BBQ Boss Sauce
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Taste Test: Which Store-Bought BBQ Sauce Is the Best?

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BBQ Boss Sauce
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Boss Sauce

Americans love their barbecue and BBQ sauce, no matter what state they live in. Just look at the shelves upon shelves of sauces at the local grocery store. So. Many. Sauces. To help you choose — whether you want to discover a new favorite or are just adding to your condiment collection — we’ve sampled 15 kinds, mostly original-flavor recipes, plus a few sugar-free sauces and ones sweetened with honey or maple syrup for good measure. The results surprised even our resident Texas barbecue expert.


Related: We Tried 20 Popular Hot Sauces — and These Are the Best

Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 BBQ Sauce | Best Original Style BBQ Sauce
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Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 BBQ Sauce: Best Original Style

Cheapism Taste Test Winner–Best BBQ-sauceJack Daniel’s comes closest to what we consider the ideal grocery store sauce: a prominent, sweet tomato base with just enough tang from cider vinegar and slightly spicy heat for balance, finished with a hint of Tennessee whiskey. Unlike other sauces in our comparison, Jack Daniel’s is made with brown sugar and pineapple juice rather than high fructose corn syrup, giving the sweetness a depth other sauces can’t match. (One downside: Jack Daniel’s also had the most calories per serving, 70, of our samples.)


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Bull’s Eye Original BBQ Sauce | Best Original Style BBQ Sauce (Runner Up)
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Bull’s Eye Original BBQ Sauce: Best Original Style (Runner Up)

If you like your sauce thick but not quite so sweet, Bull’s Eye is one of two brands that in our opinion are just about as good as Jack Daniel’s. The tomato-forward flavor is followed by a nice kick of black pepper, a kiss of hickory smoke, and a hint of molasses. 


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KC Masterpiece American Original Barbecue Sauce | Best Original Style BBQ Sauce (Runner Up)
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KC Masterpiece American Original Barbecue Sauce: Best Original Style (Runner Up)

Sweeter than Bull’s Eye but not quite as sugary as Jack Daniel’s, KC Masterpiece impressed us with subtle hints of onion, garlic, and black pepper, which gave this thick sauce a mellow smoothness that would complement beef, chicken — even french fries.


Related: 25 Barbecue Sauce Recipes for Grill Season


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Franklin Barbecue Texas BBQ Sauce | Best Texas-style BBQ Sauce
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Franklin Barbecue Texas BBQ Sauce: Best Texas-Style

Cheapism Taste Test Winner–Best BBQ-sauceDon’t let the thin consistency fool you: This tangy, peppery sauce is bursting with flavor as big as the Lone Star State. It had the thinnest consistency of our samples, as befits a Texas-style sauce — not exactly runny, but not gravity-defying, either — with a boot-sized kick of pepper and a fair amount of heat from cider and white vinegars. Tying all the flavor notes together, it had a mellow sweetness that was surprisingly tasty.


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Stubb’s Original Legendary Bar-B-Q Sauce | Best Texas-style BBQ Sauce (Runner Up)
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Stubb’s Original Legendary Bar-B-Q Sauce: Best Texas-Style (Runner Up)

If Franklin Barbecue (founded 2009) is “new” Austin barbecue, then Stubb’s is “not-so-new” Austin (since 1986). Tangy, tomato-y, vinegary, and peppery all in the right way, with a kick of chili pepper for Southwestern heat for good measure, Stubb’s is your best bet if you like a sauce that bites back.


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Ray’s No Sugar Added Original Barbecue Sauce | Best Sugar-Free BBQ Sauce
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Ray’s No Sugar Added Original Barbecue Sauce: Best Sugar-Free

Cheapism Taste Test Winner–Best BBQ-sauceBarbecue fans who have to watch their sugar intake, rejoice: Ray’s No Sugar Added Original, the best sugar-free sauce we sampled, had the same pleasingly thick consistency as our top choices, though without sugar to balance the tomato and vinegar, the flavor was sharper than we preferred. Basically, it’s Sweet Baby Ray’s original, minus a little sweetness.


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Sweet Baby Ray’s Honey Barbecue Sauce | Best Honey BBQ Sauce
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Sweet Baby Ray’s Honey Barbecue Sauce: Best Honey BBQ Sauce

Cheapism Taste Test Winner–Best BBQ-sauceThis super-thick sauce was also the sweetest-tasting of the bunch, in no small part because the ingredients include both honey and high fructose corn syrup (which is first on the list). It lacked the heat and spice of some of our other samples, which some barbecue fans may dislike, and a few of our tasters felt the honey was overkill. But if you’re looking for a honey-sweet sauce, this is the one.


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Sweet Baby Ray’s Barbecue Sauce
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Sweet Baby Ray’s Barbecue Sauce

Just as thick and nearly as sweet, Sweet Baby Ray’s original-recipe sauce has a palate-pleasing touch of heat we didn’t detect in the honey version. Beyond that, there’s little to differentiate the two.


Related: 23 Restaurants with Crazy Lines That Are Still Worth the Wait

Dickey’s Barbecue Pit Original
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Dickey’s Barbecue Pit Original

Water is the first ingredient on the label, which goes a way toward explaining this sauce’s fairly thin consistency. The exceptionally strong bite of vinegar and black pepper was perspiration-inducing, without any sweet or savory notes to mellow it out. 


Related: 25 Barbecue Styles From Around the World

French’s Sauce Kansas City Classic Cattlemen’s BBQ
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French’s Sauce Kansas City Classic Cattlemen’s BBQ

French’s was even more sweat-stoking than Dickey’s, with a surprising amount of heat and bite along with hints of onion and celery powder. Not surprisingly, vinegar is the first ingredient on the list — the only such sauce in our sampling. We were surprised to see corn syrup on the ingredient list despite the bold proclamation of “No high-fructose corn syrup” on the front label.


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Good & Gather Organic Honey
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Good & Gather Organic Honey

One of our taste panel members summed it up best when they said, “This tastes just like the sauce I used to get with my Chicken McNuggets!”  We’re not sure if that’s a positive or negative review, but it does sum up aptly how we felt about this Target-brand sauce. Some honey flavor, a bit of vinegary bite, but generally just kinda meh.


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Kraft Slow-Simmered Original Barbecue Sauce
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Kraft Slow-Simmered Original Barbecue Sauce

Thick? Check? Rich tomato base? Check. Prominent bite of black pepper? Check. And yet … and yet … it missed the mark. The black pepper tasted stale, while the touch of hickory smoke left our taste buds in a haze. Pass.


Related: We Tried 13 Ketchups and These Are the Best (and Worst)

Great Value Original Barbecue Sauce
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Great Value Original Barbecue Sauce

Walmart’s entry had the thickest consistency of the bunch, or so it seemed upon tasting. And not in a good way. It had an overpowering tang that verged on the sour, with an eye-opening black pepper finish that pushed this sauce to the bottom of the original-recipe pack.


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G. Hughes Smokehouse Sugar Free Honey BBQ Sauce
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G. Hughes Smokehouse Sugar Free Honey BBQ Sauce

We have no idea what the bits of dehydrated onion were doing in this sauce, but they certainly didn’t enhance the flavor. As with our other sugar-free sample, this sauce had a prominent tomato-forward flavor and a lingering funk of artificial hickory smoke.


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Good & Gather Maple Brown Sugar
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Good & Gather Maple Brown Sugar

Brown sugar and maple syrup can work miracles together in everything from bacon and beans to pastries — but not in this sauce. It was a pastiche of flavors that none of the testers cared for. If we were playing a barbecue version of “Survivor,” this sauce would be the first to be voted off the island.


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