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Taste Test: The Best BBQ Sauce You Can Buy

Barbecue sauce has zoomed from obscure to everywhere in the past few years, as more cooks discover the joy of cooking meats low and slow. Supermarket shelves are stocked with dozens of choices, ranging from old standbys like KC Masterpiece to sauces created by prize-winning pitmasters and Food Network stars (yes, Guy Fieri has a sauce line!). It's great to have options, but so many selections can also be confusing. That's why our Tasting Panel took up the challenge of naming the best tomato-based sauce in the land from a lineup that included widely available sauces as well as regional favorites.

edited BBQ sauce group shot

Photo by Leslie Kelly

Keeping Score

The samples were served "blind," which means the Tasting Panel didn't know which brand they were judging, just like in competition barbecue contests. The panel was asked to rate taste, color, and texture on a scale of 1 to 10. In competition, it's common for winners to be separated by fractions, but this tasting yielded a clear winner.

The Grand Champ

edited Killa Wet Sauce photo by Leslie Kelly

Photo by Leslie Kelly

Memphis-based Hog Wild came out on top, garnering glowing comments: "exotic and unexpected," "very balanced with a nice pop," and "delicious, balanced, nice acid, nice heat" -- though one skeptic pointed out that different isn't always better: "Nice, but not what I expected. Leaning towards a chutney but would be great on a non-traditional cut." The richness reminded one taster of bourbon and beef.

The sauce's creator, Ernie Mellor, owns and operates Hog Wild and A Moveable Feast catering company and has competed at Memphis in May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest for more than 25 years in the pork shoulder category. Shoulder cooked low-and-slow is a perfect partner for this complex sauce, along with grilled chicken and chops. It's available in supermarkets around the South, and can also be ordered online.

The Runner Up

edited The Shed BBQ sauce photo by Leslie Kelly

Photo by Leslie Kelly

The Shed's Original Southern Sweet impressed the panel with its versatility — "a sauce that could go on most meats" — and complex flavor profile. Sweet tea, molasses, pepper, dark beer, roasted garlic, onion, and smoke were used to describe the taste created by an award-winning team headed up by brother and sister, Brad Orrison and Brooke Orrison Lewis. The Shed is also the name of the family's landmark roadhouse restaurant on the Gulf Coast in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. The full lineup of sauces (Spicy Mustard, Spicy Sweet, and Spicy Vinegar) are available at Walmart stores around the country, and also can be ordered online.

Third Place

edited Rufus Teague BBQ sauce photo by Leslie Kelly

photo by Leslie Kelly

Kansas City-style sauce from Rufus Teague in Johnson County, Kansas, narrowly edged out the Guy Fieri Bourbon Brown Sugar Barbecue Sauce, as one panelist effused: "I could eat this by the spoonful." The maple bourbon flavor was on the sweeter side, a plus for ultra-rich barbecue like smoked brisket or pork ribs. It's widely available in supermarkets across the U.S., and can also be ordered online.

Try Saucing This

Any seasoned barbecue cook knows that sauce is the supporting character to superstar ribs, brisket, or pulled pork. It's a finishing touch meant to complement the juicy, tender meat, not too drown it. Try these winning sauces on these recipes:

Watch panelists Stephan Giles (pitmaster at Campfire BBQ), Dezi Bonow (chef at The Carlile Room), and Allrecipes own Saffron Hodges (pitmaster on Bush Cooking barbecue team) discuss the results on Facebook Live:

About Leslie Kelly

Always hungry to learn, never had my fill of oysters, Memphis dry rub ribs, wild salmon, chocolate chip cookies or a well-rolled lumpia. Washington state wine lover, bourbon fan. Totally obsessed with brunch!