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People take their barbecue very, very seriously and will argue the relative merits of the various regional styles endlessly. The purists, of course, will make their own barbecue sauce, but judging from the sheer number and variety of barbecue sauces available at your local grocery store, most people just go to the store and buy a bottle of sauce when they decide to have some barbecue.
But which one should they choose? Until now I have simply suggested that people look for a barbecue sauce with as little sodium as they can find, but in the last few weeks I've been asked more than once to be more specific.
For today's review we went to my local Winn-Dixie and looked through the pretty wide selection. The vast majority of sauces had over 300 milligrams of sodium per serving, and some over 400 milligrams. That's bad enough, but almost all of the major brands, such as Kraft®, started their ingredient list with High Fructose Corn Syrup. We did eventually find, however, four varieties with less than 250 milligrams of sodium per 2 tablespoon serving with acceptable ingredient lists. We did our taste test by cutting chicken thighs into chunks, placing about two ounces into a small baking cup, and topping them with two tablespoons of the sauce. After baking the chicken at 350F for about 15 minutes, we tasted the results.
This has the least sodium of the four sauces we tasted at 190 milligrams (and 60 calories) per serving. It doesn't matter, though, because this is a very one-note sauce: it tastes somewhat like white vinegar smells. We're not against the more tart and vinegary barbecue styles, but this sauce simply lacks any subtlety.
Of the four sauces we tasted, this is the only one that includes High Fructose Corn Syrup in the ingredient list. It's also the one that cooked up to be the most stereotypical in terms of consistency: it remained thick and sticky even after cooking. This has the least amount of sodium we could find among the big name brands on the shelves, but it's the highest amount of sodium among the sauces we tested, at 240 milligrams per serving (and 60 calories). It's also the worst tasting: it's another one-note sauce, and that note is that of offensively artificial smoke flavor - almost a plasticky flavor. Leave this (and any other sauce containing HFCS) on the shelf.
Stubb's can be found not only in regular grocery stores but also in Whole Foods. A little thin after cooking, the ingredient list starts with water, tomato paste, and sugar but tastes like a lightly vinegary tomato sauce. It's far more complex than the JohnBoy & Billy's... but still a little nondescript. At 220 milligrams of sodium and 30 calories, this is still a good choice if you can't find our taste test winner.
This and the JohnBoy & Billy's brand were new to me, but I was surprised to see a mere 200 milligrams of sodium with only 25 calories per 2 Tbsp serving. This is pretty thick as it comes out of the bottle but thins quite a bit on cooking. While it's not a stereotypically thick and sticky sauce, it has a moderately sweet and tart flavor that we felt lives up to its "sensuous" name. A definite winner! If you can't find this in your local grocery store, you can buy it online at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que.