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The $8 Dinner

This Jarred Pasta Sauce Is My Weeknight Lifesaver

Our winning jarred pasta sauce tastes like it’s been simmering all day but helps me get dinner on the table fast.
By Published Aug. 29, 2022

Welcome to our column, "The $8 Dinner," where we recommend our favorite supermarket items for an easy, inexpensive, and delicious meal. In the past, we've gushed about everything from Trader Joe's Shiitake Mushroom Chicken to frozen pierogies.

Classic marinara is a delicious staple, and we offer dozens of recipes demonstrating how to make it at home. I love whipping up a delectably savory tomato sauce in my kitchen, especially on lazy weekend days. 

But absolutely nothing beats the convenience of jarred pasta sauce at the end of a long workday, and nothing can convince me otherwise. With one caveat. 

The jarred sauce has to be good.

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Our winner, Rao’s Homemade Marinara Sauce, is so good that it changed my weeknight spaghetti and meatballs forever. I’m wild about its complex flavor, which tastes like it’s been simmering all day. I also love its lack of added sugar; nothing is worse than a tomato sauce that tastes like sickly-sweet ketchup. Rao’s offers the perfect balance of savoriness, umami, acidity, and subtle sweetness straight from the fresh tomatoes.

Tasting expert Jack Bishop challenged host Bridget Lancaster to a taste test of jarred pasta sauce on an episode of Cook's Country TV.

And while this sauce is a weeknight lifesaver tossed with pasta and showered in Parm, I use it for so much more than just spaghetti night. Sure, I sub it in for homemade sauce in lots of quick pasta recipes and have been known to add it to longer bakes such as lasagna and ziti as well.

But when you get tired of pasta (if that’s even possible), this sauce still won’t quit. You can use it for shakshuka, simmer it in a savory pot of beans, serve it over polenta, use it as the base of brothy steamed mussels, and—my personal favorite—make ultimate meatball subs at home. It adds a whole lot of homemade flavor, just by popping open a jar.

The only downside to Rao’s is that it can sometimes cause a bit of sticker shock; it’s on the pricier side of most options in the supermarket.

My tip? I snag as many jars as I can when it’s on sale. (I always have at least two jars in my pantry for this reason.) I’ve also heard it’s more affordable in bulk from a membership-based store like Costco. You can find a good deal with a little sleuthing, and this magnificent sauce is more than worth that effort.