A bonafide staple in the culinary world — especially in the grilling realm — barbecue sauce is a must-have essential in any kitchen. Few products offer a more effective means of delivering a delicious and hassle-free meal quite like good old fashion barbecue sauce, transforming plain, unseasoned meats and cuts into legitimately mouth-watering grub — and doing so at an exceedingly accessible price point.
While one could argue that the world’s best BBQ sauces are typically found at elite restaurants and barbecue operations, the reality is that there are a great many top-notch sauces conveniently available at your local grocery store. When faced with the seemingly endless array of BBQ options at your local store, however, honing in on the best store-bought sauce can be tricky. And it’s for this reason that we’ve cut through the fat, consulted respected authorities in the barbecue and grilling worlds, and compiled this piquant list of the 10 best grocery store BBQ sauces.
A Flavorful History
Turning Back The Clock On BBQ Sauce
While the exact date and origin of barbecue sauce has been somewhat lost to the sands of time, it’s widely believed that the stuff first emerged in the first colonies in America in the 1600s. An evolution of previously existing sauces and marinades, early barbecue sauces started popping up in recorded history in literature and records in Europe in the centuries that followed, with different types stemming from specific regions and locales. Some of these varieties were influenced or inspired by traditional sauces from England, France, and Germany.
Despite cookbooks having existed for several centuries at this point in time, they almost entirely neglected to include recipes for barbecue sauces. On the heels of the industrial revolution, an increasing number of companies began producing sauces and condiments on a mass scale for the first time. The first commercially-available barbecue sauce was released in early 1909, from the aptly-named Atlanta-based Georgia Barbecue Sauce Company. From there, a growing number of other companies began selling their own respective store-bought barbecue sauces, and by the 1940s several major players began selling bottled barbecue sauces, including culinary giants, Kraft and Heinz.
Eight Main BBQ Sauce Varieties
Alabama White Sauce: Not as popular or well-known as the types from Texas, Kansas, or the Carolinas, this easily-recognizable white-colored sauce from Northern Alabama utilizes a mayonnaise base that’s typically seasoned with salt, pepper, sugar, and apple cider vinegar. Another variety of sauce that every BBQ connoisseur should be familiar with, Alabama White Sauce goes particularly well with white meats like pork and chicken.
Carolina (East): Believed to be the original sauce that most of today’s existing BBQ sauces were derived from, this stuff uses a simple and straightforward collection of seasonings, namely vinegar, hot chili pepper flakes, and ground black pepper. Unlike other sauces, this stuff is slathered onto the meat before (and during) cooking, as well as being served as a side for dipping. Thought to have been made popular in the region by slaves brought over from Africa — who are somewhat credited for advancing the American BBQ scene — this type boasts a surprisingly bitter — yet still pleasant — taste due to the lack of sugar that’s used.
Carolina (West): Not too dissimilar from the variety from the Eastern Carolinas, only bestowed with some additional flavors in the form tomatoes, be it from tomato paste, soup, or plain old ketchup.
Exotic: While BBQ sauce is a uniquely American offering — or at least it started out that way — it has been largely embraced by a host of other societies and cultures from across the globe. From the varieties from Hawaii and the French Polynesian islands to the delectable taste of Korean and Thai versions of the stuff, these exotic sauces all boast unique tones and tend to be on the sweeter, almost fruity and tropical end of the spectrum.
Kansas City: This tomato-based variety of BBQ sauce originally evolved from the Western Carolina blend, though it’s both sweeter and thicker, enabling it to better layer and cake onto meats, albeit at the cost of a mitigated ability to penetrate the surface of the meat. Not only is this considered to be the most popular type of BBQ sauce, but it’s also the most commonly employed method by commercially-available sauce outfits.
Memphis: Born in the BBQ Mecca that is Tennessee, Memphis-style sauce offers a thick, unique taste, largely due to the use of molasses as the primary sweetener. Seasoning these sauces are a variety of spices from in and around the local region, making it somewhat comparable to the Western Carolina Style, though with a little more kick.
South Carolina Mustard: Originally brought over by German settlers in the 1700s, this sauce — as its name suggests — boasts heavily flavors of mustard, with additional hints of vinegar, sugar, and other seasonings from the American south.
Texas: Another leading variety of BBQ sauce, the Texas-style stuff boasts a unique and tangy flavor thanks to its extensive use of spicy and flavorful ingredients like chili powder, chili peppers, cumin, and onion. Less sweet and using a much smaller amount of tomato than the Kansas style, this medium-thin sauce wonderfully seeps into meats, to an extent that can even rival some marinades. And, unlike the stuff served at most Texas smokehouses and BBQ joints, the Lone Star State’s sauce very seldom contains meat drippings in its bottled, commercially-available form.
KC Masterpiece Original
A hugely-popular and much-iconic variety of barbecue sauce found in grocery and convenience stores throughout the country, KC Masterpiece’s original sauce may be mass-produced, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t made with quality ingredients and ample care. Great for baking and broiling, as well as grilling, this sauce contains a tomato base, supplemented with onions, molasses, and other various spices that are genuinely kettle-cooked, ultimately resulting in a purely scrumptious sauce. Don’t let the price-point fool you, this stuff has become as prolific as it is for a reason.
Style: Kansas City
Jayone Korean Bulgogi & Kalbi
Whipping up traditional Korean barbecued beef or pork bulgogi has never been easier, thanks to this semi-thick bottled sauce. This sauce boasts a sweet and salty flavor comprised of a blend of brown sugar, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, pepper, Asian pear, and sesame oil. Whether used as a marinade or a lathered-on sauce, this stuff enables you to cook restaurant-style KBBQ from the comfort of your own home.
A classic smoked hickory barbecue sauce and marinade from one of the world’s biggest BBQ charcoal grill purveyors, Kingsford dates back a full century to 1920, though it wasn’t until 2017 that the booming briquette business brought out its first sauce. Unlike many mid-tier store-bought barbecue sauces, Kingsford flavors its sauce with real hickory smoke and brown sugar, rather than using cheap artificial flavors.
Sweet Baby Ray’s
First introduced in 1986, Sweet Baby Ray’s was originally developed by the Chicago-based Raymond brothers. One year before launching the business, this sauce took home second place at Chicago’s prestigious Mike Royko Rib-Off BBQ, besting some 700 competitors in the process. By the mid-aughts, the stuff was raking in tens of millions of dollars annually and in 2008 it became the second most popular BBQ sauce in the US. Today Sweet Baby Ray’s is something of an institution in the BBQ sauce world. And while this iconic Chicago-based brand offers a plethora of different award-winning flavors, it’s original blend is near-legendary. So much so, that a 2019 study found Sweet Baby Ray’s to be the most popular “condiment” in Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana.
Campbell’s Slow Cooker Sauces Apple Bourbon
A unique take on barbecue sauce, this bagged Campbell’s offering was formulated for super easy-to-make slow-cooked meals, in particular, pulled pork. Simply throw some swine in a crockpot, pour in the sauce, let it cook for seven-to-eight hours on low, and voila: you’ve got delicious, ready-to-eat, restaurant-quality apple bourbon pulled pork. Toss this stuff in a bun and you’re good to go.
Famous Dave’s Apricot Bourbon
Famous Dave’s makes all manner of seriously-delicious sauces, many of which feature interesting and idiosyncratic flavors and ingredients, case in point being this absolutely-stellar blend that combines the taste of bourbon and apricot into a drool-worthy Memphis-style sauce. Packing a little added kick, this one also includes chipotle peppers, that, when paired with the cooked-down bourbon, provide a sweet and wonderfully unique taste. Be it on beef, chicken, turkey, pork, or even fish, it really is hard to go wrong with this one.
Montgomery Inn Original
In 1951 one Ted Gregory opened the now world-famous Montgomery Inn in the town of Montgomery, Ohio. It didn’t take long for the little restaurant to straight-up explode in popularity, largely on the strength of its secret recipe barbecue sauce that was formulated behind closed doors by Ted’s wife, Matula. With numerous celebrities including A-list actors, athletes, and even US Presidents visiting the sleepy Ohio town to partake in Matula’s sauced ribs, it was only natural that the family-owned operation began bottling and selling the stuff. Almost seven decades later and this tomato-based Kansas City-style sauce is still going strong.
Style: Kansas City
Rufus Teague Whiskey Maple
Another incredibly unique flavored-blended barbecue sauce, this Rufus Teague offering is infused with two of the greatest flavors known to mankind: bourbon; and maple. Made in America using only the finest ingredients, this artisan-take on barbecue sauce really is one of the best on the planet. We’d argue the only downside to the stuff is that after experiencing it, it can be hard to go back to other more traditional sauces.
Style: Kansas City
The story of Stubb’s BBQ sauce starts in 1968 when the sauce’s namesake opened a barbecue restaurant in his native Texas. Over the years, the popularity of his sauce ultimately prompted Stubb to start selling bottles of the stuff, first at his own BBQ joint, and then eventually in supermarkets across Texas, and then the country. Completely free of GMOs (verified), gluten, and high-fructose corn syrup, Stubb’s Original blend is packed with vinegar, molasses, and black pepper that, when combined with the tomato base, yields a sweet and tangy flavor.
The New Primal BBQ Classic
The New Primal built its name on producing high-quality grass-fed meat premium meat snacks, though the outfit has more recently applied its expertise to producing a world-class barbecue sauce. Free of refined sugar, gluten, dairy, and soy, this unique Paleo-friendly sauce puts a slight twist on the average East Carolina-style blend. The company achieves this by exclusively using top-shelf ingredients, while also infusing its sauce genuine bone broth.
Style: East Carolina
The Ultimate Guide To BBQ Styles
Still on a kick to further educate yourself on the topic of all things barbecue? Well, it’s hard to think of a better jumping-off point than our ultimate guide to BBQ styles. Whether you’re into ribs, brisket, chicken, or pulled pork, this guide has you covered.
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