The 8 Best Barbecue Sauces in 2021

Bold, spicy, and a little bit sweet

Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.

Barbecue sauce is a serious, and highly-debatable, topic. Depending on which BBQ enthusiast you ask, the best barbecue sauce can range from vinegary Carolina-style to thick and a little sweet, like you’d find in Kansas City. Of course, it all comes down to personal preference, but no matter which style is your favorite, one thing most people can agree on is that the right sauce can elevate everything from ribs to chicken to tofu. In an ideal world, you’d be able to make your barbecue sauce from scratch every time, but bottled barbecue sauces have come a long way (and come pretty close to the homemade stuff).

With clean ingredients and that bold barbecue-y taste you’re looking for, these are the best barbecue sauces you can find on the shelves.

Our Top Picks
It’s thick with a little bit of smokiness and slightly sweet with just the right amount of heat.
Read Review
This Memphis-style barbecue sauce is tangy and has a slightly thin texture that’s ideal for evenly coating your rack of ribs.
Read Review
This bottled version is inspired from the original recipe, with a short ingredient list that would make Stubb proud.
Read Review
This Carolina-style barbecue sauce has a one-of-a-kind tangy flavor that’s great on any meats, from chicken to pork to ribs.
Read Review
With only seven organic ingredients, this sauce proves that condiments don’t have to be complicated to be delicious
Read Review
It has a distinctive sweet, yet slightly spicy and tangy, flavor that lends well to pork and chicken.
Read Review
The heat is balanced with some sweetness from brown sugar and molasses (which adds a little smokiness, too).
Read Review
It’s perfect as a dipping sauce, or a marinade or glaze for meats and tofu.
Read Review

Best Overall: Rufus Teague Touch O' Heat BBQ Sauce

What We Like
  • Balance of sweet and heat

  • Slight whiskey flavor

  • Gluten-free

  • No high-fructose corn syrup

What We Don't Like
  • A little acidic

  • Can be overly thick

The Rufus Teague Touch O’ Heat BBQ Sauce has all of the things that make barbecue sauce great: It’s thick with a little bit of smokiness and slightly sweet with just the right amount of heat. There’s also a slight whiskey-flavored undertone that adds a richness without being overpowering, which is fitting since the barbecue sauce comes in a whiskey bottle.

A genuine Kansas City barbecue sauce, the Rufus Teague BBQ Sauce is good on just about anything, from ribs to chicken to pulled pork sandwiches. And it’s made with all-natural ingredients without any additives or high-fructose corn syrup, so you can enjoy it to the fullest.

Best for Ribs: Stonewall Kitchen Baby Back Rib Sauce

What We Like
  • Perfect for grilled meats

  • Smooth drippy texture

What We Don't Like
  • Sugar is first ingredient

  • Pricey

If you’re looking for the perfect barbecue sauce for ribs, look no further than the aptly-named Stonewall Kitchen Baby Back Rib Sauce. This Memphis-style barbecue sauce is tangy with a little bit of sweetness and it has a slightly thin texture that’s ideal for evenly coating your rack of ribs. That’s not all it’s good for, though. It’s also an excellent choice for marinating meats, adding to recipes, and/or dipping. While it does have some sugar, it’s also partly sweetened with passionfruit juice, which adds some beautiful tartness as well.

Best Gluten-Free: Stubb's Original Legendary BBQ Sauce

Stubb's Original Barbecue Sauce
What We Like
  • Sweet and tangy

  • Short ingredient list

What We Don't Like
  • A little on the tomato-y side

  • Thinner than others

Stubb’s Original Legendary Bar-B-Q Sauce was born in 1968 when Stubb opened a Texas barbecue joint that was a hit among BBQ-lovers everywhere. While it wasn’t bottled at the time, the made-from-scratch barbecue sauce perfectly blended tomato, vinegar, molasses, and black pepper to create a sweet and tangy topping for anything you could imagine.

Now, you can take it home with you, and this bottled version is inspired by the original recipe, with a short ingredient list that would make Stubb proud. It pairs well with all types of meat, from ribs to meatloaf.

Best for Chicken: Heinz Carolina Vinegar Style Tangy BBQ Sauce

What We Like
  • Balanced flavor

  • Versatile

What We Don't Like
  • A little thin

When it comes to condiments, Heinz is already a household name, but the culinary giant teamed up with Sam Jones—the heir to the legendary Skylight Inn BBQ in North Carolina—to create one of the best barbecue sauces around. This Carolina-style barbecue sauce is made with a mixture of white and apple cider vinegars, then blended with some sweetness and a mixture of spices, for a one-of-a-kind tangy flavor that’s great on any meats, from chicken to pork to ribs. And it comes in a convenient squeeze bottle, so you can dose out as much or as little as you like easily.

Best Organic: Good Food For Good Organic BBQ Sauce

What We Like
  • Organic ingredients

  • No added sugar

What We Don't Like
  • A little thick

  • Expensive

With only seven organic ingredients, the Good Food for Good Organic Barbecue Sauce proves that condiments don’t have to be complicated to be delicious. This barbecue sauce is made with a base of apple cider vinegar and tomato paste and sweetened only with date paste, for a perfect balance of sweet and bold, without any added sugars. Thanks to spices and a little mustard, it has a slight kick, but it’s still family-friendly.

Best Carolina Gold: Lillie’s Q Gold Barbecue Sauce

Lillies
What We Like
  • Tangy and sweet

  • Versatile

What We Don't Like
  • Can be a little too sweet

  • On the thin side

South Carolina is known for its gold barbecue sauce—a mustard-based condiment that has some tang, some sweetness, and a whole lot of delicious. And Lillie’s Q, which was inspired by Grandma Lillie, a BBQ-enthusiast from the South, is one of the best there is. It has a distinctively sweet, yet slightly spicy and tangy, flavor that lends well to pork and chicken. It’s ideal for marinating, slathering, and dipping.

Best Spicy: Cowtown Night Of The Living BBQ Sauce

What We Like
  • Kick of spice

  • Goes well with everything

What We Don't Like
  • A little heavy on the chipotle

If you like your barbecue sauce with a little heat, the Cowtown Night Of The Living BBQ Sauce is the one for you. It has just the right amount of heat to leave a little bit of tingle on your lips and tongue, but not so much that you can’t fully immerse yourself in your meal. The heat is balanced with some sweetness from brown sugar and molasses (which adds a little smokiness, too).

And there’s a reason it won the title of “The Best BBQ Sauce on the Planet” at the American Royal Barbecue Contest. This Kansas-style barbecue sauce goes great with everything, from beef and pork to poultry and fish.

Best Honey: Good & Gather Organic Honey BBQ Sauce

good-and-gather-honey-bbq-sauce
What We Like
  • Great for dipping

  • Organic

What We Don't Like
  • Can be a little too sweet

  • On the thin side

There’s something about a really delicious honey barbecue sauce that makes you want to eat a plate full of chicken wings (and then lick your fingers after). And with the Good & Gather Organic Honey BBQ Sauce, you can do that and a lot more. With the right balance of sweet, tangy, and smoky, it’s perfect as a dipping sauce, or a marinade or glaze for meats and tofu—or anything you want. It’s sweetened with a combination of sugar, honey, and molasses, and as Target’s own brand, it’s budget-friendly, but still has a mostly organic ingredient list.

Final Verdict

With the right balance of sweet and spicy, the Rufus Teague Touch O' Heat BBQ Sauce (view at Amazon) is our overall pick. If you want to kick it up a notch, the Cowtown Night Of The Living BBQ Sauce (view at Amazon) has an extra hit of heat.

What to Look For in a Barbecue Sauce

Flavor

There are four main types of barbecue sauce—tomato-based, vinegar-based, mustard-based, and mayonnaise-based (yes, really)—and they’re vastly different. Tomato-based sauces typically have a naturally sweeter taste, while vinegar- and mustard-based sauces are tangier and have more of a bite. Before choosing a barbecue sauce, you want to figure out what kind of taste you’re going for. This may change based on what you’re cooking. For example, you may want a tomato-based barbecue sauce for ribs, while you prefer a vinegar-based sauce on your pulled pork.

Texture

Another factor to consider is texture. If you want to coat chicken and ribs, you need a barbecue sauce that’s smooth and thick, but if you want to drizzle sauce on pulled pork sandwiches, you can go for something thinner.

Why Trust The Spruce Eats?

Lindsay Boyers is a certified holistic nutritionist with extensive nutrition knowledge and food and beverage-testing experience. She’s developed over 1,000 original recipes and is constantly on a mission to find the healthiest, best-tasting options and ingredients across all food and drink categories.

Continue to 5 of 8 below.