Perhaps you can relate to this experience: You have just eaten some truly amazing ribs, coated with a shiny, sticky, sweet, smokey sauce. You ask your host what the secret is to such irresistible ribs, and you are met with an unapologetic smile and a shrug of the shoulders. It is immediately apparent that you’re not gaining access to that information any time soon.
You may think a secret barbecue sauce recipe has to be incredibly complex, with spices sourced from distant lands, and created over years of trial and error. But the truth is likely the opposite. A barbecue sauce bought from the local store or online; yes, straight from the bottle, could well be their secret. So simple, it is a little embarrassing.
So, I’ve put together a list of the best sauces you can get online, as well as some handy information to help you determine what the perfect sauce is for you, how to jazz up a boring sauce, and how to use barbecue sauce to create truly memorable barbecue.
Click to jump straight to each topic
Sweet Baby Ray’s Barbecue Sauce
A versatile, sweet barbecue sauce, this is the “go-to” product for many a barbecue aficionado, and consistently makes an appearance in lists of “best barbecue sauces”.
- Award winning barbecue sauce
- Squeezable plastic bottles
- Twin pack (40 oz each)
Sweet Baby Ray’s is not only great for barbecuing pork, chicken and ribs, but can also be used if you plan on grilling, or cooking your meat in the oven. With so many applications, it is certainly a top notch sauce to have on hand.
This award winning Kansas City-Style sauce delivers the classic “barbecue sauce” flavor. So as long as you are not expecting a product that will redefine your concept of barbecue sauce, this could well be the sauce for you.
Sweet Baby Ray’s comes in a handy squeezable bottle, and is gluten free.
Flavor: Sweet, with a slight tang.
Main Ingredients: Corn syrup, vinegar, tomato paste, food starch, spices, juice concentrate.
This sauce is available in a 2 x 40 ounce pack, which is great news for Sweet Baby Ray fans, as they will go through this sauce like lightning.
Stubb’s Bar-B-Q Sauce
If you love Texas-style barbecue sauce, Stubb’s, which has been around since 1968, might just be the ticket.
- Quality ingredients, authentic flavor, glass bottle. Made with tomato, vinegar, molasses and black pepper for a bold, tangy taste
- Made in the USA; Kosher
- Gluten-free; non-GMO project verified
Thinner in texture and more sour and tart than sweet, this sauce will bring a real point of difference to your barbecue. With flecks of garlic and pepper visible, you know from the moment you lay your eyes on this sauce that you are in for something more complex than your usual sweet ketchupy barbecue sauce.
The makers of this sauce use all natural ingredients, and have opted to stick with real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup.
Stubb’s comes in a glass bottle, giving the product an authentic, high end feel.
Flavor: Sour and tart.
Main Ingredients: Tomato paste, cane sugar, vinegar, molasses, brown sugar, salt and spices.
You can purchase Stubb’s in an 18 ounce bottle, and you can get them in a pack of 4 if you are a fan.
If you are not so keen on your average sweet barbecue sauce that you can pick up in the local store, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que sauce is worth a try. Hailing from the famous Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Saracyuse, NY, this sauce offers a more tomato based flavor, with just the slightest hint of heat.
This sauce performs just as well as a cooking sauce as it does as a barbecue sauce. It can be used on a variety of meats, making it a real all rounder.
This sauce is made of all natural products, and is gluten free.
Flavor: Tomato based flavor, with a tang.
Main Ingredients: Tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, mustard, spices.
You can get this sauce in a carton of 6 bottles, or in a pack of 3 online. The bottles are 19 ounces.
Bone Suckin Gourmet Foods BBQ Sauce
The good news for Bone Suckin Sauce fans out there— you can grab this sauce in a 64 ounce family pack. And given this sauce is a bit of a crowd pleaser, you will be glad to have a family pack to keep up with the demand. Sweeter and more in line with your classic Kansas-style barbecue sauce, this sauce will go well on any sort of meat.
This sauce is lower in sodium, and is not as strong in terms of flavor as other sauces. While some like their sauce to be packed with flavor, fans of Bone Suckin sauce appreciate that it does not overpower the flavour of the meat.
Bone Suckin is also made of all natural ingredients.
Flavor: Sweet and subtle.
Main Ingredients: Tomato paste, apple cider vinegar, honey, molasses, mustard, horseradish, lemon juice, onion, garlic and spices.
You can also grab this sauce in a 16 ounce 4 pack.
Cattleman’s Master’s Reserve Kansas City Classic BBQ Sauce
An old favorite of many barbecue fans, Cattleman’s Master is hard to find in stores these days. However, it can be found online; much to the relief of many barbecue lovers across the country. It is renowned as a well balanced sauce, with a nice level of spice.
- Cattleman's Master's Reserve Kansas City Classic BBQ Sauce - 1 Gal. Jug
Cattleman’s Master has more of a tang to it than other Kansas-Style sauces. While this is the very reason many love this sauce, you might like to try mixing Cattleman’s Master’s Reserve sauce in equal quantities with a slightly sweeter sauce such as Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce (either the original or the Honey BBQ variety) to create a sauce exactly to your taste.
While this sauce can be used on all meats, as well as pizza, Cattleman’s Master really comes into its own with pulled pork. Perhaps this is just the sauce you are looking for to create your signature pulled pork recipe.
Flavor: Tangy, and not as sweet as some other Kansas-style sauces.
Main Ingredients: Tomato paste, corn syrup, vinegar, molasses, salt, spices.
If you decide this is the sauce for you, you can grab it in a 1 gallon jug. Otherwise, it is also available in an 18 ounce bottle. This sauce is also gluten free.
What Makes a Good Barbecue Sauce?
While there is no way of categorically stating that a BBQ sauce is either “good” or “bad”, when deciding which sauce is right for you, or the right match for the meat you plan to cook, there are a few things you can look for to help you make a good choice.
For example, is the sauce the Kansas style or vinegar based? If you go for a Kansas style sauce, you can expect a thicker, sweeter sauce with a bit less spice. Typically, this style of sauce will come to mind when most Americans think of barbecue sauce, as this is the style you can easily get in a store.
If you prefer more heat, spice and tang, then perhaps you should try a vinegar based sauce, which is the type of sauce usually used in North Carolina and Texas.
While the texture of your sauce does not in itself determine the quality of the product, it will help you decide how to best use the sauce. Do you want to use it as more of a condiment? Then perhaps a thicker sauce will work best. Want to use it in a recipe? Then a thinner sauce will do the trick, especially if it packs a punch flavor-wise.
A great tip from seriouseats.com is to take into consideration the aroma of the sauce. As their grilling and sauce columnist states:
“You can have a perfectly cooked rib or pulled pork, but top it with an off-smelling sauce, and the whole thing becomes an unfortunate experience.”
How to Improve a Store Bought Barbecue Sauce
You have run out of your favorite barbecue sauce, and you have guests coming for dinner. The only option is to run down town and grab a bottle of underwhelming store bought barbecue sauce, which tastes like sweetened tomato paste, to be frank. Is this a monumental disaster? Not at all! There is plenty you can do to improve a store bought barbecue sauce.
The video below has some good suggestions.
Add spice and heat
If you are after a little more spice in an otherwise bland sauce, try mixing in some of your favourite hot sauce. Take it easy though, you don’t want to get the balance of flavor wrong. Mix a little together first and have a taste. If they seem to be a good match, pour your barbecue sauce in a bowl, and slowly add the hot sauce till you reach the sweet spot.
You can also add some heat to your sauce by mixing some chilli flakes or chilli powder into your barbecue sauce. Habanero and cayenne are great options which are easy to source in your local store, but don’t be afraid to experiment with other types of chilli.
To add spice, with some smoky flavor to boot, try adding some chipotle pepper to your sauce. This can be added in powder form. If you buy your chipotle peppers canned, just process the peppers into a paste and add that to your sauce. If you have the dried pods, rehydrate them by soaking them in water, then blend them up and add the paste to your barbecue sauce.
If you are after a smoky flavor without the extra spice that chipotle peppers bring, then try adding a pinch of dried cumin powder. Start with a small amount and add until you are happy with the result.
Perhaps you feel that the balance is still out in your sauce, and it needs more of a tang. Try adding some vinegar. Again, add the vinegar slowly, a teaspoon at a time until you feel that the taste is just right.
Other spices that go well to improve a sauce are: ground mustard powder, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper. For more inspiration, check out the ingredients list of your favorite barbecue sauce, and try adding some of these.
Once you have your signature sauce just right, set it aside for around 30 minutes to let those flavors really combine.
You might just create something better than you can buy!
Tips for Using Barbecue Sauce
How Much Sauce Should I Use?
You don’t need to load up your meat with gallons of sauce to get a great result. Remember, the flavor of the meat and the smoke should really be the stars of the show. One or two coats of sauce on your meat while it cooks is enough. Meathead Goldwyn of Amazingribs.com gives a rough guide:
“A full slab of spareribs with the tips still on will need at least 3/4 cup of a thick sauce for both sides, a slab of St. Louis cut ribs will need 1/2 cup, and a slab of baby back ribs will need 1/3 cup.”
If your guests are big fans of barbecue sauce, you can always put some more sauce out on the table so they can top up if they like.
When Should I Apply the Sauce?
The sugar content in a barbecue sauce means that it can burn quickly. To avoid this, apply the sauce toward the end of the cook. This allows time for the sauce to heat and perhaps even caramelize, but not burn. Applying the sauce about 30 mins before the meat is ready to be taken off the heat is a good rule of thumb.
You can also “sizzle the sauce”. Just before you are ready to take your meat off the heat, coat it in sauce, and apply each side to direct, high heat for about 10 minutes. To ensure you don’t overcook the meat in the process, sizzling the sauce about 30 minutes before your cook would have finished will yield the best results for both the sauce and the meat.
Make sure you keep a very close eye on the meat if you decide to sizzle the sauce. Due to the sugar content, you could very quickly end up with a slab of meat coated in charcoal instead of a sweet, smoky glaze.
A word of warning— never reuse the leftover barbecue sauce that you used to coat your meat with. Even if your meat was almost cooked at the time you applied the sauce, there is still a risk that microbes and spores that live in un/undercooked meat could spread.
Use a separate bowl for the sauce you coat your meat with, and discard any sauce you don’t use to coat the meat with. Always place fresh, uncontaminated sauce on the table as a condiment.
Wrapping it up
A great barbecue sauce, expertly applied, can be that final touch that makes a meal truly memorable. Whether you are on the hunt for a great sauce you can use straight out of the bottle, or are happy to experiment and make your own exclusive secret sauce, I hope you have found this article helpful.
You may also want to check out our guide to the best barbecue rubs you can buy online.
Have you found a great brand of barbecue sauce that you think is worth sharing? Or do you have any questions that were not covered in this post? Be sure to leave a comment below. And if you found this article helpful, don’t forget to share!
Last update on 2019-03-19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API