Fourth of July: Do You Know What’s In Your Barbecue Sauce?

Kraft Original Barbecue Sauce

Grilling season is in high gear, and this weekend will see record numbers of Americans celebrating Independence Day with family, friends, and … barbecued meals. Many of you will flavor your meats with an all American barbecue sauce. The origins of this marinade are unclear, but it is definitely a new world formulation. Though many varieties exist, barbecue sauce usually includes tomato sauce, vinegar, a sweetener, and spices.

We took the opportunity to compare two ready-made options available in the supermarket.

Kraft recently rebranded their barbecue sauces. “NEW LOOK – Same Delicious Taste”, claims the package. Here is Kraft’s Original  Barbecue Sauce ingredient list:

high fructose corn syrup, vinegar, water, tomato paste, modified cornstarch, molasses, contains less than 2% of salt, natural hickory smoke flavor, dried garlic, mustard flour, potassium sorbate (to preserve freshness), spice, dried onions, caramel color, paprika.

The first ingredient is high fructose corn syrup. While many barbecue sauces call for added sugar, Kraft has taken it a bit too far. The cornstarch is used as a thickener. The “natural hickory smoke flavor” is lab-made, even if the ingredients used are not synthetic. Potassium sorbate is a mold inhibitor that may cause DNA damage. Caramel color has been in the news because some types, depending on production methods, may be carcinogenic.

From a nutrient perspective, a 2 tbsp serving of Kraft’s sauce has 50 calories and 270mg of sodium. Kraft’s previous formulation had 430 mg of sodium, so this is an impressive 40% reduction! The previous recipe used artificial colorings, which have now been removed. While we’re no fans of this product, to Kraft’s credit, they have made slight improvements. It’s interesting to note that the company does not play the nutrition card in its marketing message.

Trader Joe's Barbecue Sauce

Let’s take a look at another sauce, this time a Barbecue Sauce from Trader Joe’s. Here is the ingredient list:

Water, tomato paste, sugar, distilled vinegar, cornstarch, salt, spice, molasses, natural flavor, caramel color, onion, garlic.

It has 45 calories and 210 mg of salt, lower than Kraft’s. The ingredient list is also cleaner, with a smaller amount of sugar. It’s interesting to note the use of water in both products. There are several reasons for using water: it’s cheap, it’s voluminous, and it’s lower in calories than oil. While some homemade barbecue recipes include water, others simply rely on the water in crushed tomatoes.

What sauce will you be using this weekend? Is it a secret homemade recipe? Please tell us…

To see these products’ nutrition grade – get the free Fooducate app (iPhone, Android)

  • Audrey

    I use Stubb’s BBQ sauce. It tastes great and is one of the few that are certified GF.

  • Carol H

    Water is used to thin out the tomato paste… pretty much all BBQ sauces use those two ingredients as a base, along with vinegar (a natural preservative, along with salt, sugar, etc.), which is sour, so you need to add some sugar (or corn syrup, which already has water in it, so less water will be needed vs. when using “sugar”). You wouldn’t want to put straight tomato paste on your ribs. Some sauces even sneakily combine the water + paste on the ingredients list (hello Guy Ferrari, aka Fieri) as “tomato puree” so that water doesn’t show up first on the ingredients list (is there a problem with water?). Either way, most BBQ sauces are sweet — which helps tenderize the meat — and most have about the same sugar content — about 6-10 grams per 2 Tbsp. Sodium is about the only area of differentiation from a nutritional standpoint, and 50 mg here or there is not a big difference, especially when the numbers on food labels are only approximate, anyway (the machinery that mixes/processes the ingredients isn’t that exact in how much is added, and even a dash of salt has over 150 mg sodium). We need to keep all this in perspective for comparisons to be meaningful.

  • monikarobinski

    No sauce – we’re not grilling :)

  • Marqus Gant

    I make a mean Plum and Peach BBQ sauce.

    • 4theluv

      Recipe please!

    • Souder

      Would you share that tasty sauce recipe? Perfect for the abundant fruits at this time of the year.

      • Marqus Gant

        1/4 C balsamic vinegar
        1/4 C turbinado sugar (it tastes better with this)
        1 tsp. ginger
        1 tsp. allspice
        1 tsp. ground mustard
        2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped
        1 jalapeno, chopped
        1 medium onion, chopped
        2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped
        2 peaches, chopped ( you could use nectarines, but peaches taste better)
        3 plums, chopped

        Throw EVERYTHING in a sauce pan on medium heat. The sauce will have a watery consistency, but will thicken up as you cook it. Tastes great on chicken or lamb burgers or even premium cuts of swine.

        Let it stand for about an hour before use. If you like sweet sauces, adjust the amount of sugar you use.

        Enjoy :)

        PS: Disqus logged me out as usual

        • H2O


          • H2O

            Sounds delicious

        • lynne

          This sounds so good!:-) I will definitly be trying this recipe out. Thanks

  • Aria Gonzalez

    I’m not grilling this weekend but when I do, I use a homemade recipe. I recently bought the paleo grilling book and plan to make use of it. :)

  • APMV

    The Trader Joes is not all natural. Carmel Color is on Dr Sears list of top ten most harmful food additives for kids. Natural flavores are made in a lab. It’s a joke what the government allows to be called a natural flavor.