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10 best BBQ sauces to fire up your summertime cookouts

For marinading, dipping or smothering on a burger, these just can’t be beat

Alicia Miller
Friday 03 June 2022 12:00 BST
Tangy, sweet, savoury, spicy – we taste tested each and every one straight from the bottle
Tangy, sweet, savoury, spicy – we taste tested each and every one straight from the bottle (iStock/The Independent)

Folks, it’s barbecue season. That means afternoons in the sunshine, firing up the coals. There’ll be crispy grilled chicken wings, juicy smoked ribs and tender slow-cooked mushrooms.

All this can be elevated to culinary greatness with the addition of one simple ingredient: the perfect barbecue sauce.

Tangy, sweet, savoury, spicy – the best barbecue sauce brings flavour and character to all your grills. And it brings them fast. A good one is versatile and tastes as good as a condiment with cooked food as it does as a marinade pre-cooking.

Rather than buying dozens of faffy ingredients to make your own, you can reach for a single glorious bottle to act as an all-in-one marinade, dipping sauce and burger topper.

Choose the right barbecue sauce, and you won’t need any other condiments to make your meal shine. Choose a bad one, however, and even with all the quality meat and cooking prowess in the world, those ribs just aren’t going to taste right.

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How we tested

We tasted an array of leading barbecue sauces to find the ones that hit the mark, both in terms of flavour and performance. To be sure they ticked all the boxes, we sampled each one straight by the spoonful first, then cooked them with meat and veg over coals and tasted them again.

There are many barbecue sauce styles out there; the United States alone has several main traditions, from South Carolina-style mustard to thick and sweet Kansas City. And so, we didn’t stick to one specific flavour profile when choosing our favourites. But we did put some parameters in place. Each of our best barbecue sauces had to taste balanced: mingling sweet, savoury and spice in perfect harmony. They also had to do what they said on the tin. For example, if a sauce claimed to be bourbon flavoured, we had to be able to taste the bourbon.

Finally, we considered packaging and useability. Did the sauce come in an appropriate-sized container and is it good value for money? Did it pour well at a smooth consistency – neither too thick nor too runny? We thought of everything possible when choosing our best sauces, so you can snap ‘em up and get straight onto the good bit: the eating.

The best barbeque sauces for 2022 are:

Stubb’s sticky sweet legendary Bar-B-Q sauce

Stubbs Sticky Sweet American BBQ Sauce .jpg

Best: Overall

Rating: 9.5/10

Hello, flavour! Even after tasting our way through dozens of sauces, this one really shone. Imported from the holy land of ‘cue – the United States – it has all that big flavour you want in a barbecue sauce, packing lots of zing to balance out the sweetness, and with rich spicing from cinnamon and cumin. With so much flavour, it can stand up to big cuts of meat and lots of charcoal smoke, even when used sparingly. In other words, this is a sauce that won’t shrink into the background. No wonder it’s such a favourite in the US, where the real pitmaster Stubb, whose face adorns the bottle, perfected both his barbecuing craft and this belter of a condiment.

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Tracklements sticky barbecue sauce

Tracklements indybest.jpg

Best: For ribs

Rating: 9/10

You can keep your chicken wings – we loved this artisan barbecue sauce so much that we’d happily eat it straight from the jar. It comes down to the nuanced, not-too-sweet flavour; a blend of warm spice from cloves, cumin, cardamom and cinnamon, and a delicate streak of Mexican honey. Tamarind paste lends it tang, while smoked chipotle brings a dark, rich note. While some barbecue sauces can taste artificial, this reminds us of a homemade one – in a really good way – and it’s an absolute stunner with ribs.

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Tropical Sun jerk BBQ sauce

Tropical Sun jerk BBQ sauce  indybest.jpg

Best: Jerk-style sauce

Rating: 8/10

You may have seen this sauce on a few supermarket shelves, but don’t take its ubiquity to equal mediocrity. It’s seriously tasty. Although it won’t produce proper jerked meats on its own – for that, you’ll technically need to cook over a smoky pit fire, Jamaican-style – its full-on flavour gives the vibe. Loads of spice and bold fruity sweetness make it tempting to reach for again and again, especially as a condiment for pouring over sausages, chicken or burgers. It comes in at a great price point too.

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Keejays smoky BBQ sauce

Keejays smoky BBQ sauce  indybest.jpg

Best: For gas cooking

Rating: 7.5/10

Founded in Suffolk in the 1980s, Keejays specialises in sauces of all kinds, so they know what they’re doing. And this, their smoky barbecue sauce, provides a rich, classic flavour profile that is easy to love. Because it’s infused with a smoke flavouring, it’s a good pick for gas barbecues, simulating that enticing charcoal character, without the need to fire up any coals. For the same reason, it’s a solid pick for rainy days when the British weather forces your planned barbecue into the kitchen.

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Chilli No 5 Louisiana BBQ

Chilli No. 5 Louisiana BBQ  indybest.jpg

Best: Hot and spicy sauce

Rating: 8.5/10

Somewhere between a chilli condiment, a wet spice rub and a barbecue sauce, this Louisiana-inspired concoction from boutiquey Chilli No 5 real is packed with flavour and heat. This is a sauce for anyone who loves a fiery profile in their grills. The character comes from a raft of yummy ingredients: bourbon, bacon flavouring, sweet potato, black garlic, honey and smoked paprika. Chilli No 5’s “thing” is that it also packs superfoods into each of its sauces, so there are traces of Peruvian maca, Korean ginseng and guarana here. Given the premium price point, we’d save it for a finishing glaze or dipping sauce for chicken, pork or prawns.

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Traeger ’que sauce

Traeger ‘Que sauce  indybest.jpg

Best: For pork

Rating: 9/10

Since it’s a brand that makes grills and smokers, Traeger should know what a good barbecue sauce tastes like. And this, its classic ’Que sauce, doesn’t disappoint; it was one of our absolute favourites. The ultra-pourable consistency means that it glazes like a dream onto skewers, ribs and burgers – and stays there. With its tomato and Worcestershire sauce-based profile (and a gentle hit of apricot), we like it best with pulled pork, but it really will go with almost anything.

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Stokes Korean BBQ sauce

Stokes indybest.jpg

Best: Asian-inspired sauce

Rating: 8.5/10

This isn’t, strictly speaking, the most traditional Korean barbecue sauce that ever was. But put that fact to one side until you taste it because it’s delicious. With bountiful, super-fresh notes of ginger backed by soy, pear and mirin rice wine, it’s a light, zingy alternative if you’ve had your fill of heavy American-style pours. It’s one of the most versatile sauces on this list, too, being as great for marinating barbecued prawns as it is for dipping dumplings or stirring into a stir-fry – great addition to your kitchen cupboard.

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Sauce Shop cherry bourbon BBQ sauce

Sauce Shop cherry bourbon BBQ sauce

Best: Fruity sauce

Rating: 8/10

Many fruity barbecue sauces are packed full of nasties, whether that’s excessive amounts of sugar or fake flavourings. But this delicious sauce is instead packed with real fruit: it’s a whole 30 per cent cherries. You can see it in the ruby hue, and you can really taste it – especially when you dollop the sauce onto beef ribs, brisket or burgers. It’s thick, luxuriously smooth, and the wee dash of bourbon gives it a subtle grown-up taste. The Great Taste Awards gave it a star in 2020, and it’s got a (rather sticky) thumbs up from us too.

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White Mausu black bean chili ketchup

White Mausu black bean chili ketchup  indybest.jpg

Best: Non-traditional savoury sauce

Rating: 8.5/10

This technically isn’t a barbecue sauce; it’s an Asian-inspired ketchup. But having smothered it on our chicken and pork before grilling, we’re going to go out on a limb and say that it makes an excellent addition to any barbecue spread, especially if you’re into Asian flavours. It’s made with fermented black beans, shiitake mushrooms and seaweed, plus Korean gochugaru and tangy tamarind. You’ll get tonnes of umami as well as a good kick of heat. Yum, yum.

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Lazy Scientist chip hot sauce

Lazy Scientist chip hot sauce indybest.jpg

Best: Non-traditional hot sauce

Rating: 8/10

Much like the ketchup above, we’re slightly cheating by including this sauce on our list. But we’ve rubbed it over chicken thighs before grilling, and we can tell you that, barbecue sauce technicalities aside, it makes a superb star for your ‘cues indeed. Because it’s made with chipotle chillies, it already has a smoky-sweet character to it but also a nice tang from molasses, vinegar and agave syrup. Most of all, though, it’s got plenty of red chilli fruitiness, which is great if you’re looking for a sauce that has a proper lick of heat.

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The verdict: Barbeque sauce

Is it any surprise that the Americans take the cake? For all the delicious barbecue sauces we tried, we couldn’t look past the US classic: Stubb’s sticky sweet legendary Bar-B-Q sauce.

If you’re after a homegrown sauce, the enticing blend of honey and chipotle in Tracklements sticky barbecue sauce made it a close second place in our taste test. Or try the Traeger ’que sauce, an excellent, easy-to-pour sauce that tastes just like you’d hope a barbecue sauce would.

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