Supermarket Barbecue Sauces
Whether you use it to baste, dip, or slather, chances are you have a bottle of barbecue sauce tucked into the door of your refrigerator. But is it the best-tasting brand? To find out, we gathered eight national brands (drawn from a list of top sellers from Information Resources, Inc., a Chicago-based market research firm) and asked 21 tasters from America’s Test Kitchen to sample each sauce cooked (broiled on chicken thighs) and raw (on its own and as a dip for chicken nuggets).
Barbecue styles vary greatly by region, but we’d argue there’s an all-American supermarket style. It’s on the sweet side and balances tang, smoke, and tomato flavor. You can use it like ketchup. The sauces that fit that profile rated better than those closer to authentic regional barbecue styles. The latter failed, in part, because they weren’t sweet enough. Lacking sugar, they struck our tasters as out of whack.
Total sugars proved the determining factor in our tasting. As a group, the sauces with more total sugars rated better than the sauces with less. (It is possible to have too much of a good thing, as one of our sauces proved.) And not all sugars are created equal. Our top picks are the only two in our lineup that list molasses as their third ingredient; other brands contain it, but in lower relative concentrations. When the robust, distinct flavor of molasses was in short supply, the sauces fell flat.
Moreover, our winner contains no high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). White sugar is its primary sweetener. The absence of HFCS was a distinct advantage for broiling: Because sugar caramelizes more slowly than HFCS, it was easy to get a thick, glossy glaze from our winner without it burning. Admittedly, the only other sauce without any HFCS finished last in our tasting (it is a spicy Texas-style sauce with very low total sugars). But it reached its personal best in the broiled chicken test.
Taken as a group, these sauces underwhelmed us and in the main failed to make food taste better. Our advice? Make barbecue sauce yourself—it’s not that hard. If you’re rushed and must buy, however, avoid HFCS and look for molasses.
Our favorite premium extra-virgin olive oil from a previous tasting, Columela is composed of a blend of intense Picual, mild Hojiblanca, Ocal, and Arbequina olives. This oil took top honors for its fruity flavor and excellent balance. Tasters praised its “big olive aroma, big olive taste” with a “buttery” flavor that is “sweet” and “full,” with a “peppery finish.” One taster said: “It’s very green and fresh—like a squeezed olive.” Another simply wrote: “Fantastic.”
|Spain||$19 for 17 oz|
Tasters noted this oil’s flavor was “much deeper than the other samples,” describing it as “fruity, with a slight peppery finish,” “buttery undertones,” and a “clean, green taste” that was “aromatic, with a good balance.” “It has the flavor that some good EVOOs have,” said one admiring taster.
|Italy||$19.99 for 500 ml ($39.98 per liter)|
Virtually tied for second place, this oil was deemed “round and buttery,” with a “light body” and flavor that was “briny and fruity,” “very fine and smooth,” and “almost herbal,” with “great balance.” “Good olive flavor. I could smell it and taste it,” approved one taster. In a word, “pleasant.”
|Italy||$17.99 for 750 ml ($23.98 per liter)|
|Recommended with Reservations|
A clear step down from the top oils, tasters noted “overall mild” flavor and “very little aroma,” with only a “hint of green olive” and a “hint of spiciness at the end.” In pasta, it was initially “not complex,” but gradually “bloomed in your mouth.” Overall, it was “worthy of a second bite.”
|Italy, Greece, Spain, and Tunisia||$12.49 for 750 ml ($16.65 per liter)|
While some tasters found this oil “sweet” and “buttery” with “medium body” and “slight spice at the end,” others complained that it had “zero olive flavor” and was “so floral it’s almost like eating perfume”; still others noted a “bitter” aftertaste. In pasta, it was “extremely mild” to the point of being “boring.”
|Italy, Greece, Spain, and Tunisia||$10.99 for 750 ml ($14.65 per liter)|
Comments: The best comments tasters could muster were “mild” and “neutral.” Some liked it on pasta (though one called it “Snoozeville”), but complaints were myriad: “metallic,” “soapy,” “briny,” “hints of dirt.” Carped one taster, “I can’t imagine what is in here, but they have a nerve calling it EVOO.”
|Spain||$13.99 for 1 liter|
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