Skip to main content

The Manual may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

Best BBQ Sauces for When You’re Not Making Your Own

The weather is getting warmer, and that can only mean one thing: BBQs! Spring and summer weekends will bring BBQ parties, camping trips, or just regular nightly meals with food cooked outside. What you put on your grilled meat to enhance the flavors is sometimes a tough decision. Strolling down the grocery store aisle becomes a bit overwhelming because of the BBQ sauce options. No matter what you decide to barbecue, you can’t go wrong with any sauce.

Remember to go low and slow for cooking times, use the sauce toward the end of the cooking process, and have plenty of extra on hand for dunking. A good tip, if you are going to use the sauce as a condiment, is to warm it up first, — or, at the bare minimum, have it at room temperature. There is nothing worse than dipping hot food into cold BBQ sauce. Here are some of our top BBQ sauces.

The Bestselling Barbecue Sauce

We have some favorite go-to’s, but honestly, the best award-winning BBQ sauce is Sweet Baby Ray’s Original BBQ Sauce. Sweet Baby Ray’s was founded in Chicago in the 1980s and continues to dominate the BBQ sauce market. That’s pretty amazing considering the number of sauces on the market today.

But Sweet Baby Ray’s is just one of many styles across the country. Sauces vary according to the different flavors and regions in the U.S. We’re going to discuss even more of the most popular sauces and how they’re used.

The Most Popular BBQ Sauce Styles

Many BBQ sauces are tomato-based, and that is what you will find on the shelves of your favorite grocery store. Most of the ingredients are the same in all of the sauces; it’s just some of them are more pronounced than others.

  • North Carolina BBQ sauce is a vinegar-based sauce. The tanginess of the vinegar helps cut through the richness of fatty pieces of meat that has been slow-cooked or barbecued at low temperatures.
  • South Carolina BBQ sauce, aka Carolina Gold, is a mustard-based sauce. Carolina Gold BBQ sauce is a blend of mustard, vinegar, and spices. There are parts of South Carolina that use a vinegar-based and a tomato-based sauce, but by far, the Carolina Gold sauce is the most popular. It has a distinct yellow hue to it, giving it the name Carolina Gold.
  • Alabama White BBQ sauce is a tangy, mayonnaise-based sauce. The sauce is made from mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard, and spices, and it’s best used on meats with a light flavor to them. It’s a creamy, delicious sauce that has a peppery bite from the amount of pepper and horseradish that go into it.
  • Kansas City BBQ sauce is a ketchup-based sauce that’s typically sweet, tangy, and spicy. One of the ingredients in this sauce is molasses. Molasses gives the sauce a thickness and a sweet flavor, which is then spiced up by chili powder.
  • Texas BBQ sauce is a tomato-based sauce with a twist: It includes meat drippings. These sauces are light, hearty, and range from sweet and tangy to sweet and spicy. They’re similar to the South Carolina BBQ sauce.

What is BBQ Sauce?

Barbecue has been around for centuries. Barbecue is actually a style of cooking that involves some type of fire and smoke. The phrase “low and slow” is a way to describe this style of cooking as well. The sauce that goes on the barbecue is barbecue (BBQ) sauce.

It is a popular condiment used by consumers, but in the cooking of barbecued meats, it is used as a mopping or basting technique or as a finishing sauce. It can also be used for marinating, which assists in tenderizing and flavoring tougher cuts of meat.

The sauce is just one component of barbecued food. Just as there are many varieties of sauces, there are also various ways to prepare your meats. Meat can be smoked, grilled, or brined. A dry rub or wet rub can also be applied. It all depends on the style, but one thing is for sure: BBQ is delicious. Note this, though: If you put the sauce on too early, the sugars in the sauce will burn before the meat is fully cooked. That’s why the sauce is typically added at least halfway through the cooking process.

The Best BBQ Sauce for Beef

This is a tough one. There are so many cuts of beef that it’s difficult to pinpoint which sauce will go best with it. Brisket, for instance, is perfect with a K.C.-style sauce or a Texas BBQ sauce because of the beef’s bold flavor. For beef ribs, think thick, sticky sweet sauces with just a hint of tanginess.

The Best BBQ Sauce for Chicken

Barbecued chicken on the grill
Photo by aly on Unsplash Photo by aly on Unsplash

The Alabama White Sauce is the way to go for chicken. It’s great for dipping, and we hear that some Southern places actually dip their barbecued chicken in the sauce before serving it. It’s perfect for that roasted chicken or that spatchcocked chicken you’ve been perfecting, or maybe even beer can chicken.

The runner-up is a nice K.C. BBQ sauce with a thick, sticky-sweet sauce. It would go great with fried chicken as well!

The Best BBQ Sauce for Pork

It’s said that North Carolina’s vinegar BBQ sauce is only used on pork, whole hogs, and shoulders because the vinegar cuts through the fattiness of the pork. In reality, North Carolina and South Carolina sauces are going to work with any type of pork.

The Best BBQ Sauce for Ribs

Ribs can either be pork or beef. Fatty, delicious baby back ribs or country ribs go great with K.C. BBQ sauce or a Texas BBQ sauce. The richness of the meat will be sopped up by the sweet, tangy, and smoky flavors of the sauce.

Editors' Recommendations

Joe Morales
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Joe Morales is a trained chef with over five years of experience working in fine dining and Michelin recommended restaurants…
You can now design your own splitboard, courtesy of… Twix?
Twix has paired up with Olympian Maddie Mastro to create a split board; all it needs is your design!
The limited edition Twix Doughboard on a white background

The humble Twix. This confectionery world's mainstay has long divided us between those who prefer the left and those who prefer the right — I'm talking Twixes here, not politics. But their new product, the Twix Cookie Dough, is all about bringing them together, lovers of left and lovers of right. And what represents the conjoining of left and right better than the sport of splitboarding?

Sure, on the uphill, you've got a left and a right section, but the ride's true beauty starts when you bring the two together. Splitboarding is one of winter's biggest sports, taking the thrill of snowboarding into the backcountry with deep powder, steep lines, and the potential for true adventure. Twix has paired up with Olympian Maddie Mastro to design a two-part splitboard. Maddie has designed one half, but the other half, well, that's up to you.

Read more
The best non-alcoholic drinks to get you through Dry January
All of the flavor, none of the booze. These are the best non-alcoholic drinks to enjoy throughout January.
Flower Power Mocktail
Read more
You should know how to make these 5 sauces
Mastering these sauces will make you look like a pro in the kitchen
il principe lasagna bolognese recipe bechamel sauce over getty images

A good sauce is a core component of culinary culture. Knowing how to make a handful of them can elevate your kitchen game to unforeseen heights. Often, a good sauce is the star of the show. After all, what would Thanksgiving turkey be without gravy? Or Eggs Benedict without hollandaise?

Now, we don't expect you to pull a Béarnaise sauce out of your hat at a moment's notice. But you should be able to whip up a solid tomato-based sauce for pasta, or a good teriyaki sauce for rice and veggies or skewered proteins. We know, there are great pre-made options out there, from complex fish sauce to throw-it-on-anything Japanese Barbecue Sauce. Yet, you know as well as we do that when you pull it off from scratch, it's more rewarding and can even taste better.

Read more