Grocery store barbecue sauces, ranked worst to first

Barbecue sauce is as American as baseball and apple pie, particularly in the South. This condiment is not only a ketchup substitute, it can also be used as a marinade, sauce, or topping when barbecuing. From pulled pork to beef ribs and from smoked chicken to grilled vegetables, you can find this sauce on just about anything.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect about barbecue sauce is the variety. Depending on where you are in the South, the recipe for the local barbecue sauce will vary wildly. 

In Memphis, it's the molasses that takes center stage. In parts of the Carolinas, it's a "mopping" sauce that can be used for dipping or as a baste for the meat. Other parts of the Carolinas are famous for adding mustard, Kansas City is known for its expert use of tomatoes, while Texas adds peppers to the mix to create spiciness.

This list of barbecue sauces takes a look at the store-bought varieties and ranks them, from worst to best. Fire up your grill, take out your meat, and be ready to select the best barbecue sauce for the job after reading this handy guide.

15. Kraft Original Barbecue Sauce

If you enjoy ingesting high fructose corn syrup, you'll love Kraft Original Barbecue Sauce. At some point, Kraft decided to switch from using real sugar to using high fructose corn syrup with an artificially sweet aftertaste. In fact, there's so much of it in this sauce that it's the first ingredient listed on the bottle. Yuck! Why would they ruin what used to be a totally acceptable barbecue sauce? To save a few cents per bottle, it's safe to assume. Bad decision. 

To make matters even worse, Kraft attempts to cover up the phony sweetness of the corn syrup by adding an obnoxious level of spiciness. Two problems: First, the spiciness isn't pleasant; it tastes like stale black pepper. Secondly, they have to put so much spice to mask the high fructose corn syrup that it ends up being more spicy than sweet. This stuff is just a disaster. All that high fructose corn syrup can't be too great for your health, either. Avoid it, even if it's the cheapest option on the shelf.

14. KC Masterpiece Original BBQ Sauce

Another of the budget options on your grocer's shelves is KC Masterpiece Original BBQ Sauce. And just like Kraft's concoction, this stuff is absolutely awful. KC Masterpiece attempts to use hickory smoke flavor to balance its sickly sweetness, and the result is an overpowering taste of mediocrity. If you make the mistake of adding it to meat of any kind, this sauce is all you will taste. However, some people do make cookies with it — how's that for a testament to how sweet it is?

Additionally, KC Masterpiece Original BBQ sauce has a chemical aftertaste, which is definitely not the taste you want in your mouth after an evening spent slaving over a hot grill.

Don't be fooled by the Hickory Brown Sugar version that KC Masterpiece also markets. It tastes almost exactly the same as their original sauce with just a tiny hint of the existence of brown sugar.

13. Sweet Baby Ray's Barbecue Sauce

If you're addicted to sweets, go with Sweet Baby Ray's. It's not particularly good, mind you, but at least it doesn't pretend to be something it's not. Instead of attempting to mask or balance the sweetness, this sauce doubles down on it by combining high fructose corn syrup, molasses, regular corn syrup, white sugar, and pineapple juice concentrate. Honestly, the pineapple flavoring is a quite interesting addition that makes this barbecue sauce unique. If you like your barbecue sauce really, really sweet, you won't be too disappointed by this brand.

However, not only is Sweet Baby Ray's Barbecue Sauce incredibly sweet, it also uses sodium benzoate as a preservative. Sodium benzoate may be linked to everything from ADHD, to obesity, allergies, and even cancer. So, if you're not concerned with that additive (the FDA has recognized it generally safe), and you're looking to add some exceedingly sweet barbecue sauce to your dinner plate, you've found the holy grail.

12. Famous Dave's Devil's Spit BBQ Sauce

Give your pulled pork sandwiches or pork chops a kick with Famous Dave's Devil's Spit BBQ Sauce. You'll have to overlook the high fructose corn syrup and a lot of other questionable ingredients, but the end result is a spicy but not-too-spicy sauce that you can swallow without a glass of milk to wash it down. Beyond pork, it's also good with chicken, particularly slow cooked chicken. 

Unfortunately, if you've been to one of the Famous Dave's restaurants in the Midwest, you'll most likely be underwhelmed. The sauce at those barbecue restaurants is outstanding. This sauce, by comparison, is a major disappointment. While Dave might be famous, he hasn't figured out how to bottle his barbecue sauce and ship it around the nation without it losing his signature flavor. Is it the corn syrup, the preservatives, or something else? It's impossible to say for sure but don't expect restaurant quality in a bottle. 

11. Heinz Classic Sweet & Thick BBQ Sauce

Heinz has been in business since 1869 and has been making its famous ketchup since 1876. Today's Heinz ketchup is by far the most popular brand of ketchup in the United States. Recently, Heinz expanded to offering a new line of barbecue sauces — and so far the results have been impressive for being the new kid on the block.

Heinz Classic Sweet & Thick BBQ Sauce hit shelves in 2017 and it's doing a lot right. As the name suggests, this barbecue sauce is sweet and it has a thickness that works especially well when used as a dipping sauce. It's made with cane sugar and a variety of spices including onion and garlic, plus tamarind concentrate.

Give Heinz a few more years and these ketchup experts will probably be climbing this list. As it stands, this barbecue sauce is slightly heavy on the vinegar taste. Heinz Classic Sweet & Thick BBQ Sauce is good enough to buy, but it's still a work in progress as they continue to work on balancing all the flavors.

10. Cattlemen's Carolina Tangy Gold BBQ Sauce

Brought to you by the same company that blesses the world with Frank's RedHot and French's Classic Yellow Mustard, Cattlemen's Carolina Tangy Gold BBQ Sauce will have your taste buds doing somersaults. The common criticism is that this barbecue sauce has too many good ingredients doing too much at the same time.

The first taste you'll notice is the mustard, which arrives via No. 1 grade mustard seed and is given spiciness by aged red cayenne peppers and depth by paprika, onion, and garlic. Then, you'll taste the sweetness of the sugar and the molasses. Finally, the smoky aftertaste is due to the natural smoke hickory flavoring.

All in all, Cattlemen's Carolina Tangy Gold BBQ Sauce is an okay choice as long as you enjoy mustard being the dominant taste. If you prefer sweetness or tomato flavoring, look elsewhere. This sauce has tomato paste in it, but it definitely takes a backseat to the mustard and the rest of the competing flavors.

9. Jack Daniel's Sweet & Spicy Barbecue Sauce

Yes, Jack Daniel's Sweet & Spicy Barbecue Sauce is made with real, genuine Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey. No, it won't leave you tipsy, even if you overdose on a trough of barbecue chicken. What makes this sauce notable is the zing you get from the spiciness that tastes like a combination of red pepper and jalapeno. It's not a powerful punch of spicy, but it's just enough to make you sit up straight and recognize its presence.

Additionally, Jack Daniel's Sweet & Spicy Barbecue Sauce wins bonus points for its quality ingredients that include dark brown sugar and blackstrap molasses. Obviously, the history of this barbecue sauce doesn't date all the way back to 1866 when Jack Daniel started his distillery business, but it's worthy to have the name attached.

The sauce isn't the best option for pork, but it works well with beef, chicken, and some seafood, specifically shrimp. You can use it as a dipping sauce but it really shines when it's used for basting.

8. Stubb's Original Bar-B-Q Sauce

C.B. Stubblefield's culinary skills first came to light during the Korean War when he served in the United States Army as a mess sergeant. In 1968, he opened Stubb's Bar-B-Q in Lubbock, Texas. Since then, his sauces have become legendary. 

Stubb's Original Bar-B-Q Sauce impresses with its authentic ingredients, ranging from tomato puree to molasses and sugar instead of any traces of high fructose corn syrup. It also has no preservatives, doesn't use artificial colors, and is both kosher and gluten-free.

If you're making baby back ribs at home, this is the best sauce for the job. Add one tablespoon for every pound of ribs and you'll become the go-to baby back ribs expert of your family. Stubb's Original Bar-B-Q Sauce is very capable of flavoring chicken, beef, or pork. If it has a weakness, it doesn't have the right thickness for dipping and it doesn't have the smoky flavor some barbecue enthusiasts demand. Otherwise, Mr. Stubblefield's sauce is worth every penny.

7. Trader Joe's Carolina Gold Barbeque Sauce

Give kudos to Trader Joe's for not being bashful about stepping out of the box to create a one-of-a-kind barbecue sauce. This stuff is really unique — and really good. While you can put it on a cheeseburger or a sub sandwich, it really stands out when used with chicken. If you're searching for a sauce to use for dipping chicken, this is it.

Trader Joe's Carolina Gold Barbeque Sauce has a strong mustard base but it successfully blends in sweetness from molasses and a subtle hint of smoke. Besides chicken, this is the sauce to use on grilled vegetables. While it's absolutely fine on pork and beef, you will appreciate what it can do to take your chicken and vegetables to the next level.

Unlike many of the competing barbecue sauces, Trader Joe's found the optimal balance between being easy enough to pour yet still being thick and creamy enough to use as a dipping sauce.

6. Kinder's EXXXtra Hot BBQ Sauce

As the XXX hints, Kinder's EXXXtra Hot BBQ Sauce has hardcore heat. It can't be stressed enough that this sauce is very, very hot. After your first bite, you'll be pleading for mercy within seconds. But then, just as quickly, the heat subsides enough for you to enjoy the truly wonderful blend of flavors simmering beneath the fire.

So many barbecue sauces that brag about being fiery hot only have one dimension and can't bring anything to the table beyond the overbearing heat. Kinder's EXXXtra Hot BBQ Sauce is the exception. Yes, the crushed red peppers and the habanero peppers catch your attention but you will still be able to detect the brown sugar and hickory smoke. From fish tacos to hamburgers, this is the barbecue sauce to reach for when you want that kick.

Kinder's history dates back to 1946 and three generations of family knowledge is used to create this spectacularly spicy yet balanced sauce.

5. Sticky Fingers Carolina Classic Barbecue Sauce

If you prefer mustard-based barbecue sauces, you're not alone. What Sticky Fingers Carolina Classic Barbecue Sauce does so right is successfully adding layers to the mustard. The result is a sweet and tangy sauce that manages to stay true to its roots. If you're grilling and you want to add a tangy flavor profile, this is the stuff.

Forget ranch, Sticky Fingers Carolina Classic Barbecue Sauce is so legitimately tasty that it's not uncommon to find this sauce used as salad dressing — even at restaurants. If you think you hate salad and are quick to pass on your greens, give this sauce a try and you will be changing your mind.

While this version gives you that mustard flavoring that is popular in South Carolina, this company also makes Sticky Fingers Memphis Original Barbecue Sauce that tastes exactly like the best barbecue sauce you can find in Tennessee restaurants. Don't miss that one either.

4. Dinosaur Bar-B-Que Sensuous Slathering BBQ Sauce

Don't let the strange name or the prehistoric cartoon creature fool you, this sauce is seriously good. Dinosaur Bar-B-Que Sensuous Slathering BBQ Sauce uses no artificial ingredients or preservatives but still manages to balance all the competing flavors without a hitch. And while many barbecue sauces rely on heaps and heaps of sugar or high fructose corn syrup, this sauce rises above while only having six grams of sugar per serving.

Not too sweet, not too spicy, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que Sensuous Slathering BBQ Sauce just tastes great. All the flavors in this chunky sauce taste fresh and you won't be surprised to learn that crushed tomatoes are the leading ingredient. You'll have a hard time going back to sauces that rely on processed junk after tasting this goodness. 

If you studied long and hard, bought all the necessary supplies, and endeavored to make barbecue sauce in your kitchen, the best case scenario would be your homemade concoction tastes like this wonderful sauce.

3. Rufus Teague Honey Sweet BBQ Sauce

According to the label, Rufus Teague made some barbecue sauce, put it in a jar, and shared it with his boys. It was so good, his boys pestered him until he made another batch. And from there, this sauce spread from Kansas City to the rest of the country. Give Rufus Teague Honey Sweet BBQ Sauce a taste and you too will be hankering for more once you run out.

Most barbecue sauces that try to incorporate honey are failures but this one is a home run. It has a sweet taste but the sweetness has depth due to the perfect mix of honey, brown sugar, white sugar, molasses, orange juice concentrate, and raisin paste. It's like an orchestra of heavenly nectar that everyone with a sweet tooth can enjoy.

The label also says Rufus Teague Honey Sweet BBQ Sauce is "damn good." If two words were needed to describe this sauce, those were two wisely chosen words. It's impossible to disagree.

2. Lillie's Q Carolina Barbeque Sauce

Some of the best barbecue in the world can be found in the Western part of North Carolina. Lillie's Q Carolina Barbeque Sauce is hands down the best sauce available anywhere if you want to replicate that Western North Carolina taste. Nothing else is even remotely close.

The first flavor that hits you is vinegar, followed closely by a tangy depth created with lime juice and apple juice. If you're looking for a sweet barbecue sauce or one that has a strong tomato base, this isn't the sauce for you. But before you dismiss it, give it a chance. Seriously. You don't want to miss out and it might change everything you thought you knew about barbecue done right.

Lillie's Q Carolina Barbeque Sauce tastes heavenly on smoked or grilled chicken, beef brisket, and pulled pork. You will be convinced that you're back at your grandma's house and you're once again devouring her secret sauce. A word of warning: this isn't as thick as other types of barbecue sauce, so pour carefully.

1. Blues Hog Original BBQ Sauce

When you toss and turn at night dreaming of scrumptious barbecue sauce, this is the stuff you're fantasizing about. Blues Hog Original BBQ Sauce, using a recipe created in the rolling hills of Tennessee, is perfection in a bottle. It's a gourmet sauce that perfectly sticks to all types of meat, which makes it the absolute best for smoking or grilling. 

Beyond Blues Hog Original BBQ Sauce's alluring thickness, its balance of sweet and spicy will draw you in and have you coming back for seconds. The sweetness catches your attention at first, while the spiciness gently entices your lips as you reach for your next unforgettable bite. It's made with all-natural ingredients, with brown sugar and apple cider vinegar taking leading roles. 

The next time you're having a backyard barbecue and you want to impress everyone in your neighborhood, use this stuff as your secret weapon. Your meat will be the talk of the town.