The Best & Worst BBQ Sauces on Store Shelves, According to Dietitians
Summer is here, and dietitians have you covered on products to buy and the ones to avoid, such as the healthiest BBQ sauce (and unhealthiest) in stores right now. BBQ sauce is a staple of delicious summer meals and has been so for years. In fact, according to the Tennessee State Museum, the classic sauce has been around since at least 1698, when Père Labat, a missionary who seems to also have been a culinary connoisseur, took inspiration from the African tendency to season meat with juice from lemons and limes. In the time since, people have come up with their own scrumptiously savory, sweet, or smoky takes on BBQ sauce.
For instance, TODAY notes that in Lexington, North Carolina, residents tend to prefer BBQ sauce that is piping hot and offers a kick of vinegar. Delicious! On the other hand, in Texas, you'll likely find sauces with ketchup, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, and lemon juice, along with garlic, chilis, and maybe some cayenne pepper. Yum!
However, before you run off to grab a bottle or two of just any ol' kind of BBQ sauce from your local store, it's important to be aware of the fact that some pre-made products contain things that aren't so ideal. In fact, some options contain amounts of certain ingredients that make them more than just a little unhealthy. Of course, in order to stay away from the potentially problematic ingredients, you need to know what to look for in each sauce.
Nutritional factors to consider when looking for BBQ sauce
"When on the quest for the healthiest BBQ sauces in stores, there are a few nutritional factors you should consider," says Natalie Gillett, MS, RD. You can also keep these same factors in mind when trying to avoid unhealthy BBQ sauces. In order to spot both the best and worst options, simply check the ingredients list and nutritional information while keeping an eye out for the following.
"First and foremost, be wary of excessive amounts of added sugars," says Gillett. "Some barbeque sauces contain over 4 teaspoons of sugar in just a 2-tablespoon serving of sauce! That's almost double the amount of sugar in a pack of fruit snacks."
"You should aim for no more than 24 grams of added sugar per day (6 teaspoons)," she notes. "One serving of some of these sauces can get you up to 2/3 of your limit in just a couple of squeezes. Not to mention, many people tend to use quite a bit more than just 2 tablespoons, so those teaspoons of added sugar really add up. Look for sauces with lower sugar content, about 8 grams or less, to avoid a sugary overload."
"Many BBQ sauces contain added sugars, which can contribute to weight gain and other health problems," says Mary Sabat, MS, RDN, LD. Instead, she suggests that you "opt for sauces with lower sugar content or those sweetened with natural alternatives like stevia or honey."
"Next, keep an eye out for high sodium levels," Gillett says. "Some sauces contain up to 15% of your Daily Value (DV) of sodium. Again, larger portions will drive that value even higher."
She explains that "too much sodium in our diet may result in bloating and elevated blood pressure, so opt for sauces with lower sodium content to keep your health in check." Beyond that, "portion control is your best bet for keeping both sugar and sodium under control."
Gillett also says you need to "watch out for artificial additives that can sneak their way into some sauces." She adds, "High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), a sweetener commonly found in processed foods, can contribute to weight gain and increase the risk of chronic diseases when consumed in excess. Also, try to avoid ingredients like 'Red 40' or caramel coloring, which are meant to add visual appeal but may have adverse effects on health for some individuals."
Sabat recommends, "choos[ing] sauces with minimal additives or those made with natural ingredients."
Calories and carbohydrates
Finally, Sabat tells us that "If you're watching your calorie or carbohydrate intake, check the nutritional information for these values." She suggests opting for amounts that "fit within your dietary requirements."
With these points in mind, check out the following list of the unhealthiest and healthiest BBQ sauces on store shelves.
The Best BBQ Sauces on Store Shelves
True Made Foods No Sugar Memphis BBQ Sauce
Ingredients: Dates, Carrots, Tomato Puree, Apple Puree, Tamarind, Butternut Squash, Salt, Vinegar, Yellow Mustard (Vinegar, Water, Mustard Seed), Paprika, Allspice, Natural Smoke, Onion Powder, Nutmeg, Garlic Powder, Cayenne, Black Pepper.
"This is my all-time favorite sauce and it's a bonus that my kids love it too," says Gillett. It also claims to be Whole 30 approved, certified paleo, suited to keto, gluten-free, and vegan, which means that it will work with a number of meal plans and preferences.
Achieving its delicious taste with a tomato base along with cayenne and black pepper, Gillett explains that "This sauce actually contains veggies like butternut squash and carrots mixed in to provide natural flavors." She adds that "The 'No Sugar Added' varieties use apple puree for some sweetness."
Stubbs Original BBQ Sauce
Ingredients: Tomato Puree (Water, Tomato Paste), Distilled Vinegar, Sugar, Molasses, Salt, Spices (Including Black Pepper, Paprika, Chili Pepper), Corn Starch, Brown Sugar, Contains Less than 0.5% of Onion, Garlic, Guar Gum (Thickener), Xanthan Gum (Thickener), Natural Flavor (Including Hickory Smoke)
"Known for its bold flavors and natural ingredients, this sauce is also low in sugar," Gillett points out. She notes that "at only 5 grams per 2 tablespoons, it's a great option," while it also has just 7 grams of carbs and 30 calories per serving.
"Stubb's offers a flavorful BBQ sauce that is free from artificial flavors and sweeteners," Sabat tells us. "It's gluten-free and contains no high fructose corn syrup," which are both perks that make this appetizing product even more appealing.
Tessemae's Organic Matty's BBQ Sauce
Ingredients: Water, Tomato Paste, Balsamic Vinegar (Wine Vinegar, Concentrated Grape Must), Dates, Mustard (Vinegar, Water, Mustard Seeds, Salt, Spices), Sea Salt, Black Pepper, Onion Powder, Spices, Garlic Powder Organic Ingredients
With a list of traditional ingredients like vinegar, black pepper, and mustard, Tessemae's Organic Matty's BBQ Sauce opts not to use artificial sweeteners, but is instead "made with natural ingredients and is sweetened with dates, containing only 4 grams of sugar per 2 tablespoons," Gillett says.
"Tessemae's BBQ sauce is organic, gluten-free, and"—as we mentioned, but it's worth pointing out again—"has no added sugars," Sabat notes. "It's made with simple ingredients and is suitable for various dietary preferences.
Fody Original Barbeque Sauce
Ingredients: Tomato Puree (Tomato Paste, Water), Apple Cider Vinegar, Raw Cane Sugar, Molasses, Organic Horseradish, Sea Salt, Natural Smoke Flavor, Black Pepper
"Fody Original Barbeque Sauce is a great option for those who have sensitive stomachs when it comes to onion, garlic, and other traditional BBQ sauce flavors," says Gillett. A low FODMAP option that leaves these ingredients out of the mix, Gilet tells us, "This sauce has minimal ingredients and is a great low-sodium option at only 5% DV."
It may not have to rely on a long list of ingredients, however, what Fody Original Barbeque Sauce does contain offers you a full flavor that you'll surely adore. That's because you may find yourself picking up hints of horseradish and apple cider vinegar as well as raw cane sugar and molasses.
Dinosaur Bar-B-Que Sensuous Slathering BBQ Sauce
Ingredients: Crushed Tomatoes, Vinegar, Sugar, Mustard (mustard flour, vinegar, salt), Spices, Brown Sugar, Salt, Molasses, Xantham Gum (natural food fiber), Natural Smoke Flavor, Onion, Garlic, Green Bell Pepper, Lemon Oil, Spice Extractives
The Sensuous Slathering Sauce is "[n]ot your everyday BBQ sauce," according to the brand. That's surely why it was given such a saucy name and perhaps why the company behind the product claims that it "[a]dds excitement to any dish."
Gluten-free and made with all-natural ingredients, Gillet points out that along with the fact that "crushed tomatoes are the first ingredient in this sauce," she notes that "it contains only 5 grams of added sugar per serving."
Primal Kitchen Organic Unsweetened BBQ Sauce
Ingredients: Water, Organic Tomato Paste, Organic Balsamic Vinegar (Organic Wine Vinegar, Organic Concentrated Grape Must), Organic Apple Cider Vinegar, Organic Dijon Mustard (Organic Apple Cider Vinegar, Water, Organic Mustard Seed, Salt, Organic Spices), Sea Salt, Organic Tapioca Starch, Organic Coriander, Organic Cumin, Organic Black Pepper, Organic Onion Powder, Organic Chipotle Powder, Natural Smoke Flavor, Organic Garlic, Organic Cinnamon, Organic Garlic Powder
Another option that will work with a number of dietary requirements, Primal Kitchen Organic Unsweetened BBQ Sauce features a distinctive and delectable smoky flavor. "This sauce is made with high-quality organic ingredients, has no added sugars, and is free from artificial additives," Sabat points out. "It's also paleo-friendly and gluten-free."
"This sauce has zero added sugar and boasts an impressive ingredient list, including balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, and an array of spices like cinnamon and chipotle powder," says Gillett.
True Made Foods Carolina Bold BBQ Sauce
Ingredients: Mustard (Vinegar, Water, Mustard Seed, Salt, Tumeric), Apple, Apple Cider Vinegar, Butternut Squash, Carrots, Dates, Salt, Garlic Powder, Allspice, Black Pepper, Natural Smoke Flavor.
Earning second place in the 2021 National BBQ Association Awards of Excellence, the True Made Foods Carolina Bold BBQ Sauce boasts a strong mustard flavor—and color—which is an ingredient that comes from the area's German influence. Made with all-natural items that are grown in the U.S., Gillett points out, "Another sauce from this brand makes my list!"
"This tangy sauce has mustard as the first ingredient and contains turmeric, a natural anti-inflammatory spice," Gillett explains. "It also contains hidden veggies and uses dates as a natural sweetener. "
The Worst BBQ Sauces on Store Shelves
Sweet Baby Ray's Original Barbecue Sauce
Ingredients: High Fructose Corn Syrup, Distilled Vinegar, Tomato Paste, Modified Corn Starch, Contains less than 2% of Salt, Pineapple Juice Concentrate, Natural Smoke Flavor, Spice, Caramel Color, Molasses, Sodium Benzoate (Preservative), Garlic, Mustard Flour, Corn Syrup, Sugar, Tamarind, Natural Flavor, Celery Seed
"This is possibly the worst offender, delivering a whopping 17 grams of sugar per serving," says Gillett. She adds that this is "likely because the ingredient list contains 5 different forms of sugar!" Those include "high-fructose corn syrup, pineapple juice, molasses, sugar, and tamarind."
Sabat also included Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ Sauce on the list of worst BBQ sauces, saying, "While flavorful, this sauce contains high fructose corn syrup as one of the main ingredients and has a significant sugar content."
Kraft Original Barbecue Sauce
Ingredients: Water, Sugar/Glucose-Fructose, Vinegar, Modified Corn Starch, Tomato Paste, Salt, Spices And Seasonings, Canola Oil, Cooking Molasses, Natural Flavour, Mustard, Colour, Guar Gum (Thickener). (B004j)
Kraft may not use any artificial flavors or preservatives in its Original Barbecue Sauce, but that doesn't make it a healthy choice. Frankly, it contains a concerning amount of certain ingredients that you may not want in your food at all.
"The first ingredient is high fructose corn syrup, contributing to the 12 grams of sugar per serving that this sauce provides," says Gillett. Sabat also notes that "this popular sauce contains artificial flavors and preservatives." That's not to mention that it's "relatively high in sodium."
Jack Daniel's Original BBQ Sauce
Ingredients: Cane Sugar, Water, Apple Cider Vinegar, Tomato Paste, Molasses, Tamarind Concentrate, Distilled Vinegar, Natural Hickory Smoke, Salt, Yellow Mustard (Distilled Vinegar, Water, Mustard Seed, Salt, Turmeric, Paprika, Spices), Modified Food Starch (Corn), Pineapple Concentrate, Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey, Dried Garlic, Spices, Pectin, Carmel Color, Dried Onion
Although you might indulge in a sip or two of a Jack Daniel's product in your cup every once in a while, you might not want it on your plate. Sabat points out, "While this sauce carries the name of the famous whiskey brand, it's high in sugar and contains high fructose corn syrup."
"Sugar tops the ingredient list, resulting in 15 grams of added sugar per serving—that's 3.5 teaspoons of sugar in just a 2-tablespoon serving!" says Gillett. "This sauce also contains artificial coloring from caramel. "
KC Masterpiece Original
Ingredients: Tomato Puree, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Molasses, Vinegar, Water, Modified Corn Starch, Less Than 2% Of, Spices, Natural Hickory Smoke Flavor, Natural Flavor, Salt, Xanthan Gum, Onion (Dried), Garlic (Dried), Caramel Color, Sodium Benzoate, and Potassium Sorbate Added To Preserve Freshness, Turmeric, Paprika Extracts
A kettle-cooked barbeque sauce that adds a hickory smoke twist to your dinner, it also adds too much of the same ingredients you should be avoiding in other options. Gillet says, "High in sugar and sodium, and a not-so-stellar ingredient list that lacks natural ingredients make this sauce a poor choice."
"This sauce contains high fructose corn syrup and a considerable amount of sugar," Sabat tells us, while also bringing up KC Masterpiece Original. "It's also relatively high in sodium."
French's Cattlemen's BBQ Sauce
Ingredients: Distilled Vinegar, Tomato Paste, Sugar, Corn Syrup, Molasses, Water, Salt, Mustard Bran, Natural Hickory Smoke Flavor, Spices, Onion Powder, Celery Seed, Sodium Benzoate (as a Preservative) Garlic Powder, and Natural Flavors
French's Cattlemen's BBQ Sauce is a "Kansas City-style" variety that can apparently be used on everything from chicken and beef to baked beans, and even BBQ pizza. You may not find high fructose corn syrup, starches, or fillers on the ingredient list but you will find something that will make you more than a little wary.
"French's Cattlemen's BBQ Sauce contains one of the highest sodium levels of bbq sauces at 460 milligrams (19% DV) per serving," says Gillett. "Plus, it contains the additive sodium benzoate as a preservative."
Bull's Eye BBQ Sauce
Ingredients: High Fructose Corn Syrup, Tomato Puree (Water, Tomato Paste), Vinegar, Molasses, Modified Food Starch, Apple Cider Vinegar, Contains Less Than 2% Salt, Natural Hickory Smoke Flavor, Mustard Flour, Spice, Honey, Dried Onion, Dried Garlic, Potassium Sorbate (To Preserve Freshness)
Bull's Eye misses the target when it comes to offering a healthy BBQ sauce. Gillett says, "Similar to Kraft, high-fructose corn syrup as the first ingredient results in a sugary sauce, and the ingredient list leaves a lot to be desired in terms of nutritionally dense ingredients."
"Bull's-Eye BBQ sauce contains high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, and additives," Sabat also notes. "It's also relatively high in sodium."
Famous Dave's Natural Sweet BBQ Sauce
Ingredients: Brown Sugar, Tomato Paste, Water, Distilled Vinegar, Sugar, Contains 2% or Less of the Following: Salt, Tamarind Extract, Ground Chili Pepper, Mustard Flour, Natural Smoke Flavor, Molasses, Ground Red Pepper, Garlic Powder, Spices, Minced Garlic, Onion Powder
"Don't let the word 'natural' on this sauce fool you," Gillett says. "While the ingredient list contains fewer additives than their other products, first on the list is still brown sugar, resulting in 13 grams of total sugar."
Sorry, Famous Dave, but the ingredients in this sauce are rather infamous when it comes to being unhealthy if you eat such an excessive amount every time you fire up the grill.