Life

Grocery Store Pizza Sauces, Blind Tested And Ranked

Your dough game is on point. You can slap and spin your pie in the air in ways that would make a seasoned New York Pizzeria owner green with envy. You’ve got special pans and pizza stones that help get your oven extra hot. Maybe you even own a sweet pizza peel or have a dope backyard wood-fired oven set-up (you big nerd).

So why can’t you make a pizza that rivals your favorite by the slice mom and pop corner joint? Maybe your sauce is off. Are you using marinara with its medley of stewed veggies? That’s not the right vibe. Pizza is street food — a good sauce is simpler than that.

A good pizza sauce isn’t always cooked (it cooks in the oven, with your pie). Rather than being stewed way down, it delivers bright, zesty flavors that cut through the umami-dense, salty flavors of cheese and cured meats. Depending on the style of pizza, it may even have a hint of sweetness.

So who makes the best pizza sauce on grocery store shelves? To find out, we blind taste tested 10 of the most readily available brands.

The Process

For this blind taste test, I used a Boboli pre-made pizza crust, cut it up into 10 individual slices, and had my girlfriend top each with a dollop of sauce and a sprinkling of mozzarella (for the full pizza experience) away from my eyesight. Then she tossed them in the oven (five at a time), and I taste-tested each combo of crust, sauce, and cheese. Just to see if your money would be better spent buying a can of whole peeled tomatoes and making the sauce yourself, I also made my own simple sauce to see how it would patch up.

For the sake of ease and to ensure you could make the sauce yourself at home with no culinary knowledge whatsoever, I kept the ingredients simple: canned tomatoes, salt, pepper, a glug of olive oil, and a sprinkling of oregano and basil.

Let’s get to tasting!

Taste 1

Dane Rivera

This sauce presented itself with a deep crimson color and a very smooth consistency. Definitely a pureed sauce. But while I was expecting something that tasted heavy and robust, this sauce hit me with a surprisingly bright and zesty flavor.

Unfortunately, that initial burst settled into something very neutral. You can tell that this sauce is relying heavily on cornstarch as a thickener. Coupled with an over-riped tomato smell, this one ends up a little unappetizing overall.

Not a great start.

Taste 2

Dane Rivera

Jesus this sh*t is funky! And not in a good way, this sauce is awful, it’s incredibly sharp and overwhelming, has a weird cheesy flavor, and smells like bad feet. It reminds me of Chuck E Cheese. That’s a shame because visually, this one is beautiful. It has a bright red color with nice chunks of tomato, but you could not pay me to ever eat this sauce again.

Taste 3

Dane Rivera

This one… doesn’t look right. It’s almost brown and sort of looks like BBQ sauce. So far, this tasting has been nothing but bad experiences — so I can’t say I was thrilled to try this one. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that this tastes like actual pizza sauce! It has a thick and pasty consistency to it and tastes exactly like the sort of over-sugared sauce you’d find at a pizza chain like Pizza Hut, Little Caesar’s, or Dominos.

It’s not going to be my favorite, but if you love a sweeter pizza sauce, you can’t go wrong with this one.

Taste 4

Dane Rivera

This is fantastic. A considerable step up from everything I’ve tasted so far, this sauce is close to perfect. It’s very bright cutting nicely through the layer of mozzarella with a nice balance of zest and umami and features chunks of flavor-rich tomato, without being overly thick and pasty like Taste 3.

There is something else lurking in this sauce that I can’t quite pinpoint, a sort of sweet earthiness that adds a lot of complexity to it. Just great.

Taste 5

Dane Rivera

Boring. This one isn’t bad, but it has almost nothing going for it. It’s very neutral and provides little more than a wet mouthfeel. You taste it because you know it’s there, but it doesn’t actually taste good enough to be memorable. I

f you’re looking for a non-distracting sauce, this is your best bet. But at that point, I mean… just don’t use sauce maybe?

Taste 6

Dane Rivera

While I’m pretty sure more than half of the sauces selected here have garlic in their ingredients, none of the sauces so far have relied on that flavor as much as this sauce. It’s very garlic heavy, with a rich tomato flavor that really dominated the mozzarella I sprinkled on top. The consistency was a little too pasty for me, and overall that’s going to hurt this otherwise flavorful sauce.

Taste 7

Dane Rivera

I can already tell based on the consistency and color alone, this is the homemade sauce. It has a bright red color with a very rich flavor with sumptuous umami notes balanced with a lot of natural sweetness. It’s also a little wetter than the other sauces I’ve tasted so far, which is another giveaway. If it had time to settle, the consistency would probably bit a bit thicker and more spreadable.

This is delicious and fresh though, so no complaints.

Taste 8

Dane Rivera

Earlier I said the funky mess that was Taste 2 reminded me of Chuck E. Cheese, but I didn’t mean the way it tasted, I meant the way it smelled. Taste 2 smells like Chuck E. Cheese, which is to say: feet. This sauce, however, tastes like what they actually use on Chuck E. Cheese pizza. It’s very cheap tasting and has an off-putting aftertaste that lingers between bites.

Definitely more distracting than pizza sauce should be.

Taste 9

Dane Rivera

For whatever reason, when I took a bite from this slice all of my cheese slid off. So I guess this sauce is the most slippery? That’s something right? This one has a very intense taste, that might be due to the fact that my cheese fell off but I’m getting a rich natural tomato flavor that a lot of these other sauces lack. It has an off putting sour aftertaste to it that I’m not loving though.

Not the worst, but nowhere near the best.

Taste 10

Dane Rivera

This one is very simple, I’m not getting any herbs or garlic, it’s just bright, a bit zesty, and tomato-forward — with just a pinch of salt and a bit of natural sweetness. This was definitely a nice way to end it, it’s not remarkable but it’s everything a good pizza sauce should be. A bit like Taste 4, but without that extra something that really elevates that sauce and makes it a journey.

The Ranking

10. Signature Select — Pizza Sauce (Taste 2)

Dane Rivera

Average Price: $1.79

The Sauce:

I will never forget this sauce. It’s so offensively bad that it is now forever ingrained in my memories. I will never forget its funky taste and toe-jam smell. According to the label, the funk is coming via the inclusion of parmesan cheese. It’s a nice idea, any pizza can be improved by a sprinkling of parmesan, but if you’re making homemade pizza, you’re better of grating it fresh from the block for more flavor and less funk.

Best Type Of Pizza To Use It On:

None, throw this in the trash.

The Bottom Line:

Don’t be fooled by the inclusion of parmesan, it sounds like a good idea but tastes like Chuck E. Cheese smells.

9. Trader Joe’s — Trader Giotto’s Fat-Free Pizza Sauce (Taste 1)

Dane Rivera

Average Retail Price $1.99

The Sauce:

I expected a bit more from Trader Joe’s, this sauce didn’t taste bad, but the smell was overwhelming and cheap. Trader Joe’s also carries a freshly made refrigerated pizza sauce and I wanted that for this ranking, but my local Joe’s was sold out. I’m going to go ahead and suggest you spring for the refrigerated stuff over the jarred just by process of elimination though — because this stuff tastes incredibly cheap.

According to the ingredients list, this sauce is made primarily from water and tomato paste with corn starch as a thickener, sugar, salt, and some basil and garlic powder, none of which you can taste.

Best Application:

Good for a flatbread pizza. You know, the boring, less flavorful version of a pizza.

The Bottom Line:

Not worth the jar it comes in, scan the refrigerated aisle for Joe’s fresh pizza sauce instead.

8. Prego — Pizza Sauce Pizzeria Style(Taste 8)

Dane Rivera

Average Retail Price $2.69

The Sauce:

Prego’s Pizza Sauce claims to be “pizzeria-style” and I’m not sure what that means, but there is nothing noteworthy or interesting about this sauce for it to be designated any sort of “style.” It tastes like the lowest quality ingredients possible were used in the creation of this sauce and looking at the label confirms that. Prego didn’t bother using crushed tomatoes, they just got some tomato puree and cut it with canola oil.

The fact that this is ranking higher than Trader Joe’s is just a testament to just how bad that sauce is — because this is truly some bottom-barrel stuff we are dealing with here.

Best Application:

On a pizza for a kid. One you don’t particularly like. It’s almost like ketchup — all tomato and nothing else.

The Bottom Line:

If you’re about to make a pizza and all you have is Prego Pizza Sauce, you might be better off going no sauce. This isn’t worth opening and eating, you might as well save it forever in the event the world ends and you need sustenance in our post-apocalyptic hell-scape.

Even then, I hear mud doesn’t taste too bad.

7. Ragu — Pizza Sauce Homemade Style (Taste 5)

Dane Rivera

Average Retail Price $1.79

The Sauce:

Don’t you love a food label that just outright lies to your face. Picture yourself in a crowded grocery store, you’re eyeing the pizza sauce trying to decide if that $4 jar is really better than the $2 jar, because they virtually have the same ingredients. Then you run into Ragu, with its low price and many promises — “makes great pizzas!” “extra flavorful,” “homemade style” — how could you go wrong? Well, you could’ve fallen for Prego’s “Pizzeria style” or Signature Selects inclusion of Parmesan cheese I guess, so it could be worse. But if you end up grabbing Ragu you’re going to be disappointed.

This sauce just doesn’t have anything going on. It’s one note — tomato paste. They don’t even bother using diced tomatoes here, just paste, and they cut it with soybean oil and spices. This doesn’t spread well and it doesn’t taste like much.

Best Application:

On the most mediocre homemade pizza of your life.

The Bottom Line:

If it’s all you have and you don’t feel like going to the store to buy a different brand, it gets the job done.

6. Classico — Traditional Pizza Sauce (Taste 6)

Dane Rivera

Average Retail Price $1.80

The Sauce:

After jar after jar of bad to mediocre sauces, this is our first entry that is actually worth your money. It’s cheap, simple, and packed with rich tomato and garlic flavor. The consistency is very thick so a little will go a long way. Classico makes its sauce with a blend of purée and soybean oil, so it’s not the most high quality sauce, but the focus on flavor makes up for it.

Best Application:

Good for any type of pizza but I’d use it on a more sauce-focused pie, like a deep dish.

The Bottom Line:

It’s not going to blow any minds, but it won’t leave you wanting too badly. It gets the job done and doesn’t feel like a waste.

5. Mezzetta — Pizza Sauce (Taste 9)

Dane Rivera

Average Retail Price $3.99

The Sauce:

I had high hopes for this sauce but it didn’t quite deliver at the level I was hoping for. Mezzetta uses real San Marzano tomatoes — which are the gold standard for making a pizza sauce — with extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, spices, fresh garlic, black pepper, and fresh basil. It’s almost ingredient-for-ingredient what I used on the homemade sauce but it still misses the mark to some degree.

For the price and with the ingredients used this should taste better than it does but that sour aftertaste is the only thing that lingers in my memory. It has a better flavor and consistency than Classico, but it isn’t worth its slightly inflated price.

Best Application:

Great on all sorts of pies, but I’d go heavy with the toppings to mask the more off-putting characteristics of this sauce.

The Bottom Line:

Doesn’t deliver on the promise of its well-sourced ingredients. Good but not great.

4. Boboli — Traditional Italian Pizza Sauce (Taste 3)

Dane Rivera

Average Retail Price $3.99 (Pack of three)

The Sauce:

This was the biggest surprise of the blind taste test and reaffirms why we even bother with blind taste tests in the first place! Boboli’s “Traditional Italian Pizza Sauce” (it isn’t in any way traditional or even Italian) comes packaged with every Boboli pre-made crust, I fully expected it to be the worst of the bunch, and then when I saw the sauce — with its dark BBQ-esque color and powerful smell — I was sure it was going to taste awful. Luckily, it doesn’t.

As I said in the tasting notes, it reminds me a lot of the big national pizza chains — it’s sweet, strong enough to cut through your ingredients but not in a distracting or off-putting way. Looking at the ingredients list is downright depressing: Water, Tomato Paste, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Salt, Garlic Powder, Modified Food Starch, Onion Powder, Citric Acid, Spices.

High Fructose Corn Syrup, are you fucking kidding me? In 2021? I’m ashamed this is ranking so high but blind taste tests don’t lie!

Best Application:

A good all-rounder sauce, especially if you’re looking to emulate those big national pizza chains.

The Bottom Line:

Punches way above its weight. If you don’t want to go through the trouble of making your own dough, grab a Boboli crust and you’ve got two packets of perfectly serviceable sauce. That’s killing two birds with one stone.

3. Whole Foods — Organic Pizza Sauce (Taste 10)

Dane Rivera

Average Retail Price $1.79

The Sauce:

Very natural, bright, and zesty. Whole Foods branded stuff doesn’t generally rank highly in our blind rankings, but this is a great pizza sauce. Looking at the ingredients label is a little head-scratching — this sauce contains organic onion, onion powder, organic garlic powder, organic oregano, and basil, none of which I can really taste. Maybe my palate was exhausted after bearing the brunt of trying nine other very intense sauces. What I did taste I liked. It doesn’t blow me away, but it’s so good I’d even consider this on something it’s not intended for, like a homemade chicken parmesan.

Best Application

Great on any homemade pizza you’ll ever make. Throw some fresh herbs to the top of your pie to make up for what this sauce says it has but doesn’t deliver on.

The Bottom Line:

You can’t go wrong with this sauce, it may not use whole plum tomatoes from the San Marzano region, but it’s good, and that’s all that matters.

2. Homemade Pizza Sauce (Taste 7)

Dane Rivera

Average Retail Price $1-$4

The Sauce

For this recipe, I used a single can of peeled whole tomatoes by SMT, which just for clarification are not actual San Marzano tomatoes. They are what are called “San Marzano style” tomatoes (these are from California), sometimes your local grocery store won’t have actual San Marzanos as an option. San Marzano-style is perfectly serviceable.

I emptied out the contents of the can into a big bowl, sprinkled some salt in there, gave it a glug of olive oil, threw in some dry basil and oregano, a crack of pepper, and got to crushing with my hands. For the best consistency, you should absolutely crush this with your hands and avoid using a blender. In about ten minutes I had a sauce that almost trumped every other sauce I purchased from a market. Had I used fresh basil and real San Marzanos this would’ve taken the top spot no contest.

Best Application

On any type of pizza. If your can of tomatoes yields more sauce than you need, use the remains as the base for a more complex sauce like marinara.

The Bottom Line

Trust us, make your own sauce. It’s easier than most people think it is and it gives you ultimate bragging rights when you can say you made the dough and the sauce with your own two hands.

1. Rao’s — Homemade Pizza Sauce (Taste 4)

Rao

Average Retail Price $4.99

The Sauce

Not everyone has the time or the will to make their own sauce, we get that. So if you want the best of the best with the lowest amount of effort, you’ve got to get a jar of Rao’s. I’m genuinely surprised at just how good this sauce is. If you told me you made it the morning you’re serving it, I’d believe it. It’s packed with a robust, nuanced flavor that is so good I’d even recommend it as a pasta sauce. Chunks of tomato can be seen in every spoonful of sauce, but it’s still easily spreadable. Of all the slices, this is the only one I ate fully, because I couldn’t get enough of the sauce. I took that as a strong sign that this was the best.

Rao’s is made with Italian whole peeled tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, olive oil, the usual suspects of spices (onions, salt, garlic, basil), and carrots, which is added that sweet earthy flavor I could taste on the backend. That extra ingredient really makes all the difference.

Best Application:

Use it on any pizza, as a substitute for marinara (seriously), or anything that calls for a tomato-based sauce.

The Bottom Line:

This is the best-jarred pizza sauce your money will buy. Perfect for anyone who doesn’t want to squeeze some San Marzanos by hand.

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