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There are tens of thousands of products on supermarket shelves; let us help you pick the best—in both taste and nutrition. After booting out foods that don't fit our nutrition standards, products are served to a Cooking Light staff tasting panel for blind taste tests. Here are the winning products in a variety of categories.
Starting a Food Business: How to Conduct a Taste Test
Before you spend money on a commercial kitchen, be sure to learn how to conduct a taste test to make sure your food product will sell.
True, everyone who tastes your _____ (fill in the blank: pies, pickles, pralines, etc.) says they’re the best they’ve ever had. But it’s a long way from receiving culinary praise to launching a successful food business and selling the product commercially. Even cooking up a delicious business plan won’t be enough to get you started. It’s important to know how to conduct a taste test properly to get honest results before spending too much money on developing a product that could flop.
The Best Bottled Barbecue Sauce | Taste Test
Have you ever been full from barbecue sauce, not actual barbecue? Yeah, we hadn't either—until this tasting. It was a strange feeling, and not one we recommend, but necessary in order to find our favorite brand of barbecue sauce.
We tried 16 nationally available brands, in search for one that had the right amount of tang, smokiness, and lingering heat, without being pancake syrup sweet.
If you've been reading Josh Bousel's Sauced column lately, you know that making it from scratch isn't all that hard. Throw a few cupboard staples together in a pot, stir, wait a bit, and bam, you've churned out barbecue sauce. But for many of us, it ends up being whatever we pick up at the grocery store, and thankfully there are some decent ones out there.
We divvied up the sauces into two styles: the spicy, vinegary variety, and the sweeter, thicker Kansas City style sauces. For the full break-down on sauce styles, feel free to peruse our complete guide to regional barbecue styles and sauces. For the purposes of our storebought tasting, the two categories covered them all.
What Makes a Good Barbecue Sauce?
We consulted our resident expert Josh (our Grilling and Sauced columnist) on what to look for:
- Texture: They can be anywhere from thin and runny to molasses-thick. There's no right or wrong with thickness and texture, according to Josh, but it can help define the best use for the sauce.
- Aroma: The smell can make or break a sauce. You can have a perfectly cooked rib or pulled pork, but top it with an off-smelling sauce, and the whole thing becomes an unfortunate experience.
- Flavor: For the Kansas City-style sauces, we expected sweeter and thicker, but still needed the balance of tang and heat. For the more vinegar-based sauces, we were looking for the acidic tang, but thickened and slightly sweetened with tomato paste, and peppery heat to round it out.
We scored the sauces on a scale of 1 (worst) to 10 (best).
Best Kansas City-Style (Tie: 5.7): Bull's-Eye
We've all squirted Bulls-Eye onto our plates at some backyard barbecue at some point, right? It immediately tasted familiar, and probably earned some nostalgia points for that. There's some acidity, some smokiness, some heat, and a generous amount of molasses sweetness. Too sweet for some palates, though. Overall it's a little artificial tasting, in a standard chain BBQ restaurant kind of way, but y'know, it's really not that bad. Labeled "the bold choice" for barbecue—and compared to the others it sure packed a bold wallop—Bull's Eye can be found it just about every supermarket, and comes in nine varieties. (We tried "Original.")
Best Kansas City-Style (Tie: 5.7): TJ's Bold & Smoky
This is a touch less sweet than the Bulls-Eye brand. Vinegary, tangy, and some sweetness to be sure, but with enough bitterness to keep it balanced. We really liked the smooth texture—it wasn't gloppy or runny. It could use a little more heat but had a pleasant balance nonetheless. We liked it much better than Trader Joe's other available barbecue sauce: Trader Joe's All-Natural Sauce (more on why below).
Best Vinegar-Based Sauce (5.2): Stubb's
You might be familiar with the Stubbs story. A man named Christopher B. Stubblefield, nicknamed "Stubb," opened a barbecue joint in Lubbock, Texas, back in 1968, which doubled as a live music hotspot. In the 1980s, Stubb relocated his restaurant-cum-venue to Austin (which is still open today) and in 1992, gained some national fame after an appearance on Late Night with David Letterman. He went on to start a line of barbecue sauces and rubs, now available at many supermarkets. Stubb's smiling, cowboy hat-wearing face (he died in 1995, rest his soul) is still on every bottle with this quote: "Ladies and gentlemen, I'm a cook."
Alright, now onto the sauce! There's a lot of tomato and vinegar happening here, but it's not ketchupy sweet as with many others. More of a deeper tomato paste. This fades into tangyness, and the smoky spice lingers. The Stubbles man sure put some bite into this one. There are visible specks of black pepper and garlic, too.
The Rest of the Kansas City-Style Sauces
Sweet Baby Ray's (5.5)
The spice hits immediately with this one, then progressively gets stronger. It's balanced with both a sweet and sour background. Though not particularly unique in flavor profile, it's what we've always thought of as "barbecue sauce," at least in the world of supermarket varieties. If you want something to have that ubiquitous "barbecue" flavor (and hey, we're not judging) then this one's for you.
KC Masterpiece (5.5)
Lots of dark molasses with a hint of maple. Thick and sweet to be sure, but not enough tang or heat. "Reminiscent of hoisin sauce," said one taster. Though it wasn't all that special, it scored pretty well because it was familiar for many of us, much like Bulls-Eye.
Guy Fieri (5.25)
And here you thought he just had his own signature line of shades! Fieri is a pretty busy guy (har har). Of his four sauces available, we tried the Kansas City barbecue sauce. It's pretty one-dimensional with a black pepper kick (you'll see the black flecks in there) and a heavy hand of molasses. "Not a lotta complexity," said one taster.
Trader Joe's All-Natural (4.67)
As noted above, if you're at TJ's and shopping for barbecue sauce, this isn't the one. You want the Kansas City style sauce, which tied for first place in this category. This product, on the other hand, is trying to burn your mouth off. Don't get us wrong, we like a good mouth sizzle when it belongs there, but not so much for 'cue sauces. It was the only woah-there-turn-down-the-heat sauce of the 16 brands. Hot with an ashy, acidic flavor. "Dirty tasting," said one taster.
Jack Daniel's Original No.7 (4.67)
Like the Budweiser sauce (see below), this also gets booze into the mix. Very smoky and sweet, almost beefy, but you won't really detect the whiskey. Unless you count the burnt finish. "Tastes like a candle," said one taster. "Christmas eve with the fireplace burning the cold house!" said another.
Very ketchupy with a slight fruitiness. No smoke, acid, or heat to balance it all out, though. Not very complex.
"The most generic tasting," said one taster. It's sticky and candy-sweet with no heat. Closer to a salad dressing (coincidentally enough we had no idea it was Kraft in the blind tasting!) than a barbecue sauce.
Too ketchupy and gloppy. Vaguely plum-flavored, but more reminiscent of sticky plum sauce than the actual drupe fruit. Thick and too overpowered by the fruity sweetness.
Wait, Budweiser makes a. barbecue sauce? And there's beer in it? Yes and yes. Speckled with dehydrated onion and garlic flecks, it's pretty funky, but not in a good way. Vinegary and spicy up front with an off-putting aftertaste. "Tastes like stale beer mixed with Italian dressing," said one taster. Eekers. We'll just stick to drinking Budweiser, thanks.
Annie's Natural (3.17)
Tomatoey, lemony, celery-y. Very vegetal, and way too much dried spice. Not what we want when we want barbecue sauce. Needs more vinegar bite. Needs less tomato paste action. Needs to probably stay away from our grill.
The Rest of the Vinegar-Based Sauces
Lip Lickin' (4.8)
Barbecue sauces sure love the word "lick." Well, this is the second brand with it in the title (see Salt Lick below). Of the two, we'd rather lick this one. It's big on vinegar. Tart, peppery, and tangy. The texture is thin, not gloppedy thick, which was appreciated. While we liked the not-too-sweet factor, it could have used a smokier edge.
Salt Lick (3.17)
"Out here in Driftwood, Texas since 1967," the label says. The barbecue joint is still there, too, right outside of Austin. The "lick" part in this case comes from the deer who used to lick the salt and minerals off the ranch's large rocks. Well, we weren't so much of the licking deer types with this sauce. It tasted more like honey mustard than barbecue sauce, and looked like it too. "Not what I think of as barbecue sauce," agreed tasters about this mustard-based sauce. Sweet and sour (check, check) but not smoky or spiced.
Bone Suckin (3.17)
This reminded us of Asian sauces like hot and sour or even duck sauce. Uh, should we dip an egg roll in here? "All I taste is sweet," said one taster. There's vinegar hiding in there somewhere, but it's mostly a sweet takeover.
Or, Make the Sauce from Scratch!
Note: We originally conducted this bottle barbecue sauce taste test way back in 2011, and it's taken us two years to recover from the dreaded Sauce Bloat. But in the spirit of Barbecue Week 2013, we're revisiting this particular adventure in condiments. Enjoy! — The Mgmt.
Cherrybrook Kitchen Buster Fudge Brownie Mix
Ann Marie Langrehr/Eat This, Not That!
This brownie mix is great for those with food restrictions, as it's free of dairy, eggs, and nuts. But all of our tasters eat dairy, and this didn't land in our top choices.
The recipe calls for melted margarine, and we used melted butter instead. Still, the lack of eggs and milk chocolate led to a brownie that our tasters just couldn't get behind. "It leaves a bad aftertaste," one editor wrote. The texture also played a major factor here—these brownies didn't stay together, and one editor noted that they were "lacking the crispy top part of the brownie" that makes this treat so delicious.
"For anyone who observes Passover, these taste like the kosher for Passover Manischewitz brand brownies," one editor wrote. "These will do when you can't have yeast but leave you feeling sad and wanting more legit brownies."
Grass Fed vs. Regular Beef: Which Tastes Better?
We take our burgers very seriously here at HuffPost Taste. We know how good they can be when made right, so we don't want to settle for anything less. With burger season (almost) in foreseeable sight, we got to thinking: with all the hype of grass-fed burgers, does it really make a difference when it comes to taste? And is it really worth the steep price tag?
We know that there are die-hard fans for both types of beef. Some burger connoisseurs swear by their "regular beef" burgers and other burger eaters promise that grass-fed has better results. (For this particular purpose, it's all about taste -- ethics are not coming into play.)
To get to the meat of the matter, we conducted a blind taste test comparing a burger made with standard-issue, grain-fed supermarket beef vs. one made with grass-fed beef (from Moveable Beast Farm) -- both of them 85-percent lean. Our group of burger-loving editors tasted them plain, served on a Martin's potato bun. No cheese, no bacon, no frills. Just burger.
Before we began the taste test, we worried that people wouldn't be able to taste the difference between regular and grass-fed beef. "How different could they be?" we wondered. We were SO wrong. Every single editor was able to taste which burger was made with grass-fed beef, and they were almost 100 percent unanimous (see the side note below) as to which one made the better burger. We learned first hand that the price tag is worth it, people. Grass-fed beef makes for a significantly better tasting burger. Here's what the editors had to say about each:
Small farm, grass-fed beef:
"Meat town! Great flavor." "This one has a definite earthy/grassy flavor." "Juicier, more flavorful." "Tender, juicy, more like stewed meat." "This is GOOD."
Standard-issue, grain-fed supermarket beef:
"Very little flavor involved. Not a meat-man's meat." "Meat was a bit indistinguishable." "Tasted good, but it was sort of generic tasting." "Typical old-school burger flavor and texture." "Good, solid burger, but totally forgettable."
SIDE NOTE: This is what the one person who preferred the regular burger over the grass-fed burger had to say about the regular burger: "Tastes juicy, succulent. It's a warm sumer day sitting by the pool in my mouth. A fine-lookin' girl in a bathing suit brings me this burger and then we dance all night eating chemically-fed dead cow." And the same editor's thoughts on the grass-fed burger: " Grass fed. Tastes weird. F*ck grass." So clearly, that taster is crazy.
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We have embarked on a taste test tour of supermarket foods. We nibble (or sip), we score, and we share the results to help you avoid the paralysis of Brand Choice Overload. Today's topic: chicken noodle soup.
This Friday brings us the first day of fall, and we're all looking forward to warm scarves, crisp apples, and bedside tables strewn with Kleenex boxes. Yes, flu season is also around the corner. What better way to prepare than to taste-test the holy grail of restorative comfort foods: chicken noodle soup. You don't need a lab coat to know that a warm bowl of the stuff paired with a cozy blanket can cure almost anything.
Unfortunately, this Supermarket Standoff had the adverse effect, inflicting temporarily illness (okay, just disgust, really) on some of our participants. There were comparisons to paint thinner, shampoo, and dog food. One taster wrote at the top of his paper, "These all sucked." Ouch. Maybe varied expectations were part of the problem: Some tasters just wanted chicken and noodles, and others wanted a few carrots in there for good measure. The only unifying factor is that we all probably exceeded our recommended sodium intake for the week.
Of course if you have the time and energy, chicken noodle soup made from scratch is the best medicine. If that's not an option, though, let our picks and nutritionist Marissa Lippert's favorites after the jump be your guide. --Christine Clark
Nutrition: One serving (1 cup/246 g) = 110 calories, 3 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat, .5 g polyunsaturated fat, 1 g monounsaturated fat, 25 mg cholesterol, 690 mg sodium, 14 g total carbs, less than 1 g fiber, 2 g sugar, 7 g protein
Ingredients: Chicken broth, cooked white chicken mat, carrots, enriched egg noodle (durum flour, egg, niacin, ferrous sulfate, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), celery, contains less than 2% of: modified food starch, water, salt, monosodium glutamate, chicken fat, hydrolyzed corn protein, dried egg white, onion powder, hydrolyzed soy protein, maltodextrin, autolyzed yeast extract, natural flavor, sodium phosphate, dried parsley, garlic powder, soy protein isolate, egg yolk, spice, soy lecithin, sugar, beta carotene (color)
Cost: $3.39 at The Food Emporium in York City
Blind Tasting Notes: "Can taste the veggies in this" "Thicker broth--almost creamy. Carrot-y" "Good chicken"
Nutrition: : One serving (1/2 cup condensed soup, 1 cup prepared/246 g) = 60 calories, 2 g total fat, .5 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 890 mg sodium, 8 g total carbs, 1 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 3 g protein
Ingredients: Chicken stock, enriched egg noodles (wheat flour, egg solids, niacin, ferrous sulfate, thiamine, mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), cooked chicken meat, water, contains less than 2% of the following ingredients: salt, chicken fat, cooked mechanically separated chicken, monosodium glutamate, cornstarch, onion powder, modified food starch, yeast extract, spice extract, soy protein isolate, sodium phosphates, beta carotene for color, chicken flavor (contains chicken stock, chicken powder, chicken fat), flavoring, dehydrated garlic.
Cost: $1.59 at The Food Emporium in New York City
Blind Tasting Notes: "Totally Campbell's. And totally, fake-tasting, but I have a soft spot for it" "This is going to sound crazy, but I like this one even though the noodles are soggy" "Salty, boring" "Really mushy noodles"
Nutrition: One serving (1 cup/246 g) = 90 calories, 3 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 860 mg sodium, 11 g total carbs, 2 g fiber, 2 g sugar, 5 g protein
Ingredients: Organic Chicken Stock (Water, Chicken Meat and Natural Juices, Salt, Cane Sugar, Maltodextrin, Natural Flavor, Dried Onion and Potato Starch, Dried Garlic, Turmeric and Spice Extractives), Organic Cooked Chicken Meat, Organic Celery, Organic Onions, Organic Carrots, Organic Egg Noodle (Semolina Flour, Whole Egg Powder, Egg White Powder), Organic Potato Starch, Contains 2% or less of the: organic celery, organic tapioca starch, organic onions, organic chicken fat, sea salt, organic vegetables (carrots, onions, celery), organic parsley, organic paprika, dehydrated organic onions, organic cane juice, organic spice, organic tumeric, flavoring.
Cost: $2.99 at Whole Foods in New York City
Blind Tasting Notes: "Good flavor, but bad noodle" "Best chicken of the bunch, but worst broth" "Better spice mix--sage?"
Comment from Lippert: "This was a tough one. First off, the sodium content of the majority of soups was pretty astonishing, averaging between 600-800mg per 1 cup serving. How realistic is it really to have just 1 cup of soup? Most of us would likely polish off the full can, at least 2 cups of soup/2 servings, which means sodium levels could reach well above 1700mg. Our daily recommendation is about 2,300m 1,500mg for individuals over 51.
Do Heirloom Beans Actually Taste Different Than Regular Supermarket Beans?
Dried beans are one of those pantry staples that I didn&apost think much about until recently. If there was a choice between bags of beans at the store, I would go with the cheapest one. I figured that dried beans are dried beans, right? How much different could they taste?
But then I read an article in The New Yorker about Rancho Gordo, a company that specializes in locating and selling rare heirloom beans. I knew that I had to try them. As someone who believes strongly in buying fancy butter when I can, I wondered if I had been overlooking an ingredient that had a lot more potential to be delicious than I gave it credit for.
So I decided to do a taste test between Rancho Gordo&aposs heirloom beans and the average bag I would pick up at the super market. I purchased Rancho Gordo&aposs midnight beans, which will run you $5.95, and a bag of Goya black beans, which go for $1.09 at my local supermarket and likely less in parts of the country that are not New York City.
Watch: How to Make Black Beans in the Instant Pot
The Cooking Method
I usually cook dried black beans in my Instant Pot, or as a component to another meal like black bean chili or black bean tacos. But for the purposes of this test, I decided to cook the beans very simply. I soaked both types for two hours the morning I was cooking them. Both pots of beans had yellow onion diced and sauteed in olive oil, bay leaf, and water. I brought them to a boil and then down to a simmer, covering the pot with more hot water from the kettle if the liquid started running low. At the end of the cooking time, I seasoned both batches with salt and pepper. That&aposs it.
The first difference I noticed was how much quicker the heirloom beans cooked. That&aposs not a big surprise—Rancho Gordo beans are fresher, meaning that they&aposve been harvested and dried within the past year. Your average dried bean could be sitting on the supermarket shelf for much longer. Fresher dried beans take less time to cook. In this case, the Rancho Gordo beans were done around the two-hour mark, whereas the supermarket beans took about four hours to fully cook.
What surprised me most wasn&apost the difference in flavor, but the difference in texture. The Rancho Gordo beans had a creaminess that I hadn&apost experienced in a dried bean before. By comparison, the Goya beans felt a little mealy. The Rancho Gordo beans also seem to cook more evenly. They also seemed to distribute the flavor of the onion and bay leaf more evenly throughout the bean, whereas the supermarket beans seemed to have pockets of flavor.
But is it really worth spending almost six times as much money on a bag of beans? That depends on your budget and how much you love beans. I ate the heirloom beans plain over rice, and then later, with an egg over them on a tortilla for breakfast. But the supermarket black beans were perfectly serviceable—I have plans to add more spices to them and work them into soups and casseroles over the next few weeks. If you want the bean to be the star of the show, and you&aposre willing to put down another $5 for a bag then yes, I&aposd absolutely recommend trying Rancho Gordo. If you&aposre not particularly sold on beans, they might even convince you to change your mind. But if all you can fit into your budget is what&aposs available at the grocery store, your chili is still going to be delicious.
Betty Crocker Super Moist French Vanilla
There's a reason why Betty Crocker cake mixes can be found in nearly all grocery stores—the brand's offerings are delicious. Made with pudding, this vanilla cake mix creates the ultimate moist yet soft slice with the classic vanilla taste that makes it so irresistible. Spread some vanilla frosting on top, and you've got one show-stopping cake.
Taste Test: The Best Whole-Wheat Sandwich Bread
Sandwich bread is a mainstay in home kitchens -- what would our school lunches have been without sliced bread? You'll easily find a bag of store-bought bread in anyone's fridge or cupboard. And nowadays everyone has made the switch from white bread to wheat bread. But not all wheat breads are created equal. Our aim is to find the best-tasting wheat bread out of the bunch.
Most of us just buy whatever bread is on sale, or the one that's always the least expensive. Many of us grew up eating the same brand, like Wonder bread, so we keep buying it to keep the nostalgia alive. But we at Kitchen Daily needed to know: which wheat bread is the best in taste and texture? Which one is the right choice for sandwiches?
Our editors blind-tasted 10 different wheat breads. We discovered that many brands offer different types of wheat breads, such as country-style or stone ground. Many of them had a true wheat flavor and good texture. Some were very dry, bordering on stale. Others had a bitter taste. And unfortunately there were some that were just too soft to handle, becoming gummy in the mouth. So which wheat bread should you be buying in the future? Find out which brands you should skip and which are the best for sandwiches in the slideshow below.
How did your favorite whole-wheat bread rank? Vote on your favorite in the slideshow and leave a comment below.
As always, our taste tests are in no way influenced by or sponsored by the brands included.
The Kosher Dill Pickle That Divided Tasters: Ba-Tampte
Literally half of our group recoiled at the taste of this. uh, distinct. pickle. The other half could not understand how any other pickle in the tasting could possibly top it. Frankly, I'm of the former camp and liken its flavor to the aroma of medicinal cream. Other editors, such as Becky Hughes and Emily Johnson, found the signature smokiness excitingly different from the other samples. Anya Hoffman, who grew up in New York City, said that they reminded her of "the vat of pickles you get at an old-school New York City diner." Taste them and decide for yourself.