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My barbecue sauce taste test

Once again proving you don't always get what you pay for, the least expensive sauce won (and it wasn't the store brand).

By MSN Money Partner Aug 19, 2011 10:28AM

This post comes from Len Penzo at partner blog Len Penzo dot Com.


Depending on who you talk to, barbecue sauces have been around since the days of the American colonies.


Wikipedia claims that the first commercial barbecue sauce appeared around 1909. I know; please don't grill me on my source, folks.


And while most, but not all, barbecue sauces include some secret blend of ketchup, mustard, vinegar, sugar, onion, and garlic, in the United States there are a multitude of different barbecue sauce styles. For example, there's Kansas City, Memphis, Texas and Alabama styles. There's also South Carolina sauce, East Carolina mustard sauce, and even something called Lexington dip, which, if you ask me, sounds more like a dance move than a barbecue sauce.


Obviously, it's a matter of personal preference, but one thing is certain: There are as many barbecue sauces out there as there are opinions as to which one reigns supreme. If you don't believe me, walk down the barbecue sauce aisle at your local supermarket. Post continues after video.

With that in mind, I figured: What better reason to conduct yet another of my completely unscientific blind taste test experiments?


How the test was conducted

As with most of my other taste tests, I recruited a bunch of hungry family members for my expert panel. This time everyone convened in San Diego for a summer cookout at my cousin Kevin's house.


With the panel in place, Kevin and I barbecued up a whole bunch of chicken wings and the candidate sauces were applied from unmarked bowls.


After tasting a slathered barbecue chicken wing, the experts were asked to rank each sauce on a simple four-point scale -- four points for their favorites or as few as one point for those they didn't like at all. The panel was also free to note any accompanying comments they had regarding each sample.


Introducing the barbecue sauce competitors

While my supermarket had a score of barbecue sauces to choose from, I selected the "original" varieties of the following seven brands: Bull's-Eye, Hunt's, KC Masterpiece, Jack Daniel's, Tony Roma's, the Albertsons store brand and, my family's personal favorite, Sweet Baby Ray's.


Here now, in reverse order from worst to first, are the completely unscientific barbecue sauce blind taste test results, based upon the inputs of my expert panel:


7. Sweet Baby Ray's Original Barbecue Sauce

  • Price per ounce: 21 cents.
  • Panel scoring: 23 points.
  • Average score (4-point scale): 2.1.
  • Judges who gave it a top rating: 0.
  • Judges who thought it stunk: 1.

Well, this is embarrassing. Apparently, our so-called family favorite isn't quite as good as we thought it was. Even more surprising, not a single panel member ranked this as a top sauce, which is problematic considering it was the second most expensive brand sampled.


Ironically, the Honeybee, who usually swears by Ray's, complained that "it didn't have much flavor." Another self-proclaimed Ray's fan, Kevin, gave it demerits for being sugary. My cousin Evan suggested that the poor rankings were because Sweet Baby Ray's sauce goes better with pork.


6. Albertsons Original Barbecue Sauce

  • Price per ounce: 17 cents.
  • Panel scoring: 27 points.
  • Average score (4-point scale): 2.5.
  • Judges who gave it a top rating: 1
  • Judges who thought it stunk: 3.

Nina was the only member of the panel to give the store-brand sauce a top mark, noting it was "tangy and addictive." You know what? I'm moving on -- I'm still in shock Ray's came in last place.


5. Tony Roma's Original Barbecue Sauce

  • Price per ounce: 19 cents.
  • Panel scoring: 27 points.
  • Average score (4-point scale): 2.5.
  • Judges who gave it a top rating: 4.
  • Judges who thought it stunk: 4.

Four members thought enough of Tony Roma's to give the sauce top marks; Chris thought it had a "great barbecue flavor" and Mom praised its "really good taste." But just as many panelists thought otherwise. Kevin ribbed the Tony Roma's barbecue sauce for tasting "artificial, although not bad for colored gelatin." The Honeybee piled on by remarking that it tasted so much like ketchup that it was better suited for a weenie roast. Then you have my handyman father-in-law, Tony, who summed it up more succinctly: "It sucked."


4. KC Masterpiece Original Barbecue Sauce

  • Price per ounce: 19 cents.
  • Panel scoring: 28 points.
  • Average score (4-point scale): 2.5.
  • Judges who gave it a top rating: 1.
  • Judges who thought it stunk: 2.

KC Masterpiece is generally recognized as one of the better mainstream barbecue sauces. However, for this test it ended up looking more like, well, just a decent lithograph. The Honeybee was the only panelist to give KC Masterpiece top honors, but Kevin enjoyed the sauce too, noting its pleasing "woody aroma." In a dissenting opinion, however, Chris beefed that the barbecue sauce simply tasted too much like ketchup.


3. Bull's-Eye Original Barbecue Sauce

  • Price per ounce: 19 cents.
  • Panel scoring: 30 points.
  • Average score (4-point scale): 2.7
  • Judges who gave it a top rating: 2.
  • Judges who thought it stunk: 1.

This barbecue sauce got blue ribbons from both my kids. Matthew, in particular, thought the Bull's-Eye brand hit the mark for its "smokey flavor."


2. Jack Daniel's Original Barbecue Sauce

  • Price per ounce: 22 cents (the most expensive of all brands tested).
  • Panel scoring: 30 points.
  • Average score (4-point scale): 2.7.
  • Judges who gave it a top rating: 5.
  • Judges who thought it stunk: 3.

Jack Daniel's barbecue sauce is manufactured by Heinz, and it got more top scores than any of the other competitors. Nina noted that she would give it a higher score if she could. Meanwhile, both Aunt Doris and the Honeybee -- who coincidentally happens to be a big fan of Jack Daniel's whiskey -- praised JD's barbecue sauce for its distinctive hickory flavor. Interestingly, those who didn't like the Jack Daniel's sauce dinged it for being just a bit too hickory flavored.


1. Hunt's Original Barbecue Sauce

  • Price per ounce: 11 cents (the least expensive of all brands tested).
  • Panel scoring: 32 points.
  • Average score (4-point scale): 2.9.
  • Judges who gave it a top rating: 4.
  • Judges who thought it stunk: 1.

Ah, the grill of victory! Incredibly, as with my ketchup taste test, the least expensive brand in the survey came out on top. Evan thought the Hunt's had a delicious sweetness to it. Rose agreed, giving it top marks for being "sweet, but not overly so." Dad liked Hunt's savory mix of spices, Kevin thought it was "perfect," and Tony thought it had a "great barbecue flavor." The only one who flat out didn't like the Hunt's was Nina, who remarked that the flavor was "just wrong."


I know what you're thinking …

Hunt's barbecue sauce? Are you kidding me?


Say what you will about this experiment's unscientific methods, but it was a fair fight. After all, the blind taste test goes a long way toward eliminating preconceived notions and biases that would otherwise subtly influence the panel members' decisions.


Is Hunt's barbecue sauce "sexy?" Um, no. But in the end, Hunt's was not only the least expensive brand of all those sampled, but my expert panel also found it to be the best tasting barbecue sauce of them all -- and that's good enough for me.


More on Len Penzo dot Com and MSN Money:

Jul 19, 2013 5:00PM
I'll share... you're family obviously has no clue about BBQ sauces. It seems...they like ketchup a bit better than BBQ sauce. Sorry.
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