Barbecue sauce is a major force in Southern cuisine. Each top BBQ region has its own style of sauce, and professional pit chefs work hard to develop recipes that complement the flavors of their grilled and smoked dishes. But if you're looking to save some time by using a high-quality, store-bought barbecue sauce in your own kitchen (or on your grill), then we've got five widely-available recommendations to add to your shopping list.
Bachan's Original Japanese BBQ Sauce
For an excellent BBQ sauce that departs from "typical" American barbecue flavors, look to Bachan's, a California-based business founded by a Japanese family that relocated to the U.S. after World War II. Bachan's Original Japanese BBQ Sauce expertly combines BBQ sauce traditions from the South-tomato paste, sugar, garlic-with standout Japanese ingredients such as soy sauce, mirin (rice wine), ginger, and toasted sesame oil. The result is a bold, mouthwatering sauce that can be used as a condiment, marinade, or glazing agent. If you buy only one sauce on this list, make it Bachan's. (It's also one of this writer's favorites!)
Sweet Baby Ray's Original BBQ Sauce
A bottled BBQ sauce that makes cameos in grocery stores throughout the United States, Sweet Baby Ray's enjoys cult-classic status among barbecue fans thanks to its surprisingly complex blend of flavors and rich texture. Sweet Baby Ray's "Original" formula abides by the Kansas City style of barbecue sauce, with an undercurrent of warm, toasty sweetness thanks to molasses. Slightly tangy tomato paste mingles with garlic, mustard seed, and herbaceous celery seed, and a hint of pineapple juice lends brightness. The sauce has a rich texture that works well for on-the-grill glazing or post-grill dipping, and is especially tasty on pork ribs or pulled pork! Overall, Sweet Baby Ray's is a BBQ sauce that appeals to just about everyone, and its wide distribution and gentle price point make it satisfying and accessible.
Fiorella's Jack Stack Original Kansas City BBQ Sauce
Kansas City-style BBQ sauces are a popular sight on grocery store shelves throughout the United States. Their sweet-and-sour flavor appeals to a big percentage of American consumers, and it's easy to keep them shelf-stable. A Kansas City sauce with serious KC cred, Fiorella's Jack Stack Original BBQ Sauce is produced by the Fiorella family, who've been cooking up Kansas City BBQ since the 1950s and currently operate six BBQ joints in the Kansas City area. Their original sauce achieves a perfect balance of sweetness and tartness; there's plenty of zippy, vinegary acidity, but the molasses keeps it anchored. A current of smokiness weaves through the entire flavor profile, making this sauce a fitting partner for smoked ribs, burnt ends, baked beans, and other BBQ favorites.
Cattlemen's® Carolina Tangy Gold™ BBQ Sauce
Traditional "Carolina Gold" barbecue sauce includes mustard as its primary ingredient, so it makes sense that French's® (of French's® Classic Yellow Mustard) is the brand behind Cattlemen's® Carolina Tangy Gold™ BBQ Sauce, one of the best store-bought versions of this type of sauce. Cattlemen's Carolina Gold features enough mustard seed to clear your nasal passages, but that sensation is beautifully tempered by sweet molasses, sour apple cider vinegar, and a trace of hickory smoke. Carolina Gold BBQ sauce is traditionally paired with pork, and Cattlemen's is well-suited to that purpose. We squeezed this sauce on top of pulled pork and were impressed by the way that the spicy, smoky, tangy flavors melded with the pork's savory taste and aroma. That said, Cattlemen's Carolina Gold has a slightly lighter texture than many other store-bought sauces, so it's also a great match for more delicate grilled items like fish, chicken, and vegetables.
Trader Joe's Organic Sriracha Garlic BBQ Sauce
If your sauce preferences swing spicy, then Trader Joe's has a fantastic option for you. Although its name suggests that it's very different from a Kansas City-inspired BBQ sauce, the ingredients defy that expectation. You've got classic BBQ sauce ingredients like molasses, distilled vinegar, garlic, and tomato paste, but Trader Joe's also invites hot chili peppers such as habaneros, jalapeños, and cayenne to the party. There's also a hint of Worcestershire sauce to amp up the umami element. These tweaks turn TJ's Organic Sriracha Garlic BBQ Sauce into a dreamy addition to smoked and grilled meats, grilled vegetables, and other plant-based BBQ dishes (such as veggie burgers and grilled tofu).
Thanks to these well-made, widely-available BBQ sauces, home cooks have more opportunities than ever to experiment with their favorite grilled dishes and save time-without sacrificing flavor.