13 Unhealthiest Store-Bought Barbecue Sauces

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Barbecue sauce has become one of the world's most popular condiments. Its United States market alone was estimated to be worth $1.8 billion in 2020 (via Statista). In 2022, Technavio projected the worldwide market would continue growing 4.37% annually through 2026 — with 38% of that growth coming from North America. With dozens of barbecue styles that rely heavily on a sauce — from thick and sweet Kansas City barbecue to soy-based Korean barbecue — there are plenty of ways to enjoy this condiment. Usually, you'll find it slathered on various types of meat. 

Taste and texture shouldn't be the only factors when choosing a sauce. While barbecue has never pretended to be a health food, the wrong sauce can put a particular strain on your well-being. Some barbecue sauces are high in sugar and sodium, while others contain known food allergens (via Verywell Health). This includes some of the world's most popular and best-rated sauces.

We've taken a closer look at dozens of store-bought sauces and come up with the most unhealthy barbecue sauces you can buy. That's not to say you should never indulge just because a sauce has a less-than-ideal nutritional profile. But you should think long and hard about enjoying these sauces regularly, particularly if there are known issues beyond them being simply unhealthy.

1. Sweet Baby Ray's Original Barbecue Sauce

We're starting with a bang when it comes to unhealthy sauces. After all, Sweet Baby Ray's was the most popular barbecue sauce brand in the U.S., as of 2017 (via Statista). There's a reason for its sweet taste; one serving of Sweet Baby Ray's Original Barbecue Sauce packs 16 grams of added sugar. That's more than 30% of the daily recommended amount by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It suffices to say that Sweet Baby Ray's lives up to the name. 

The sources of sugar in this barbecue sauce aren't natural, either. The first ingredient in the sauce is high-fructose corn syrup, which is known to raise liver fat and make you more resistant to insulin (via Healthline). Having that much sugar is about more than health, too. If you're using Sweet Baby Ray's for grilling, all that sugar can burn on the grill if you're not careful, which can diminish the taste.

We haven't even gotten into the 290 milligrams of sodium per serving, which is around 12% of your daily value. Having too much sodium can cause problems like high blood pressure and calcium loss in excess (via Harvard). Sweet Baby Ray's also uses sodium benzoate as a preservative, which can convert to the carcinogen benzene (via Healthline). Overall, you should consider having Sweet Baby Ray's as an occasional treat, rather than as a dietary fixture.

2. Heinz Original Sweet & Thick BBQ Sauce

Heinz is far more well-known for its ketchup than its barbecue sauce. Due to the healthiness of the latter, that might be just as well. Heinz Original Sweet & Thick BBQ Sauce is packed with sugar. 

One serving of this barbecue sauce contains a whopping 18 grams, with 17 of them being added sugars. The ingredient list starts with sugar. Plus, the fourth ingredient is molasses. That much sugar increases the risk of tooth decay, diabetes, inflammation, and other unwanted conditions (via Healthline). We certainly weren't expecting this much sugar in the Heinz Original Sweet & Thick BBQ Sauce.

While other Heinz varieties are lower in sugar, these have their own problems. Three types of Heinz barbecue sauce — Kansas City Style Sweet & Smoky, Texas Style Bold & Spicy, and Memphis Style Sweet & Spicy — purportedly use anchovies for flavoring, even though they're not listed in each item's ingredient list. This miscommunication causes confusion for vegetarians and those with fish allergies. The Kansas City sauce also contains mustard seed, which is another common allergen. That's a lot of reasons to stick to ketchup if you're craving Heinz.

3. KC Masterpiece Original Barbecue Sauce

Kansas City — also known as "KC" — is one of the most famous U.S. barbecue hotspots. However, its namesake sauce leaves a lot to be desired. KC Masterpiece Original Barbecue Sauce comes with 11 grams of added sugar and 230 milligrams of sodium per serving, which is around 20% and 10% of the suggested daily amounts, respectively. Although that sugar content isn't the worst in the world of barbecue sauces, the fact some people make cookies using the KC Masterpiece Original Barbecue Sauce says something about how sweet it is.

It's also been reported that KC Masterpiece has a chemical-like flavor, which may be due to the liquid smoke the founder added. This highly controversial ingredient is looked down on by some. Liquid smoke has been found to activate high levels of p53, a gene linked to cancer (via Johns Hopkins Medicine). 

Other concerns — such as the highly processed nature of this barbecue sauce — including artificial ingredients such as caramel coloring, lead us to recommend you steer clear of it. No wonder some Kansas City barbecue fans don't like it. One Twitter user even wrote: "KC Masterpiece is an abomination that has besmirched the good name of Kansas City barbecue for far too long. Let that molasses goo go back to the depths of hell from which it came."

4. French's Cattlemen's Kansas City Classic BBQ Sauce

If you like barbecue sauce to be salty, this is a good sauce for you. A two-tablespoon serving of French's Cattlemen's Kansas City Classic BBQ Sauce has a mind-boggling 400 milligrams of sodium, which is 17% of the recommended daily value. Its original Base BBQ Sauce isn't much better, at 370 milligrams per serving. 

Ergo, consuming Cattlemen's sauce regularly can lead to swollen feet and hands, excess thirst, cardiovascular strain, and other effects of too much salt (via Houston Methodist). You'll also find 10 grams of sugar and 15 grams of total carbohydrates in the Kansas City Classic variety to boot, making it a salty and sweet avalanche.

There's one other potential hidden issue, too. French's is owned by the company McCormick. In 2022, McCormick faced a class-action lawsuit alleging some of its products were tainted with toxic heavy metals that weren't disclosed. We hope that none of these spices end up in the sauce. Add in that the sauce quality itself is polarizing — it's been described as having a heavy aroma with a gritty texture— and we're declaring this product to be anything but a classic.

5. Jack Daniel's Original BBQ Sauce

Jack Daniel's Original BBQ Sauce has won multiple honors, including a gold medal at the 2022 Dubai International Taste Awards. However, when it comes to health and wellness, there are some big problems with it. 

Cane sugar is the first ingredient, meaning it takes up a major proportion of the recipe. The sauce also uses other sweet ingredients: molasses, tamarind concentrate (the pulp of a type of tropical fruit), and pineapple concentrate. Not surprisingly, that results in 15 grams of sugar per serving. Though it's not high-fructose corn syrup, that's still a lot of sugar. You also get a sizable dose of sodium, with 10% of the daily value per two-tablespoon serving.

That's not the end of our beef with Jack Daniel's. If you have a mustard allergy, then you're out of luck, as yellow mustard is one of the ingredients. There's a lot to hesitate about with this sauce. But hey, at least it's gluten-free.

6. Jim Beam Maple Bourbon BBQ Sauce

Jim Beam and Jack Daniel's have competed for decades in the spirits market, so it only makes sense these brands would have competing barbecue sauces, too. When it comes to health, Jim might be even less of a winner than Jack. 

Like its rival, sugar is the first ingredient in Jim Beam Maple Bourbon BBQ Sauce, with pineapple, maple syrup, and molasses also used as sweeteners. That adds up to 15 grams of added sugar per serving. Not surprisingly, with all that sugar, one Amazon reviewer declared: "Tastes NOTHING like bbq sauce. Tastes like a very sweet pineapple/fruity dipping sauce at best. Very surprised Jim Beam put their name on it."

Jim's sauce does have less sodium content than similar brands, with 160 milligrams. But Jim Beam barbecue sauce gives us extra hesitation since it includes soybeans, which are a huge allergy trigger. Still, the Jim Beam Maple Bourbon BBQ Sauce does contain a lot of unhealthy ingredients — and at $39 for a six-pack of bottles as of publication — purchasing this barbecue sauce may put a dent in your wallet, too. 

7. Stubb's Smokey Mesquite Bar-B-Q Sauce

We have a soft spot for Stubb's Barbecue Sauce. This line of Texas-style sauces can be delicious. But we're objective enough to admit that some of this company's sauces aren't exactly the healthiest choice. Stubb's Smokey Mesquite Bar-B-Q Sauce is the worst offender. 

It's one of the sweeter sauces in Stubb's line-up, with 10 grams of sugar per serving. This is not so shocking, considering that sugar and honey are both listed as ingredients. The Smokey Mesquite sauce is also very salty. It contains 390 milligrams of sodium per serving, which is 17% of the recommended daily amount of salt.

Here's something you may not have thought of when it comes to barbecue sauce, either. Stubb's Smokey Mesquite Bar-B-Q Sauce — along with the original variety — uses guar gum and xanthan gum as thickeners. While these are fairly common food fillers, they can also cause stomach problems (via Livestrong). While they have some other potential health benefits, there is also a risk that too much Stubb's could cause discomfort for those who eat too much of it. Spread love and happiness by all means, but if you're hosting an event, be careful not to add too much of this barbecue sauce.

8. Kraft Sweet & Spicy Slow-Simmered Barbecue Sauce

Kraft is one of the most-used barbecue sauce brands in the U.S., according to Statista. However, it's clear Kraft didn't get this popularity from its healthiness. The Kraft Sweet & Spicy Slow-Simmered Barbecue Sauce brings an unlucky 13 grams of sugar per serving. All of these are added sugars, coming from ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup and molasses. 

This unhealthy barbecue sauce also contains around 15% of the recommended daily sodium intake. It is even made with ingredients like mustard flour, which makes it a no-go for anyone with a mustard allergy, which can cause severe symptoms (via the New York Allergy & Sinus Centers). The price is certainly right, with an 18-ounce bottle of this barbecue sauce costing less than $2 on the Walmart website, at the time of publication. 

But when it comes to healthy barbecue sauces, apparently you get what you pay for. You won't get something especially nutritious from this product. Then again, it's not totally unexpected for this company. Kraft received a consumer advocacy complaint in 2021 for belittling healthy foods in advertisements, according to Reuters.

9. Open Pit Original Barbecue Sauce

Our barbecue pit is permanently closed to the brand Open Pit. The sugar content in Open Pit Original Barbecue Sauce isn't that bad, although the 9 grams of sugar per serving that it contains isn't ideal. A much bigger concern, though, is the 510 milligrams of salt in this product. That's around 22% of the daily recommended value of sodium. This amount of salt is sure to make you feel the short-term effects of excessive salt, plus the long-term effects if you consume Open Pit regularly.

That's only part of the story. Open Pit barbecue sauce also uses soybean oil, a major allergen according to the FDA. Allergic reactions to soybeans can cause severe symptoms, including hives and diarrhea (via UCSF Health). Not only that, but Open Pit somehow needed five different colorings to achieve the fairly standard dark brown hue of this sauce. These include Red 40 and Blue 1, dyes that have been found to contain carcinogens and cause hypersensitive immune responses, according to a study published by the National Library of Medicine

We could forgive some of this if the sauce was actually good. But by most accounts, it's not. In a review for the website The Meatwave, one person called the sauce "a science experiment gone wrong." The consistency of this product is also very thin, making it much easier to go overboard with this unhealthy barbecue sauce.

10. Famous Dave's Rich & Sassy BBQ Sauce

If you've ever been to the Famous Dave's chain of barbecue restaurants, you're probably familiar with this sauce, which is also available in some grocery stores. Pitmaster Dave Anderson has lived up to his name with more than 700 barbecue-related awards. But we're guessing none of those awards were for healthiness.

Famous Dave's Rich & Sassy, its original sauce recipe, starts with a base of high-fructose corn syrup before adding pineapple juice concentrate, molasses, and honey. That adds up to 13 grams of total sugar in two tablespoons. You also get 360 milligrams of sodium, which is around 16% of your daily value.

If you have any sort of food allergy or sensitivity, then Famous Dave's shouldn't be in your cupboard. The Rich & Sassy sauce contains soy and gluten in every bottle. Both of these are major food allergens, which are dangerous to many individuals when consumed. It's as if Dave tried to make a sauce that could safely be eaten by as few people as possible.

11. Bone Suckin' Sauce

Most of the top grades that Bone Suckin' Sauce has received — such as a five-star rating from BBQ Sauce Reviews — are ones we accepted without a second thought. But calling it healthy makes us raise our eyebrows. While Bone Suckin' Sauce trumpets its use of non-GMO and gluten-free ingredients, this doesn't necessarily mean a sauce is completely nutritious. 

A closer inspection of the label shows some red flags. The second and fourth ingredients are honey and molasses, which contribute to 12 grams of total sugar and 10 grams of added sugar per serving. Over-consuming any sort of sugar — even these more natural forms of sugar — poses health risks such as heart disease, acne, and depression (via Healthline).

Molasses has also been known to trigger digestive problems, especially in people with pre-existing conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (via Medical News Today). Add in the use of xanthan gum as a binder, and you're looking at a potential double-dip of digestive discomfort. Yellow mustard also makes this sauce a no-go for people with this allergy. Purchasing this particular barbecue sauce may also hurt the health of your bank account since an 18-ounce jar from the official Ford's Gourmet Foods store costs around $9 at the time of publication. 

12. Sticky Fingers Smokehouse Carolina Sweet Original Barbecue Sauce

We have to admit that we love this sauce. Unfortunately, the ingredient list is as big a mouthful as its name — and that's rarely a good sign for healthiness. Sticky Fingers Smokehouse proclaims that Carolina Sweet Original is its sweetest sauce, which is confirmed by sugar, molasses, and honey all being among the top six ingredients.

But then, Sticky Fingers decided it needed to add more processed forms of sugar. This included dextrose, a simple sugar commonly administered to diabetes patients with low blood sugar (via Drugs.com). There's also maltodextrin, a highly-processed carbohydrate that has a similar effect on the body as regular sugar (via Healthline). 

With all of these different sources of sugar and carbohydrates, it's shocking there are only 12 grams of sugar in a serving. We haven't even gotten into the 250 milligrams of sodium or the presence of xanthan gum, modified food starch, and multiple preservatives. Suddenly, our treasured pulled pork with Sticky Fingers sauce feels like something we should eat more sparingly.

13. Frank's RedHot Buffalo 'N BBQ Thick Hot Sauce

This company's website says you can put Frank's RedHot Buffalo 'N BBQ Thick Hot Sauce on anything and everything that comes off your grill. If you do, though, you're getting more than you bargained for.

The sugar content of 10 grams per serving isn't bad by barbecue sauce standards, but it isn't great either. Seeing as Frank's hot sauce is the first ingredient, you might not taste the sweetness right away. Speaking of hot sauce, while the capsicum in the cayenne pepper has health benefits, it can also cause heartburn and an upset stomach in large amounts (via WebMD). We're also concerned about the sodium benzoate in this sauce. This ingredient has been linked to inflammation, oxidative stress, and even ADHD, according to Healthline.

Frank's RedHot Buffalo 'N BBQ Thick Hot Sauce is also really salty. Two tablespoons of it have 580 milligrams of sodium — that's more than 25% of the daily recommended value. We've mentioned some of the risks of too much salt already, including things like heart disease, kidney disease, and stroke. Those are some serious risks, no matter how good this sauce is.