You may already be a barbecue "sauce-iopath" or a competition-class smoke-pit purist. Or maybe you're just a backyard kettle-grill amateur. But everyone, and I mean everyone, can use a splash of tangy love from time to time. Because there is no char-marked sin a good sauce can't cure, no triumphant beer-can chicken that can't fly higher with a brush of the perfect fiery glaze.
Many of the mass-produced sauces, thick and treacly sweet with high-fructose corn syrup, tasted like synthetic paste beside some of the more natural products. But high-end wasn't always better, either, as frou frou flavors were often added to the point of distraction.
Whether you like tangy, ketchup-based
Archer Farms Barbecue Sauces, $3.99 (T). Target's house label was a big surprise with all three flavors getting high marks: the Texas-style, for its deep molasses sweetness and lingering kick; the tomatoey KC-style for balancing a cider tang with honey; and the Hawaiian-style, for its pineapple-mango fruit and garlicky-chile finish, a favorite.
Whole Foods Market
Frontera Border Barbecue Sauce Roasted Chipotle Pineapple, $3.79 (WF). Star Chicago chef Rick Bayless brings his Nuevo Mexicano touch to a "border sauce" that balances pineapple with the roasty, smoky spice of chipotles.
Stubb's Bar-B-Q Sauce, $3.79 (SF). These are as close as you get to homemade on a supermarket shelf. The Texan spices shine through these vinegary brews, and while the "spicy" brings heat, the balance is more obvious in the "mild."
Hot Bone Suckin' Sauce, $4.99 (WF). The dueling chile fire and honeyed sweetness, backed by an assertive cider twang, reminded vaguely of a Thai-style chile sauce. With a thinner texture, it would make a stellar marinade.
Emeril's Kicked Up Bam!B-Q, $3.59 (SF). Despite the kitschy made-for-TV name and big-time corn-syrup cameo, this sauce has a great balance that highlights Emeril's earthy, cayenne-flickered
Okie's Barbecue Sauces, $6.99. Okie Whitcraft is the name behind this well-known
KC Masterpiece Barbecue Sauce Original, $3.69 (SF). This mass-market standard was the low-end of the tasting. It's at the root of a surprising number of gussied-up "house-made" restaurant sauces. But alone, against real competition, it tastes like a cartoon sauce, its sweetness, sharp smoke and thick shine too vivid for real life.
Bull's Eye Original, $2.49 (SF). All the industrial flaws of KC Masterpiece, though slightly redder, tangier and less distinctive.
NOH Hawaiian Bar-B-Q Sauce, $6.99 (WF). Big-ticket gourmet sauces don't always deliver. This "all natural" "fat free" product from
Note: Unless otherwise noted, these sauces are available at Whole Foods (WF), SuperFresh (SF) and Target (T).