The Untold Truth Of King's Hawaiian BBQ Sauce

If you think about King's Hawaiian, the first thing that likely come to mind is their delectable, fluffy, universally enjoyed, and great for every occasion sweet bread. Since the 1950s,  the company has been baking their own rendition of Portuguese sweet bread which is now found in supermarkets and on restaurant menus across the country.   

But in the 2010s, King's Hawaiian decided to branch out into the world of condiments by trying their hand at selling BBQ sauce (via PR Newswire). Gutsy? Oh yeah. There is plenty of competition when it comes to barbecue sauce, which has multiple popular variations across the mainland (aka the other 49 states), particularly in BBQ hot spots like Memphis, Kansas City and across North Carolina. (For the most part, Texans don't mess with the sweet, savory, and smoky condiment, opting instead to let the meat speak for itself.)  But considering the Aloha State has its own barbecue tradition, it makes perfect sense that King's Hawaiian would enter the fray.  

Can King's Hawaiian BBQ Sauce really stand on its own? With unique flavors and inspiration from the islands themselves, the company has gone head-to-head with fierce determination against the monarchs of the barbecue world, and considering their rich history, they deserve a shot at the crown. This is the untold truth of King's Hawaiian BBQ Sauce. 

It all started with sweet bread

Back in 1950, a young Japanese-American bakery student named Robert R. Taira opened his first bakeshop in the town of Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii (via King's Hawaiian). Since he was born in Hawaii, this seemed to be the most common sense thing to do. His original idea was to open a bakery in post-war Japan, but he was unable to get the permits. This was a blessing in disguise, because who knows if his bread would be as popular as it is today if those permits came through? 

Taira specialized in one thing: Portuguese sweet bread — what is now known as Hawaiian sweet bread — and he named his bakery after himself, because who wouldn't want to identify their name with the most amazing bread in the world? After the bakery's popularity grew substantially, Taira decided to close up and move his business to the neighboring, more populated island of Oahu (home to Pearl Harbor and Waikiki). He decided to set up shop on super-popular King Street, and rebranded the bakery "King's Bakery" in honor of its new location. 

King's Hawaiian BBQ sauce was inevitable

It seems strange to think that King's Hawaiian is no longer based in the land of aloha, but unfortunately it's true ... and a bit sad. King's Hawaiian Bakery on Oahu officially closed up shop on King Street in 1992, and according to their website, King's Hawaiian Bakery no longer has a brick and mortar location on any of the Hawaiian islands. They do, however, have multiple establishments on the mainland, specifically Southern California  (King's Hawaiian also recently opened a corporate office on the East coast, because Easterners must've been feeling left out of the ohana.)

After their move to Torrance, California in the '70s, the brand underwent another name change from King's Bakery to King's Hawaiian Bakery. Another big change came in 1988, when the company opened King's Hawaiian Bakery & Restaurant, which continues to be a popular eatery in Torrance. This was a signal that King's Hawaiian had bigger plans beyond bread, though it would still be a few more decades before the company took the plunge into the BBQ sauce business. 

Hawaii has a strong connection to barbecue

The food of Hawaii is an eclectic, melting pot of deliciousness. While the collection of islands has its own traditional foods like poi, the cuisine has been influenced by different ethnicities and demographics that call the island home (via Migrationology). "In the barbecue realm, you can detect obvious elements of Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Polynesian, and Portuguese cooking, just to name a few," says Tyyzen Patricio, owner of the restaurant GrindWitTryz (via The Manual). "The fusion has given rise to a lot of now signature dishes, many of which have crossed the Pacific to the contiguous U.S." 

At King's Hawaiian Restaurant and Bakery, you can taste exactly what Patricio is talking about with a menu that include multiple Hawaiian favorites such as Spam musabi (via King's Hawaiian). In particular, the restaurant brings the barbecue tradition of Hawaii to the mainland with dishes such as kalbi ribs, huli huli chicken, and kalua pork.

And, of course, we can't forget about the bread. In 1983, King's Hawaiian began offering a twelve pack of sweet bread dinner rolls (via King's Hawaiian). These tiny rolls are perfect for sliders, which, according to InterExchange, began gaining massive popularity in 2007 and can be found everywhere, from tailgating parties to restaurant menus. It was only a matter of time before King's Hawaiian rode the wave towards their next tasty venture: bbq sauce.

King's Hawaiian started selling their BBQ sauces in 2016

In the '00s, King's Hawaiian expanded further to include a bakery and café a little over four miles from their flagship restaurant. Coincidentally, it was also only a mile away from their corporate headquarters. Owning a restaurant and a café (each with their own bakery), coupled with the popularity of King's Hawaiian sweet main product, you'd think that they'd been selling BBQ sauce for years. The truth is that they only jumped onto the sauce bandwagon within the past decade. 

In May 2016, King's Hawaiian revealed that they would begin selling their Hawaiian-inspired BBQ sauces in select grocery stores and retailers around the nation (via PR Newswire). They started with four different flavors: Original Sweet Pineapple, Light Roast Kona Coffee, Big Island Lava (the element of fire with red jalapeños), and Smoked Bacon (because everything's better with bacon). Two years, they debuted a fifth delectable sauce, Sweet Island Ginger, which has a teriyaki influence (via Twitter). 

Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, the only sauce available for purchase is Sweet Island Ginger, currently in stock on their website for a limited time. Original Sweet Pineapple, Smoked Bacon, and Big Island Lava are expected to be back in stock online in February.

Certain King's Hawaiian sauces pair better with certain meats

While you can't go wrong with any of King's Hawaiian BBQ sauce options, certain flavors work better with certain proteins. You can't just go slathering the volcanic Big Island Lava BBQ on your grilled halibut and expect it to not completely destroy the subtle buttery-ness of the fish. That's why King's Hawaiian has marinade and grilling suggestions on their website.

For example, their tangy Original Pineapple compliments both land and sea dwelling fare (fish, burgers, chicken, and pork), while Smoky Bacon BBQ goes best with, you guessed it, the all-American grilling trifecta: steak, burgers, and ribs. Though no longer in production, Light Roast Kona Coffee BBQ goes best with burgers, ribs, and pork, though not fish, per Food Beast. (If you're lucky enough to come across a bottle, grab it.) Chicken — specifically wings and drumsticks — mesh well with the fiery Big Island Lava. Lastly, Sweet Island Ginger seems to be the universal sauce that snuggles up best with grilled veggies, chicken, pork, and pretty much anything else you want to put in your mouth.