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A long-time contributor to SeriouslySmoked. Jim has had a lifelong relationship with the art of grilling, passed on from his father and grandfather to him.
Doug is a hardcore barbeque enthusiast and connoisseur. While he spends most of his time on editing and research, he sometimes moonlights as a product tester for particularly interesting things he comes across.
Barbeque sauce evokes a specific thought in your head, the usual basic mix of brown sugar, tomatoes, Worcestershire, and all those other fun ingredients that make that thick, goopy mess that livens up all our favorite barbeque dishes.
That sauce is a classic, and very good: but it’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to barbeque sauces. There are as many types of sauces as there are types of barbeque, from all over the United States and beyond. Each has its own unique ingredients, flavor, and dishes that you can make with it, and choosing the right sauce can take a dish from mundane to extraordinary, in a number of different ways.
From Carolina Vinegar down to gochujang, and everything in between, here are my favorite barbeque sauces, and a quick guide to picking what you like.
What to Look for in a Great BBQ Sauce?
As mentioned, there are a ton of different kinds of barbeque sauce. All the best ones will be made from natural ingredients, and usually a fairly small number of them. A sauce’s ingredients are kind of like paint; if you add too many you just end up with kind of a dull blah sauce in terms of both taste and texture.
If your sauce of choice manages to sidestep that, it should have some kind of distinct flavor profile. This is just sort of what its basic taste structure is, and is going to be determined in large part by what the main ingredient of the sauce is. This is also going to generally be what determines the texture of your sauce, whether it’s thick or thin.
For example, a standard barbeque sauce is largely tomato based; a mix of tomato sauce or puree and tomato paste that gives it its thickness. Then you add in ingredients like brown sugar, for sweetness, and Worcestershire sauce for a bit more umami. Combined with the other ingredients you get a sauce that is both savory and sweet in equal measures.
But as a counterexample, there are a lot of sauces with a vinegar base, like the Carolina Vinegar barbeque sauce type I mentioned. These are also made from simple ingredients, and largely let the vinegar do the talking with a bit of backup from certain herbs and spices that mellow out the bitterness.
There are as many flavor profiles as there are sauces, but those two bases are the most common. While there are some prominent nonstandard sauce bases out there (chili paste for gochujang for bibimbap sauce, and horseradishes for an Alabama white sauce as big examples) for the most part you’ll be dealing with those two primary suspects.
From there, you’ll want to look at what your other ingredients are, as that can change things up. The addition of honey to a standard barbeque sauce creates a honey barbeque; much sweeter than the norm. More spices in your Carolina vinegar might get you something closer to a hot sauce in terms of flavor, that has heat as its primary deciding factor for flavor.
Having a good idea of what goes into each of these is important, as it determines what you can use it for.
As an example, bitter flavors go excellently with pork, and sometimes chicken. This can be anything from a standard white vinegar, to a Balsamic, to a natural acidic flavor like lemons or other citrus. These flavors tend to go less well with something like beef, which might occasionally like a kiss of lime, but plays poorly with overpowering flavors, since the stronger taste of the meat will clash a lot, leading to an unsatisfying meal.
Likewise a thicker sauce is generally going to go better on straight cuts of meat, while a thinner sauce might go well with a pulled pork or chicken, or some other sliced or chopped meat option.
Ultimately though the most important thing is whether you actually like the taste of a sauce or not. If you know you can’t handle spices, stay away from spicier sauces, as an easy example. If you have a sweet tooth, try a honey barbeque, but maybe stay away from the more vinegary options if those kinds of things don’t suit your palate well.
It’s all a matter of taste, pun definitely intended.
This coming annual celebration let us help you find the perfect meal that will match perfectly to your bbq sauce. This is also perfect as a gift to friends and family.
Scott’s Carolina Barbeque Sauce
Scott’s Carolina Barbeque Sauce
Traeger Grills Sweet & Tangy Apricot BBQ Sauce
Traeger Grills Sweet & Tangy Apricot BBQ Sauce
Traeger Grills Sugar Lips Glaze
Traeger Grills Sugar Lips Glaze
9 Best BBQ Sauces of 2021
1. Scott’s Carolina Barbeque Sauce
Why You'll Love It
A deliciously tangy, vinegary sauce that is great for all sorts of barbeque. Carolina Vinegar sauces go especially well with pork, both ribs and rumps, and even make for a great dipping sauce for various other foods. Exceptional for pulled pork or chicken sandwiches.
- Deliciously bitter flavor.
- Perfect for pulled pork and other barbeque sandwiches.
- Simple but high quality ingredients.
- Great value for the price.
- Vinegary flavor can be a bit intense for some people.
Carolina vinegar sauces are my absolute favorite sauces for several kinds of barbeque. Mostly, pulled pork and chicken are enhanced a whole lot over their thicker, sweeter cousins. In general, my preference lies toward bitter or tangy flavors, in almost anything I eat. Whether I’m cooking with lime juice, wine, or vinegar, I like flavors that really zap the tongue.
To that end, this sauce is perfect. It’s a fairly thin sauce, perfect for soaking into pulled meats. It provides an out of this world savory, tangy, and sweet flavor that is cut just enough by the bread of your sandwich that it doesn’t overwhelm your taste buds.
Even as Carolina vinegar sauces go (I think they’re all pretty good), this one is exceptional. Don’t miss out on it.
2. Traeger Grills Sweet & Tangy Apricot BBQ Sauce
Why You'll Love It
This is a very nice sweet sauce, going well with pretty much anything. Apricot is a fruit people have a bit less experience with eating on average than many other sweet sauces (blueberry, apple, etc.), lending it a more indescribably tasty flavor than similar sauces.
- Deliciously sweet flavor.
- Great for a wide variety of foods, but especially pork.
- Great price for the quality and bottle size.
- A little thin, making it decent for many things, but hard to stick a thick layer to foods.
If you like sweet sauces, this is one of the best out there. Apricots are an interesting fruit. If you’ve never had one, they may seem like a strange fruit for making a sauce out of. They sit somewhere in terms of taste at the confluence of a fig, apple, and a plum, with a strikingly sweet taste.
Thankfully, like most good apricot sauces, this barbeque sauce cuts that raw fruity sweetness with a great deal of savory goodness and different varieties of sweet flavor that make a remarkably complex and rich sauce.
It works well for a lot of things, but is particularly at home on pork; this is one of the best rib sauces I’ve ever had.
The only complaints I’d potentially level are with its thickness (or lack thereof), and sweetness. Obviously I like the sweetness, but it’s certainly a barbeque sauce made for people with a sweet tooth; you’re probably not going to be pleasantly surprised by its taste if sweet flavors aren’t already to your preference.
The thickness is more of a mixed back. It makes the sauce more versatile in some ways, with uses as a mopping sauce, and this is not the kind of sauce you’d want to use as a dipping sauce in any case. However, it does make it difficult to stick it to less craggy meats, which can include those aforementioned pork ribs; this is a sauce that needs to be applied in a lot of thin little layers instead of setting it and forgetting it.
3. Traeger Grills Sugar Lips Glaze
Why You'll Love It
This sweet and slightly vinegary sauce is the most versatile one Traeger has, fitting well with pretty much anything with a strong enough flavor to stand on its own. Whether it’s beef, chicken, pork, or even a particularly strong fish (like salmon), it provides an excellent taste.
- Exceptionally sweet but basic flavor profile goes well with most meats.
- Good sized bottle for the price.
- Excellent sauce for people with a sweet tooth.
- A polarizing flavor; you either like extra sweet sauces or don’t.
Another great sauce for those with a sweet tooth, this is a sugary, delicious sauce that still carries a flavorful savory kick to it to help counterbalance that overwhelming sweetness.
There’s no real special trick to this one, it’s just a fairly standard sweet sauce that’s great on most kinds of meat, which is okay; not every sauce needs to have some kind of quirk to it.
Still, that could be considered a drawback of its own; this will be a love it or hate it sauce. If you don’t like extra sweet sauces as much, there’s no unique feature that will be there to potentially shift your opinion.
4. Jay D’s Louisiana Barbeque Sauce
This absolutely beautiful sweet and spicy sauce helps give a Cajun style kick to any meal you’d care to. Hand crafted in small batches, with a wide array of complementary ingredients, it makes for a unique sauce that might not end up being your go-to, but is sure to be a crowd pleaser whenever it comes out.
- Unique flavor that pairs well with just about anything.
- Extremely spicy and tangy; flavor profiles a lot of barbeque sauces hint at but few dive deep into.
- Handcrafted in small batches for extra quality.
- Nice flask style bottle is reusable.
- Has a bit of a kick to it, in terms of heat, so may not be the best for people who like their sauces more savory and sweet than spicy.
This is a nice little sauce, with a unique and fairly hard to describe flavor. It takes a lot of the factors you’d expect to find in a barbeque sauce and puts a bit of a twist on them, resulting in a sauce that has a lot of zing to it.
It’s quite spicy for a barbeque sauce, incorporating Louisiana hot sauce, peppers, and Creole mustard with lemon juice and apple cider vinegar among the other ingredients. The result is a fairly thin sauce that faintly sings with flavor, and the thin coating that a sauce lacking in thickness like this provides more than enough to impart a delicious flavor to all manner of foods, but pairs especially well with pulled pork or chicken.
This sauce is not for everyone, I’d say, but if you like your barbeque sauce to have a bit of kick to it you’ll be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t pick this up. If nothing else it will be a unique experience, as there are few, if any, other sauces like this out there.
5. 4 Rivers Smokehouse Mustard Barbeque Sauce
Mustard based barbeque sauces are a truly unique beast, providing a wholly different flavor from most other barbeque sauces. This stuff is perfect for ribs and chicken, and makes for an excellent break from the norm if you’ve never tried it.
- Nonstandard flavor profile helps switch things up.
- Delicious mustard flavor excels on pork and chicken.
- Great quality and price.
- Excellent as both a dipping sauce and marinade.
- Perfect for pork ribs.
- Not great on beef.
- Can be an acquired taste.
The benefits of having a good mustard barbeque sauce on hand can’t be overstated. If you can find a good one, it has a strong chance of becoming your absolute favorite sauce to cook some foods. Particularly, BBQ short ribs.
To be frank, this is not my favorite mustard barbeque sauce. That honor goes to a little batch made sauce only sold locally in southern Alabama. However, this is a worthy replacement in terms of sauces that are widely available and easy to procure pretty much anywhere in the US.
The tangy, mustardy goodness goes well with a lot of things. It’s an excellent dipping sauce for everything from chicken tenders and French fries to a ham sandwich. But, its true power lies in using it as a marinade or mopping sauce, and as mentioned it goes especially well with pork and chicken; I’m not a fan when it comes to beef.
If you’re looking for something a little different than the norm, this is an excellent choice.
6. Traeger Grills Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy BBQ Sauce
- Great flavor works well with chicken or as a dipping sauce.
- Great quality for the price.
- Very unique flavor profile not found in many sauces.
- Limited utility given how poorly lemon flavors play with a lot of meats.
Leinenkugel’s makes some of my favorite beers, and particularly their Grapefruit Shandy is one of my favorites. While this sauce isn’t made from that exact one, it’s a similar enough flavor profile to really make me enjoy this sauce.
It’s very citrusy, with a nice lemony layer of flavor over the usual barbeque sauce suspects that make up the bulk of the sauce.
That’s both a blessing and a curse. It makes for a delicious sauce, but a somewhat limited one. Lemon flavors work really well for things they work on, primarily chicken and fish. They are…less welcome on other types of meats, like pork and beef. And given that putting barbeque sauce on fish is not exactly a common practice (though not COMPLETELY unheard of), what you’re left with is a sauce that makes stellar fish but has little utility beyond that.
If you want a vaguely sweet, vaguely sour sauce to put on your famous grilled chicken, this is a great sauce to pick up. Otherwise, consider giving it a pass.
7. Underwood Ranches Bibimbap Sauce
- Spicy chili sauce provides a unique kick and unforgettable flavor to food.
- Heavy on the spice, but not unpalatable.
- Great on pretty much any meat or vegetable; and extremely versatile sauce for cooking.
- Staple of Korean foods, and a good sauce to keep around for special occasions and culinary experimentation.
- Doesn’t make a great sauce for everyday use, unless you plan to make a ton of Korean dishes.
A staple of Korean barbeque, gochujang sauce (sometimes called bibimbap sauce due to its common use in that dish) is an interesting marriage of a hot sauce and a barbeque sauce, blurring the lines between the two.
It has spice to it, for sure, but also a ton of flavor, bringing a salty, savory or umami taste that complements meat perfectly. This is largely due to its nonstandard ingredient pool, combining chili paste, soy sauce, sesame oil, and a hint of ginger (among other things) to create a unique and unforgettable flavor.
This particular sauce is also kicked up a notch by the addition of red jalapenos, farm grown at Underwood’s ranches and put into the sauce fresh, resulting in a flavor that pops a lot more than most spicy sauces manage.
This is not a go to hot sauce, or barbeque sauce for that matter; at least to me. However, it’s an excellent sauce to keep in your back pocket for when you want to surprise some dinner guests, or maybe just switch things up a bit and make food that’s a bit different than the norm.
8. Stubb’s Moppin Sauce BBQ Baste
- Tasty and versatile vinegar based sauce.
- A little bit of spice, but not overwhelming.
- Tastes good on any kind of meat, and some vegetables.
- Cheap and widely available at grocery stores.
- It’s an extremely simple sauce with little in the way of unique aspects.
Stubb’s moppin sauce is a simple and easily available sauce that I love to keep around the house. It’s not my absolute favorite sauce in the world, for sure. But it provides something to my pantry that a lot of the more specialized or weird sauces don’t: consistency.
It has a vinegar base, with a little bit (but not too much) spice to it. It’s thin, but soaks into stuff quite well, and gives a nice little kick to your food.
In other words, this is the perfect “lazy sauce”. It tastes good on just about anything, and is perfect to just slather on whatever you throw on the grill for an easy meal in the middle of the week, or just whenever you don’t want anything too out there that you might have to properly pair foods with.
It tastes very good for what it is, is what I’m saying. As long as you aren’t expecting to be surprised by some exotic flavor, and don’t mind a vinegary zing. This sauce should more than get the job done for you.
9. Capital City Mambo Sauce Variety 2 Pack (Mild and Sweet Hot)
- Unique sweet and salty flavor profile.
- Excellent for use as both a sauce and a condiment.
- Good on everything, from foods like French fries to any kind of barbeque to traditional Korean dishes.
- Two packs give you a lot of value for the money.
- Easy to use squirt bottles.
- Very thin, so is of limited use as a basting sauce.
Mambo sauce has an interesting history, but that’s mostly irrelevant. What IS relevant: it’s really tasty. The recipe is also fairly simple overall, and produces a thin, runny sauce with a tasty vinegar and tomato base, citrus undertones, and a few other flavors that combine into a delicious salty, sweet, and sometimes lightly spicy sauce that is like nothing else around.
While this pushes the bounds of the definition of “barbeque sauce” a little bit, being closer to a condiment in a lot of ways, it’s used in enough barbeque dishes that I can give it a pass. It makes an excellent pulled pork and brisket sauce especially, but is at home on just about anything (which is what the locals tend to use it for; much like Maryland with its Old Bay seasoning, you can expect to find Mambo Sauce about as commonly as ketchup or mustard in D.C.).
If you’ve never tried it, this sauce is well worth picking up and taking a look at.
All of these barbeque sauces bring something to the table that the others don’t, in terms of flavor or utility. It’s hard to pick a proper best one, but eventually I settled on Scott’s Carolina barbecue sauce, mostly due to my own unmitigated love of vinegar based sauces like it. However, I don’t necessarily like it more than any of the others here.
Each does something unique that the others don’t, and allow you to make different dishes. You wouldn’t be remiss just picking up all of them that strike your fancy.
Tips To Thicken Your BBQ Sauce
If this happens, there are some simple ways in which you can thicken your sauce. You can use additives like guar gum and xanthan, create a roux or Beurre Manié, or simply reduce your BBQ mixture over low heat for half an hour. When you follow any of these easy and useful hacks, you’ll be able to save that runny sauce and turn it into a delicious braise with a satisfying texture and a potent taste.
Complete guide on how to thicken your bbq sauce.
Create Your Own BBQ Sauce
Whether you’re hosting a large outdoor barbecue for friends and family or having a few people over for some home-smoked pulled pork and grilled vegetables, you should take the time to cook your homemade barbecue sauce. This nutritious and cost-effective wet rub or condiment combines perfectly with your smoky, tender meat and leaves your guests coming back for more.
Satisfy your cravings with homemade bbq sauce for pulled pork