Reviews you can trust.See why.
High-End Barbecue Sauces
We put four small-batch, mail-order barbecue sauces to the test against our supermarket favorite.
Published July 1, 2013. Appears in Cook's Illustrated July/August 2013, America's Test Kitchen TV Season 14: Best Barbecued Chicken and Cornbread
Top PicksSee Everything We Tested
What You Need To Know
Small-batch barbecue sauces promise pit-master magic—but are they worth their higher price tags? To find out, we mail-ordered four products that had some buzz, were award winners, or were marketed by barbecue pros.
We sampled the sauces plain and on grilled chicken, focusing on sweetness, complexity, texture, and overall appeal. Our two least favorite sauces were too sweet, containing twice the amount of sugar per serving as the others. A third sauce was watery and mild. But the fourth, our winner, delivered. With generous additions of vinegar, salt, and chili paste along with liquid smoke, it was tart, spicy, and more savory than sweet. It also had enough body to cling to the chicken.
To see how our high-end winner compared with our supermarket winner—a sweet, tomato-based classic—we held a taste test on grilled chicken. Votes were evenly split on these very different sauces. For traditionalists, our supermarket winner is best, but for a savory, tangy sauce with a kick, we recommend splurging on our high-end winner.
Everything We Tested
This “big, bold” sauce was “tangy,” with a “robust,” “vinegary” kick, making it more savory than sweet, unlike other products in our lineup. With a “vivid peppercorn taste,” it “made otherwise boring chicken into something complex” and had enough body to “cling nicely” to the meat.
Recommended with reservations
Some tasters declared this sauce “delicate” and found it “a little sweet,” “a little smoky,” and “a little tangy,” with an “interesting honey and fruit” flavor. But for others, it was too mild, even “kinda boring.” Tasters also complained that it only thinly coated the chicken.
With the “ideal texture for brushing,” this sauce slathered on thick, dark, and glossy. Its taste was too sweet, though, with a strong “black licorice,” “molasses,” and “hoisin” flavor that was “like holiday pie spice” and “overwhelmed the chicken.”
This sauce was “too runny to coat well,” resulting in “naked” chicken (water is the first ingredient), with a “cloying sweetness” (sugar is listed as its second and fourth ingredients). “This is melted-down lollipop, right?” asked one taster. “Pumpkin pie” flavors such as allspice and clove were “distracting” and “not very barbecue-y.”
Reviews you can trust
The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing.