Created for King George IV of England, or so the story goes, A.1. Steak Sauce reigns supreme in the United States, accounting for 70 percent of steak sauce sold last year. Although we’ve never had a formal taste test of steak sauce, in the past, we have defaulted to A.1. in the test kitchen; when we call for the condiment, our recipes read: “Steak sauce, such as A.1.” But it’s not the only brand on the market. Steak sauce ingredients tend toward the eclectic and the pungent: raisin paste, turmeric, tamarind, grapefruit puree, malt vinegar, and salty anchovies. We like steak sauce that can slice through rich, meaty beef with a jolt of flavor that’s at once sweet, sour, and salty. But we don’t want it to overwhelm the steak’s own flavor.
Every brand but one in our lineup is ready to use straight from the bottle; Zip Sauce is heated with melted butter and served warm. The idea sounded promising, almost like a shortcut pan sauce. Well, no, as it turned out: “What fresh hell is this?” asked one taster. Another compared it with “fish sauce and butter in salt water.” Excruciatingly salty, it has a whopping 585 milligrams of sodium per tablespoon when combined with unsalted butter, which is a quarter of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s daily recommended sodium intake. But it was not the only loser. Other sauces were so sour that we scarcely noticed the meat or else so vinegar-laden that they were as astringent as “rubbing alcohol.” Still another was too sweet and was heavy-handed with clove and nutmeg, prompting tasters to ask if they were eating gingersnaps, pumpkin pie, or molasses cookies. Textures varied almost as much as flavor—from too thin to too thick. Tasters preferred a sauce squarely in the middle, with enough body to cling to the steak but not stiff and gluey. One sauce “ran away from the steak”; unsurprisingly, water was the first ingredient on the label (meaning the sauce has more of it than any other ingredient). Another sauce lost points for its chunky, stringy texture, caused by too much minced onion. We preferred our steak sauce smooth.
In the end, the king was toppled: A.1. finished third. We recommend it but only with some reservations about its sourness and acidity, which tended to overpower the meat. Our favorite brand showed more restraint. It had a mellow tomato base and offered fruitiness; tangy acidity to temper sweetness; a zippy, peppery kick; and a hint of smokiness. Unlike what we found in other brands, these flavors were in harmony, with no one component dominating. This balanced sauce stood up to a rich steak without stealing the show. The meat tasted better with a dollop of our winning sauce, but the flavor was still all about the meat—and isn’t that the point?
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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