jar. It can store up to 6 months in the fridge.
How good is this sauce?
What makes this sauce a bit of a mystery is that it mentions hickory, but the recipe doesn’t have hickory added. It lends its flavor more to a very fine pasta sauce. Some Pitmasters have mentioned that it’s missing 2 tablespoons of Apple Jelly. Perhaps if you add liquid hickory flavor, it will give this BBQ sauce more definition.
2. John Reese’s Pitmaster Bourbon BBQ Sauce (from BBQPitBoys)
If you’ve ever heard of the BBQ Pit Boys, they’re quite a rough and tumble bunch. They’ve got a great Youtube channel and have quite a following. If they’re not practicing Bushcraft BBQ, they know how to handle high-power firearms. It seems they have a recipe that is similar but with a refreshing outdoor twist. This reportedly makes a tangy zesty BBQ sauce that is good for chicken, beef, and pork.
- 2 cups Ketchup
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons Dry mustard
- 4 tablespoons brown sugar
- 4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 4 tablespoons honey
- One-half cup lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 cup bourbon
Add ingredients to a medium-sized saucepan on an outdoor grill. Using hickory wood for added smoke, stir the ingredients at a slow simmer. As this sauce starts to thicken, continue to stir to lock in smoke flavor. Afterward, the finished sauce can cool and then be transferred to empty jelly jars. Makes up to three and one-half cups of BBQ sauce.
How good is this sauce?
What makes this sauce awesome is that it’s meant for mopping your BBQ but equally tasty for dipping likewise. It has the right amount of zest but could ultimately use fresh onions and garlic for added depth. The combination of brown sugar and vinegar turns out a fine sauce that is what BBQ is all about. The bourbon is the real kicker since this adds a whole new layer that tells you this BBQ sauce isn’t fooling around.
3. Steven Raichlen’s Sweet and Smoky BBQ Sauce
This BBQ Pitmaster didn’t just learn to grill, and it appears he wrote the bible on it. He’s the author of several books and is known nationally for being a master grill specialist. He’s got a recipe that is the defining flavor of what makes Kansas City BBQ flavor. This recipe actually comes from Kansas City Barbeque Society but is hailed from Steven’s BBQ Bible. This recipe makes 5 whole cups of authentic Kansas City sweet red rib BBQ sauce.
- One-quarter cup honey
- One-quarter cup molasses
- One-quarter cup Worcestershire sauce
- One-half cup cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons yellow mustard
- 2 tablespoons dark rum
- 6 tablespoons (packed) dark brown sugar
- 4 cups ketchup
- 1 tablespoon liquid smoke
- 1 tablespoon pure chili powder
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons fresh ground black powder
- 1 teaspoons ground allspice
- One-quarter teaspoon ground cloves
- Coarse Kosher salt
- Fresh ground black pepper
Combine together all of the ingredients (minus the ketchup) in a large saucepan and bring to a medium simmer. After about 5 minutes when everything is mixed thoroughly, you can add the ketchup and bring it to a boil. The last item to add is salt and pepper to taste. After it reaches a boil, reduces the heat back to a simmer until it reaches a nice thick consistency. Turn off the heat and let sit for 30 minutes.
Then you can transfer the sauce to large glass jars that can be stored. It will last several months in your fridge when capped.
How good is this sauce?
If you’ve ever enjoyed authentic Kansas City BBQ sauce, this should be on your favorite list. This flavor is one of the major legends of BBQ cuisine with a flavor signature unlike any other BBQ sauce out there. It is also rated 4-stars by the Food Shmooze review website.
4. Rodney Scott’s BBQ Sauce
Now maybe you haven’t heard of Rodney before but for this Birmingham, Alabama resident, he’s gained a bit of traction. He was recently awarded the Best Chef Southeast at the James Beard Awards. His unique approach to BBQ sauce has earned him high praise among Pitmasters alike with his spicy-sweet blend of BBQ sauce. This closely guarded secret has finally emerged and is unlike most sauces you’ll find.
It’s especially good on pork, chicken, and turkey, but not limited to beef and spare ribs. Let’s take a closer look at what makes his recipe so different.
- Two cups white (distilled) vinegar
- One-half lemon (thinly sliced)
- One-quarter cup sugar
- One and one-half teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- One teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 tablespoon paprika powder
- One teaspoon dark chili powder
- One-half teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- Two teaspoons accent seasoning
Into a small saucepan, pour the white vinegar, and then warm it to medium-high heat. As soon as your vinegar reaches 150F, then you add the lemon slices and cook them until they get a bit translucent. This will take about 10 minutes in all. In a separate bowl, you’ll whisk in the black pepper, red pepper, sugar, paprika, dark chili powder, and accent seasoning together. Mix this until the sugar is completely clear or when the temperature reaches 190F.
After this, allow the mixture to cool, and then place the sauce into a glass jar to keep it fresh. It will last for up to at least one month.
How good is this sauce?
Apparently, the real secret to this sauce is how the vinegar and lemon slices are cooked first. It also helps add natural enzymes that tenderize meat better than other kinds of vinegar-based mixtures. The real trick is to take the lemon slices out before you add the rest of the spices. It makes an excellent mop BBQ sauce that extra tasty as a dipping sauce too.
5. Aaron Franklin’s BBQ Rib Sauce
This well-known MasterClass BBQ chef is right up there for getting the spotlight for his cooking and grilling style. Aaron is a rocket scientist when it comes to Texas-style BBQ. This recipe is one of his thick and sweet BBQ rib sauces that might just speak for itself. This time around, you can be the judge and make this recipe at home. But for a rib sauce that is pretty involved, here is what you’ll find for ingredients.
- One cup apple cider vinegar
- One cup light brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons (Beef tallow/vegetable oil, lard, or bacon fat)
- One-third large onion (yellow or white- chopped roughly)
- 4 cloves garlic (roughly chopped)
- 2 cups organic or all-natural ketchup
- One teaspoon smoked paprika
- One teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- One teaspoon fine sea salt
- One teaspoon mustard powder
- 4 dashes of Worcestershire sauce
The first thing you’ll do is heat a medium saucepan and add your fat (beef tallow, etc.) until it starts to simmer, and then add your onion until it gets translucent. This will take 6-8 minutes. After this, you add your garlic and continue to cook until the onions start to turn brown and the garlic is getting crisp for another three minutes. This is when you add the brown sugar and will totally melt, forming a glaze after simmering for 2-3 minutes.
This is when you add the apple cider vinegar, ketchup, mustard, paprika, salt, and pepper. Bring this mixture up to a simmer and cook it for an additional 3-5 minutes. Or at least until this mixture has become thicker. This is when you can add the Worcestershire sauce and allow this to simmer away for an additional minute. Now, this is where it starts to get fun. You put the entire mixture into a glass blender and mix at the highest speed.
When you get a sauce that’s completely smooth and has an orange color, it’s done. Since this sauce will naturally be hot, you’ll need to transfer this hot mix directly into waiting jars and put on their tops. Then let them cool to room temperature. After this, put them in the fridge. This BBQ sauce can be stored for up to 1 month in your fridge after that.
How good is this sauce?
Apparently, over 700 people who subscribe to MasterClass rate this BBQ rib sauce with 4-stars, here’s a video featuring Franklin on his sauce. It’s clearly a hit from the overall reviews and does have a bit of appeal for Texas-style BBQ rib fans. With a generous amount of onion and garlic added here, this makes for some excellent taste on any ribs you add it to. When it comes to Beef or Pork, these flavors explode on impact with a sweet yet slightly zesty appeal.
Best BBQ Sauce by Region
Among some of the more interesting things about barbecue sauce recipes is the variety of sauces that make each region taste different. You might say that each state has its own specific flavor profile that matches BBQ dishes perfectly. Nobody knows how these sauces evolved into what they are today, but for this section that includes our top BBQ sauce picks by region, we’ll give you a generous splash of what makes them so special.
Kansas City: Kansas City Barbecue Sauce
To be honest, Kansas City barbecue sauce has always been a bit on the sweet and tangy side whenever it’s served at BBQ joints. It’s got a bright acidic flavor that comes from tomatoes but more often, has a very distinct ketchup flavor that’s slightly spicy and sweet. You’ll also find that Kansas City sauce is flavored with molasses to give it that unmistakable finger-lickin’ good quality.
The tangy part is improvised by adding apple cider vinegar and just the right amount of heat by adding cayenne chili or red pepper flakes. It also goes great on BBQ foods that include beef, pork, and chicken without ruining their barbecued flavor one single bit. If you’ve heard of Kansas City BBQ sauce before, it’s not a secret that KC Sauce is among the legendary Barbecue Triangle which includes Kansas, Houston, and North Carolina.
Ingredients of sauce
Crushed tomatoes, ketchup, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, molasses, smoked paprika, salt, black pepper, chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, red pepper flakes/cayenne chili powder, and ground mustard
Memphis: Memphis-style Barbecue Sauce
There are some similarities between the Memphis sauce recipe and the Kansas version since both are tangy and sweet, but with one big caveat. The Memphis version is rather thin in texture and pours similar to runny ketchup. This might have a lot to do with the recipe itself since this also includes ketchup but more importantly, it’s thinner for very obvious reasons. This sauce is typically used as a mop sauce that is basted onto BBQ meats as they cook.
This helps to build up a thicker layer of sauce flavor that starts to caramelize onto foods making them shine with all the appeal that Memphis BBQ meats deserve. Another nice reason is that it makes an excellent dipping sauce that isn’t overly drowning your food. This sauce is preferred for pulled pork but isn’t limited to mopping onto smoked ribs.
Ingredients for sauce
Unsalted butter, chopped onion, minced garlic, tomato sauce/thin ketchup, cider vinegar, rice vinegar, molasses, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, yellow mustard, Louisiana hot sauce, Kosher salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper
Carolina: (North-eastern Carolina) Eastern Carolina Barbecue Sauce
You might just think that all barbecue sauces are made equally, but for North-Eastern Carolina, they prefer to keep its sauce thinner. Because this state likes to make a sauce that is traditionally spicier with plenty of cider-tang, they aren’t foolin’ around with their recipe. The recipes will slightly differ from north to south in the Carolinas, but one thing that’s missing here is the tomato base.
What you will find is a generous amount of cider vinegar mixed with pepper sauces and cayenne chili powder. You’ll also notice that this sauce is lighter because it doesn’t contain tomatoes but the addition of hot sauce does give this a nice reddish hue. It’s especially a favorite for pulled pork sandwiches that are applied by using a tablespoon or squeeze bottle. It’s often called Draper’s Carolina Pig Dip in this region when recipes are mentioned.
Ingredients for sauce
Cider vinegar/white vinegar, crushed red pepper, black pepper, salt, brown sugar, cayenne chili powder, and hot sauce
Texas: Texas-style Barbecue Sauce
Texas might have the old expression Don’t Mess with Texas’, but they like to follow the BBQ Triangle recipe that Kansas City made famous. But don’t get these two sauces confused just yet, since the Texas version is certainly richer in flavor than the Kansas City version. It’s just as runny as the Memphis version so it can glaze onto any meat and gives a real kick for spiciness without being overly sweet.
Now as you might have figured, Texans don’t typically serve barbecue sauce with their BBQ as most purist BBQ joints will point out. That doesn’t mean that Texas folks don’t like their sauce to muddy the waters when it comes to the smoky flavor. This sauce is best drizzled onto sandwiches or ribs in light amounts.
Ingredients for sauce
Unsalted butter, onion, celery, garlic, beef bullion, ketchup, apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, spicy mustard, honey, paprika powder, chili powder, salt, pepper, and water
Southern: Southern-style Barbecue Sauce
The southern sauce is one exception that isn’t just for barbecue food exclusively. You’ll find this sauce is perfect for splashing on everything from eggs to baked beans. You probably wouldn’t add a dash or two onto a baked potato, but hash browns might get some spark with this southern classic. In the spirit of southern cooking, this version of BBQ sauce has a dash of everything in it.
This is perhaps what makes this blend of ketchup, vinegar, and spices, plus a whole slew of added flavors that contribute to this old recipe. It’s not exactly a thinned-down version of other sauces you’ve seen before, so expect that spooning this sauce onto anything is how it’s best added to barbecue food and (in general) anything you like.
Ingredients for sauce
Butter/olive oil, onion, green pepper, garlic, ketchup, chili sauce, wine vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, sugar, mustard, horseradish, salt, pepper, paprika, and chili powder
Louisiana: Louisiana Barbecue Sauce
If you haven’t heard, the most popular hot sauces come from Louisiana including the much-loved Tabasco hot sauce. So when it comes down to barbecue sauces, you better bet that any Louisiana BBQ sauce is going to be spicy blends with plenty of bite. These sauces are universal and are perfect for dipping or glazing. If you don’t have a cast-iron stomach these are easy to dumb down with sour cream or cream cheese and added to various dips.
The typical flavor profile isn’t relying on much ketchup in the mix, so this makes plenty of room for a sticky sweet sauce with zesty vinegar zing. It’s not uncommon that this barbecue sauce has more than one single pepper flavor added.
Ingredients for sauce
Roasted/smoked bell peppers, garlic, chipotle hot sauce, sugar/molasses, distilled vinegar, ketchup, Kosher salt