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From supermarket staples to the more obscure, these are the best BBQ sauces to slather on this summer.
Senior Editor / Home and Kitchen
I live in Brooklyn where I write about food subscriptions, cooking, kitchen gadgets and commerce. Anything with sesame is my all-time favorite food this week.
Can we all agree that the best thing aboutis the sauce? I’ll slather that sweet and smoky stuff on just about anything that touches my grill and I try to have at least a few different styles on hand for any backyard bash.
There are dozens of BBQ sauces in the supermarket alone and many more available from small producers online. To find the best BBQ sauces for summer 2022, I gathered some friends to be fellow testers and slathered on 15 bottles of sauce in various styles for the ultimate presummer showdown. Although we mostly come from regions where sweeter sauces dominate, I do also enjoy vinegar-based sauces, so this list is as unbiased as we could make it.
It’s all relative, of course, but most pitmasters agree that balance is key to a great BBQ sauce. Most sauces are made with a tomato base, vinegar, some sweetener like honey or molasses and an element of heat. From there, sauces are fine-tuned with spices and flavors, such as mustard, garlic, fruit and smoke. Any sauce that’s too overwhelming in any one direction usually doesn’t work well. And supersimple sauces without much spice or complexity often fall flat.
We tasted many traditional Kanas City-style sauces for this list, a host of vinegar-heavy Carolina-style sauces, some keto-friendly sauces and even an Alabama white sauce to see which ones really tickled our tastebuds. We tried each one with plain unseasoned chicken breast since it’s a rather blank slate as far as classic grilled foods go. When tasting, we noted things like overall balance, heat, sweetness, overwhelming flavors or anything else that jumped out — both bad and good.
It took a lot of napkins to find the best BBQ sauces of 2022. Here they are.
Full Moon is a regional chain of BBQ restaurants in Alabama and Mississippi that’s been in operation since 1986. You won’t likely find Full Moon’s incredible sauce on store shelves, but it can be purchased online for $6.49 per bottle. Thank goodness for that because this classic-style sauce has a near-perfect balance of sweetness, smokiness, tang and spice.
If you prefer to scoop your BBQ sauce up from the store, Stubb’s stuff can be found in most supermarkets and it’s an excellent alternative to Full Moon. Like the winner above, Stubb’s has a good balance with no single flavor taking over. This one is thick but not gloppy and gets its sweetness from brown sugar (no corn syrup) with a good kick from lots of black pepper.
I’ve been on the Bachan’s bandwagon for some time now and I don’t plan on hopping off. Bachan’s is atypical compared with classic BBQ sauces in that it’s laced with Japanese flavors, giving it a huge umami punch. You’ll notice soy sauce immediately, along with sesame, ginger and a delicate sweetness. This is one of the thinner sauces so it might not adhere as well to ribs and chicken or caramelize as others do, so it’s probably best used as a finishing sauce.
Bachan’s is also pricey at $14 for one bottle, but snag two and the price drops to $12 each. (Trust me, you’ll want more than one bottle.)
This rich, dark and smoky sauce is made by a small producer in North Carolina. It’s probably the most flavor-packed sauce we tried, with a big sweetness that’s cut with rich, smoky hickory and lots of heat. There’s a lot going on here but it harmonizes nicely to create one very tasty sauce.
At under $3 a bottle, this was the favorite of the “cheap” BBQ sauces, and it’s one you’ll find easily in most grocery stores or on Amazon. Bull’s-Eye has a formidable sweetness but gets great balance from mustard, garlic and natural hickory smoke. If you go through sauce like water during spring and summer, this is a great sauce to stock up on for ribs, chicken and burgers.
If you’re a hot sauce junkie looking for a BBQ sauce, Texas Pete’s Eastern Carolina sauce is the one to get. Texas Pete is a hot sauce maker, first and foremost, and so this spin on vinegar-heavy Carolina-style sauce tastes quite a bit like hot sauce but with a subtle sweetness and tomato tang. It’s made with just five ingredients and no corn syrup. At 15 calories per serving, it’s probably the “healthiest” BBQ sauce on this list.
I’ll be honest, this wasn’t one of my personal favorites, but some of the other tasters with a penchant for sweeter foods were really into it. Sweet Baby Ray’s (hey, it’s right there in the name) is made with corn syrup and pineapple juice and is so sweet it can be overwhelming. It’s also rather thick, almost like a BBQ jam or jelly. If you’re a BBQ lover with a sweet tooth, this is the sauce you should stock. Plus, it’s cheap at just $2 per bottle.