Nothing makes me crave chicken thighs coated in sticky BBQ sauce or pulled pork like a warm evening. There’s just something about the heat – perhaps it’s the almost constant earthy aroma of other grillers at work – that screams “brush everything with BBQ sauce”! And it’s a year-round favorite, too — barbecue is just as much a welcome addition to a Super Bowl spread as it is a summer barbecue. Apparently, other food writers and chefs think so too, so I asked some to tell me about their favorites.
So what exactly qualifies as “good” barbecue sauce? Above all, it must be tasty and representative of the regional style. A Kansas City style barbecue sauce will in no way taste or look like Alabama white sauce. KC BBQ Sauce will be a perfectly balanced sweet and spicy sauce; you should taste equal notes of brown sugar, black pepper and a bit of spiciness from the apple cider vinegar. It should be thick enough that you can baste ribs or toss pulled pork with equal ease. Alabama White sauce should be thick, tangy and creamy, thanks to a combination of mayonnaise, vinegar and pepper. Head to the Carolinas and you’ll find two more styles of sauce – Carolina Gold, which is a mustard-based sauce popular in South Carolina, and a hot vinegar-based sauce known as Lexington-style sauce.
In addition to being regionally accurate, a good barbecue sauce should offer a bit of versatility (it should work with pork and chicken, on grilled meats as well as slow-cooked and slow-cooked cuts).
And finally, we’ll always have a fondness for small-batch makers and sauces straight from some of our favorite barbecue restaurants across the country, like Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que and Stubb’s Bar-BQ in Austin.
Whether you prefer a sauce based on vinegar or mustard, tomato or mayonnaise, you’re bound to find a new favorite on this list. Here are 9 killer barbecue sauces recommended by food writers and chefs. Grab a few bottles and it’s up to you to decide on burnt ends or pulled pork mac and cheese?
The Best BBQ Sauces
1. Cattlemen’s Carolina Spicy Gold BBQ Sauce
“Our family was introduced to Carolina Tangy Gold BBQ Sauce many years ago by one of our neighbors from South Carolina. And it’s been a staple in our house ever since. There’s just something about that sweet mustard flavor we love.” — Michelle Braxton, recipe creator and blogger at Supper with Michelle
2. Stubb’s Smokey Mesquite Bar-BQ Sauce
“I really like Stubb’s Bar-BQ Mesquite Sauce. I’ve tried other brands, but nothing beats Stubb’s smoky-tart-sweet balance.” — Amelia Rampe, food stylist and studio editor at Kitchn
3. Dreamland BBQ
“I’m from Alabama, and the barbecue style there is somewhat of a hybrid. You can find both the tomato-based Memphis-style sauces and the more edgy one from the Carolinas. My favorite sauce comes from the pit of my friend, Rusty’s BBQ, where he does it in sweet, spicy, homemade varietals. But other than that, my widely available favorite sauce—the one that reminds me of home and instantly transforms a bunch of pulled pork—is Dreamland BBQ Sauce, of a mini chain of pits started in Tuscaloosa.
“It has a good balance of vinegar, heat, and umami from the tomatoes, and it’s not as sweet as most sauces I’ve tried in grocery stores up north. It’s popular enough that you can get 32-ounce jars once you clear Birmingham airport security, which I do when I get the chance, but failing that, you can order it on the Dreamland website or for a considerable premium on Amazon. Margaret Eby, Editorial Manager
4. Big Bob Gibson White Sauce
“My other favorite barbecue sauce that’s more unique to Alabama is Gibson’s Big Bob White Sauce, a mayonnaise-based concoction that’s especially good on grilled or roasted chicken. It’s got this wonderful creamy-tangy-sweet-garlic stuff, and it’s a “It’s also very versatile. You can dilute it to use as a salad dressing with great results.” -Margaret Eby
5. Bachan Original Japanese BBQ Sauce
“I’ve been quite obsessed with Bachan’s Japanese barbecue sauce. It’s made with soy sauce, mirin, rice vinegar and other spices, making it the perfect blend of sweet, salty and I love using it as a glaze on ground chicken.Meatballs under the broiler, an instant kick.Bachan’s origin story is also very touching, the sauce was created by Justin Gill in honor of her Japanese-American grandmother (“bachan” means “granny” in Japanese), and her treasured recipe that has been passed down in her family for years.” — Noreen Wasti, Recipe Creator and Food Stylist
6. Jones Bar-BQ Sweet & Spicy BBQ Sauce
“In truth, I am not a huge Nobody’s BBQ sauce, but I’d be happy to drizzle any protein with this sauce. So spicy and delicious. It’s great as a marinade too, when I’m not feeling super creative!” — Sara Tane, food writer and private chef
7. Bone Sucking Sauce
“My dad makes the best ribs. So good that recently a vegetarian friend had to make an exception to try one. Needless to say they involve a top secret recipe, but the part I can share is our BBQ sauce favorite: Bone Suckin’ Sauce. The perfect balance and sugar and vinegar, both the sauce and the dry rub are fundamental to a good rack of ribs.” — Courtney Kassel, food writer
8. Vermont made by Richard
“I always pick up a bottle of Richard’s Vermont Made BBQ Sauces when I’m on the hunt for a BBQ sauce. The hot version is my favorite – properly spiced, balanced and not too sweet. — Christine Clark, writer, cheese educator and co-host of the “Is This a Brie” podcast
9. We rub you
“An unexpected but totally obvious brand that I like is We Rub You, the Korean barbecue brand with a few different flavors and a good price. My favorite is the original Korean barbecue sauce flavor which has great ginger and sesame umami , and still has the sweetness, tang, and flavor you want in a sauce. I love it on fish, juicy charred chicken, and steaks!” — Fatima Khawaja, Independent Chef