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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 BBQ ribs to juicy 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 high-quality ingredients and that bold barbecue-y taste you’re looking for, these are the best barbecue sauces you can find on the shelves.
Best Overall: Rufus Teague Touch O' Heat BBQ Sauce
Balance of sweet and heat
No high-fructose corn syrup
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 without being overpowering. Reminiscent of its origin, the barbecue sauce is also unique in that it comes in a whiskey bottle.
A genuine Kansas City barbecue sauce, the Rufus Teague BBQ Sauce is good on just about everything, from ribs to chicken to pulled pork sandwiches. And it’s made with ingredients without any additives or high-fructose corn syrup.
Weight: 16 ounces | Calories (per 2 Tbsp. serving): 70 | Type/Flavor Profile: Kansas City, smoky, sweet, touch of spice
Best for Ribs: Stonewall Kitchen Baby Back Rib Sauce
Perfect for grilled meats
Smooth drippy texture
Sugar is first ingredient
If you’re looking for the perfect barbecue sauce for ribs, look no further than 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 dipping. While it does have some sugar, it’s also partly sweetened with passionfruit juice, which adds some beautiful tartness as well.
Weight: 11 ounces | Calories (per 2 Tbsp. serving): 35 | Type/Flavor Profile: Memphis-style, tangy, sweet
Best Gluten-Free: Stubb's Original Legendary BBQ Sauce
Sweet and tangy
Short ingredient list
A little on the tomato-y side
Thinner than others
Stubb’s Original 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 homemade meatloaf.
Weight: 18 ounces | Calories (per 2 Tbsp. serving): 30 | Type/Flavor Profile: Texas-born, tangy, sweet
Best for Chicken: Heinz Carolina Vinegar Style Tangy BBQ Sauce
A little thin
Too much vinegar
When it comes to condiments, Heinz is already a household name. But the culinary giant also 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 vinegar, then blended with some sweetness and spices for a one-of-a-kind tangy flavor that’s great on any meat, including chicken, pork, and ribs. And it comes in a convenient squeeze bottle, so you can easily pinch out as much or as little as you want.
Weight: 18.6 ounces | Calories (per 2 Tbsp. serving): 35 | Type/Flavor Profile: Carolina-style, tangy, sweet
Best Organic: Good Food For Good Organic BBQ Sauce
No added sugar
A little thick
With simple organic ingredients, the Good Food for Good Classic BBQ Sauce proves that condiments don’t have to be complicated and unnatural 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.
Weight: 9.5 ounces | Calories (per 2 Tbsp. serving): 15 | Type/Flavor Profile: sweet, spicy
Best Carolina Gold: Lillie’s Q Gold Barbecue Sauce
Tangy and sweet
Can be a little too sweet
South Carolina is known for its gold barbecue sauce—a mustard-based condiment that has some tang, sweetness, and a lot of deliciousness. And Lillie’s Q, inspired by Grandma Lillie, a BBQ-enthusiast from the South, is one of the best there is. It has a distinctive, sweet, yet slightly spicy and tangy flavor that lends well to pork and chicken. It’s ideal for marinating, slathering, and dipping.
Weight: 20 ounces | Calories (per 2 Tbsp. serving): 50 | Type/Flavor Profile: Carolina-style, sweet, spicy, tangy
Best Spicy: Cowtown Night Of The Living BBQ Sauce
Kick of spice
Goes well with everything
A little heavy on the chipotle
Tomato paste is overwhelming
If you like your barbecue sauce with a little heat, the Cowtown Night Of The Living Bar-B-Q 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. Sweet brown sugar and molasses balance the heat while adding some 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 meaty mains and barbecue side dishes.
Weight: 18 ounces | Calories (per 2 Tbsp. serving): 50 | Type/Flavor Profile: Kansas-style, spicy, smoky
Best Honey: Good & Gather Organic Honey BBQ Sauce
Great for dipping
Can be a little too sweet
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 Barbecue 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, 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 some organic ingredients.
Weight: 19 ounces | Calories (per 2 Tbsp. serving): 45 | Type/Flavor Profile: Honey-based, sweet, tangy, smoky
What to Look for in a Barbecue Sauce
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, figure out what kind of taste you want. It may change based on what you’re cooking. For example, you may prefer a tomato-based barbecue sauce for ribs but opt for a vinegar-based sauce on your pulled pork.
Another factor to consider is texture. If you want to coat chicken and ribs, you need a barbecue sauce that’s smooth and thick. However, if you prefer drizzling sauce on pulled pork sandwiches, you can go for something thinner.
It's always a good idea to look at the nutrition label when buying food of any kind, particularly if you have allergies or follow any specific diet. Some of the options on our list, for example, are gluten-free or organic, if either of those things are important to you. You can also find options with no added sugars.
What is barbecue sauce made of?
There are so many barbecue sauces out there from which to choose, and the ingredients vary greatly based on the type of sauce and where it’s from. But there are some ingredients that are pretty classically in most barbecue sauces you’ll find. These include ingredients like: ketchup, vinegar, tomatoes, worcestershire sauce, salt/pepper, hot sauce, and sugar.
Is barbecue sauce vegan?
This entirely depends on the ingredient list. One somewhat common barbecue sauce ingredient, honey, is not vegan, so any sauce that contains that ingredient would not qualify. But there are plenty of barbecue sauces out there that use other sweeteners that should be vegan-friendly!
How long does barbecue sauce last?
According to foodsafety.gov, barbecue sauce can last 1 year unopened in the pantry, or 4 months once opened in the fridge.
Can you freeze barbecue sauce?
Yes, you can freeze barbecue sauce. Like anything you freeze, it’s best to label/date it before you put it in the freezer, so you can keep track of how long it’s been frozen. Also note that it’s always possible the quality may differ upon defrosting.
Does barbecue sauce need to be refrigerated?
From a food-safety standpoint, it’s not necessary, but to help maintain the quality, it’s best to keep it cold. According to foodsafety.gov, “Refrigeration ensures that commercial sauces and condiments stay fresh for a longer period of time. Shelf-stable commercial barbecue sauce is safe when stored at room temperature after opening. Quality, not safety, is the reason the labels on these products suggest that they be refrigerated after opening.”
How can you thicken barbecue sauce?
You can thicken your barbecue sauce the same way you’d thicken other dishes. One option is to reduce it–simply heating it up on the stovetop and simmering it so excess water evaporates and the sauce thickens. Alternatively, if you have cornstarch on hand, you can combine cornstarch and water to make a slurry, and add that to your sauce.
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.