When you find the perfect barbecue sauce foror any other grilling affair, the options are many. You will find dozens of hot and sweet sauces on the market and many more are available online from small producers. To find the best barbecue sauce for 2022, I grilled, squeezed and licked my fingers during a storm. I personally put together 15 bottles of sweet, spicy, smoky, and vinegary sauces with several very enthusiastic barbecue-loving friends (aka taste testers) for one final pre-summer showdown.
A quick note: In the north, the sweeter varieties dominate the sauce market, but we all enjoy vinegar-based sauces too, so we’ve included several Carolina BBQ sauces (among other styles) to make this list as inclusive and impartial as possible.
What makes a good barbecue sauce?
It’s all relative, but most pitmasters agree that balance is the key to great barbecue sauce. Most sauces are made with a tomato base, vinegar, a sweetener like honey or molasses, and a hot ingredient. From there, the sauces are refined with spices and flavors, such as mustard, garlic, fruit and smoke. Any sauce that’s too overwhelming in one direction usually doesn’t work well. And super simple sauces without too much spice or complexity often fall flat.
We’ve tasted many traditional Kansas City style sauces for this list, a slew of high vinegar Carolina style sauces, keto-friendly sauces, Bachan’s cult Japanese style sauce, and a few Alabama white sauces. to see which ones really tickled. our taste buds. We tried each with plain unseasoned chicken breast, as this is a pretty blank slate as far as classic grilled foods go. When tasting, we noted things like overall balance, warmth, sweetness, overpowering flavors, or anything else that jumped out – both bad and good.
It took a lot of napkins to find the best barbecue sauce in 2022. Here they are.
Full Moon is a regional chain of barbecue restaurants in Alabama and Mississippi that has been in business since 1986. You probably won’t find Full Moon’s amazing sauce on store shelves, but it can be purchased online for $6. $49 a bottle. Thank goodness for this classic style sauce has a near perfect balance of sweetness, smoke, heat and spice.
If you prefer to pick up your barbecue sauce at the store, Stubb’s products can be found in most supermarkets and are a great alternative to Full Moon. Like the winner above, Stubb’s has a good balance without any flavor taking over. This one is thick but not gooey and gets its sweetness from brown sugar (not corn syrup) with a nice kick from lots of black pepper.
I’ve been on the Bachan bandwagon for quite some time now and I have no intention of getting out of it. Bachan’s is atypical of classic barbecue sauces in that it is laced with Japanese flavors, giving it a huge umami punch. You will immediately notice the soy sauce, accompanied by sesame, ginger and a delicate sweetness. It’s one of the thinner sauces, so it may not stick as well to ribs and chicken or caramelize as others, so it’s probably best used as a finishing sauce.
Bachan’s is also pricey at $14 for a 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 tastiest sauce we’ve tried, with great sweetness that’s cut with rich, smoky hickory and lots of heat. There’s a lot going on here, but it all comes together well to create a very flavorful sauce.
At less than $3 a bottle, it was a favorite of the “cheap” BBQ sauces, and it’s the one you’ll easily find at most grocery stores or on Amazon. Bull’s-Eye has a killer sweetness but achieves a great balance of mustard, garlic and natural hickory smoke. If you go through the sauce like water in the spring and summer, this is a great stocking sauce for ribs, chicken, and burgers.
If you’re a hot sauce junkie looking for a barbecue sauce, Texas Pete’s Eastern Carolina Sauce is the one for you. Texas Pete is primarily a hot sauce maker, and so this high-vinegar Carolina-style sauce tastes a bit like hot sauce, but with a subtle sweetness and tomato flavor. It’s made with just five ingredients and no corn syrup. At 15 calories per serving, it’s probably the “healthiest” barbecue sauce on this list.
Sweet Baby Ray’s
I’ll be honest, it wasn’t one of my personal favorites, but some of the other tasters with a fondness 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 barbecue jam or jelly. If you’re a barbecue lover with a sweet tooth, this is the sauce for you. Plus, it’s inexpensive at just $2 a bottle.
Other BBQ Sauces We Tried That Didn’t Work
- : This sauce was positively addictive, but it might be a stretch to call it barbecue sauce. I know Alabamans might not like to hear this, but Full Moon White Sauce is more like a really rich and flavorful ranch with lots of mustard, garlic and Worcestershire.
- : This is another one that we all really liked. It has nice balance and strong spice, but eventually some of the others just pushed it off the top.
- : This sauce has a nice complex flavor but a bit too much vinegar punch for us. If you like really hot sauces, this might be a good choice.
- : With only 10 calories and 3 grams of carbs per serving, this sauce was definitely edible, but not one of our favorites.
- This one had very little dimension and was more like lightly smoked ketchup than a good BBQ sauce.
- : This sauce wasn’t terrible but had too much vinegar for most of us.
- It looked more like honey mustard than barbecue sauce. Not bad, but did not meet our requirements for this round of testing.
- : This Carolina-style sauce is flavorful but with so much vinegar, it’s less of a traditional BBQ sauce and more of a thin finishing sauce for pulled pork.