The Ultimate Guide to Barbecue Sauce

it’s pride and Barbecue season, sweeties, which means it’s time for a rainbow spread of grilled veggies and racks of baby backs. but for me this is the sauce. From basic classics to sa cha and teriyaki, there are as many sauces as rai on barbecue, and if you’ve ever stood in the middle of the grocery aisle wondering which sauce to choose, you’re probably my people.

In my family, barbecue was part of a larger tradition of bonding with the family and enjoying the summer outside. My dad was a Southern guy from Alabama who knew a thing or two about barbecue and sauces. We lived in an apartment building in New York City, so the best options for us were to roast indoors or grill at my Uncle Ronnie’s house. My dad and his brother would marinate slabs of chicken and pork and beef ribs in a large bucket with Dr. Pepper or Coca-Cola, maybe a beer, and store-bought barbecue sauce. Yes, I said store-bought. By the time the meat caught fire, 90 percent of the flavor had been done. The remaining 10 percent, which could not be compromised, was the second finishing sauce.

My dad loved the classic, “basic” barbecue sauce. He often jazzed them up with some adobo seasoning and a can or two of dark soda and always had an old painter’s brush on hand for tasting. And choosing the right barbecue sauce to complement your personal barbecue beliefs is an art in itself, requiring a little self-reflection.

you can always Make Your Own Barbecue Sauce Alabama White Sauce with mayo, salt, thick black pepper, a pinch of sugar, and fresh-squeezed lemon juice or apple cider vinegar is my number one easy go-to. But as my dad knew, and Ina Garten says, “store-bought is fine.” To help you decide which store-bought sauce is your ideal, I bought every variety of sauce you can find on grocery shelves and divided them into five flavor categories. Here’s the fall:


a bottle of Kraft Original Barbecue Sauce

There is nothing like the original. While no barbecue sauce is 100 percent like another, most barbecue sauces with labels that declare them “original” use the same basic building blocks: tomatoes, vinegar, molasses or sugar, apple or pineapple juice, garlic. , mustard powder, and spices. Depending on the brand, some people prefer sweets while others rely more on spices like chili and paprika powder. A basic is a great blank canvas, neutral enough for most barbecue dishes without calling too much attention to the party.

Some basics to try:

  • Sweet Baby Ray’s Barbecue Sauce: One of the most common basic sauces is Sweet Baby Ray’s. This version has a great balance of sweetness and acidity, giving it a measured punch of tang.
  • Kraft Original Barbecue Sauce: This version is heavily flavored with tomato and brown sugar, but it also has an interesting spice blend with notes of paprika and garlic. It’s a great base to jazz up with frozen cherries or blueberries for a fruity spin.
  • Trader Joe’s Kansas City Style BBQ Sauce: Once missing from Trader Joe’s collection, it’s a combo of sweet and tangy, great on grilled pork chops or sliced ​​up on a smash burger. The thickness of the molasses makes it perfect for pairing with acidic toppings like pickles or jalapenos.


a bottle of sweet honey barbecue sauce

A bottle of Stub's Sticky Sweet Barbecue Sauce

We love a sweetheart. Popular barbecue sauces with names like “Sweet Brown Sugar” or “Sweet Honey” often contain all the ingredients of the original but with a generous amount of sugar. Sauces labeled “sweet” also contain fewer spices than the original seasoning. A sweet alternative is great for lending a sweet punch to a savory bread or heavily salted piece of meat, or to offset a spicy or heavily seasoned dish like jerky wings or blackened salmon.

Sweet Sauces to Try:

  • Sweet Baby Ray’s Sweet Vidalia Onion Barbecue Sauce: This flavored barbecue sauce has the pungent flavor of raw onions, is reminiscent of vacuum-packed onion hot dog topping, and goes well with chicken or ribs. That onion flavor can be enhanced by folding in caramelized onions or onion jam.
  • Kraft Sweet Honey Barbecue Sauce: It’s just what you’d expect from the name, and it makes a great base for a homemade jerky sauce.
  • Stub’s Sticky Sweet Bar-BQ Sauce: A gluten-free and sweet-tasting alternative. I love this sauce for its rich sweetness and texture, especially when cooked with whiskey, bourbon or beer, which is great on salmon or chicken.


A bottle of Stubb's Barbecue Sauce

A Bottle of Sweet Baby Ray's Honey Chipotle Barbecue Sauce

For me, spicy sauce tops the charts. The seasoning brings out the heat, baby, and also adds an element of surprise to your barbecue dishes. But there is much more to it. My favorite spicy barbecue sauce brings out a heat that slowly creeps in on you, without moving too much. This unique burning sensation comes from hot chili powder, serrano chile peppers, cayenne pepper, black pepper and even Sriracha. Spicy barbecue sauces are great on burgers or for dipping potato wedges or sweet potato fries. I love the idea of ​​mixing a spicy barbecue sauce with a creamy mayonnaise or sour cream to turn down some of the heat. You can also try lightening the spice with fruit juices such as apple, lemon, orange, or pineapple.

Spicy Sauces to Try:

  • Trader Joe’s Organic Sriracha and Roasted Garlic BBQ Sauce: Sometimes store-bought just saves you time and tastes. A spicy sauce favorite for its iconic Sriracha addition, it’s great not only to slather on your barbecue dishes but also to mix with mayo to spread on bread. Plus, when you don’t have time to roast your garlic, this chutney has done the job for you.
  • Stub’s Spicy Bar-BQ Sauce: While there is a huge element of spice here, the flavor keeps you coming back for more. If it’s too hot, feel free to tame it with honey or ketchup. But then again, it’s called “spicy” for a reason.
  • Sweet Baby Ray’s Honey Chipotle Barbecue Sauce: This is one of my favorite combos from the brand. The heat and spice give grilled veggies such as corn on the cob or mushroom caps a boost. This is a wonderful addition to your spicy barbecue sauce collection.


A bottle of Sweet Baby Ray's Hickory and Brown Sugar Barbecue Sauce

I’ll be honest, I’m not a big fan of smoky barbecue sauces, which tend to be very smoke-forward in flavor and have a high molasses-sugar content. Hickory barbecue has a common smoky flavor profile, and many achieve that flavor by using sauces. liquid smoke, which is made by burning hickory at high temperatures to produce smoke which is then collected and transformed. Too much of that liquid smoke can be overwhelming, but for some brands, the smoke tastes better when the sauce is cooked or heated rather than eaten straight from the bottle.

Smoky Sauce to Try:

Teriyaki, Japanese, Hawaiian and Korean

There is a whole world of barbecue sauces that don’t fit into the above four categories, many of which draw inspiration from the barbecue traditions of other cultures. For example, teriyaki sauce contains high concentrations of sugar, sometimes pineapple and citrus, honey, soy sauce and ginger. Hawaiian barbecue sauce is sweet with high acidity. And I’m a sucker for Korean barbecue sauce, which can have a high sugar content but is loaded with green onions, ginger, onion, black pepper, and sesame oil.

A bottle of Bachman's Japanese Barbecue Sauce

Sauces to try:

  • of promiseThe original Japanese barbecue sauce has been perfected for generations and is a crave-worthy sauce filled with umami. Widely available online, it contains a blend of ginger, garlic, rice vinegar, mirin and toasted sesame oil. I like to dip a pulled-pork bao bun with this sauce.
  • Kraft Sweet Teriyaki Barbecue Sauce: With notes of ginger and sesame, it would be great on a sliced ​​hot dog.
  • CJ Korean BBQ Original Sauce, Kalbi: This is a great pickling sauce for any meat. The sweet, tangy, umami flavor transports you to authentic Korean barbecue. With charred ribs and topped with sesame seeds this sauce will turn your barbecue table into an unforgettable meal.

make them yours

Despite the uniqueness of each sauce, I still end up jazzing up store-bought barbecue sauce every year. If your store doesn’t have the exact sauce you’re looking for, you can get closer to what you had in mind by putting your own spin on one of the bottles available. Here are some of my favorite twists for jazzing up sauces:

  • For heat, add regular or pickled jalapenos, dried or fresh chili peppers, or cayenne.
  • For extra depth and richness, throw in some sweet onion jam, or a head of roasted garlic, or canned crushed pineapple.
  • To add interest with spices, use cumin, coriander, turmeric, berbere, sumac and smoked paprika.
  • For texture, add pieces of cooked bacon or chopped pickles.
  • For creaminess and zip, add mayo, lemon juice, mustard, Worcestershire, hot sauce and grated garlic.
  • To accentuate the citrus, add orange, lime, or orange zest, or all three.
  • For a bite and a loaf, add horseradish or spicy mustard.

Whether you buy store-bought or make your own barbecue sauce from scratch, the most important ingredient is your self-expression. If you’re feeling spicy, spice it up. If you’re more into a smoky woodsy vibe, go that route. There are really no wrong turns. Pride and Barbecue are all about honesty, enjoyment and risk-taking.

Lazarus Lynch is a multi-hyphenated artist and cookbook author, Son of a Southern Chef: Cook With Soul.
Clay Williams Brooklyn based photographer.

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