Is BBQ Sauce Vegan? The Ultimate Guide to Choosing Vegan BBQ Sauce

Bowl of BBQ sauce on a grill
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Although BBQ sauce is mainly associated with meat, there are plenty of animal-free options out there for vegan eaters who want to enjoy those sweet, tangy flavors. That said, not all types of BBQ sauces are vegan, and some contain ingredients that not all plant-based eaters consider to be vegan.

There are a few factors to look out for when it comes to vegan varieties of BBQ sauce, some of which aren’t as easy to spot. Check out our ultimate guide to choosing vegan BBQ sauce for your next backyard cookout.

Why BBQ Sauce Is Usually Vegan

Typically, BBQ sauce is vegan, although there are a few key ingredients to look out for when shopping at your local grocery store.

BBQ sauce has a ketchup-like base that’s usually supplemented with plenty of spices and a touch of smokey flavor. It’s meant to be brushed onto food before it’s grilled to keep products moist and retain flavor, but it is also delicious as a dipping sauce or added to side dishes. The main ingredient in BBQ sauce—tomatoes—contain a wealth of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. 

When Is BBQ Sauce Not Vegan?

You might be surprised to find out that some of the most popular brands of BBQ sauce contain anchovies—a type of small fish that’s included to retain saltiness and produce an umami flavor. Likewise, a common ingredient in some BBQ sauces is Worcestershire sauce, which is made using fermented anchovies as well.

There are also some food colorings used by large-scale manufacturers that may or may not be cruelty free, such as those that are tested on animals or are derived from animals (like carmine) which is something to be aware of as well.

Vegans should also keep an eye out for gums and emulsifiers (like gelatin) that are added to BBQ sauce to thicken the texture, some of which can be derived from animal products.

Likewise, natural flavoring can be either vegan or animal-derived, while some cane sugars are refined using animal bones (this is called “bone char,” but organic brands typically refrain from using this method), so some vegans choose to avoid these ingredients altogether. In these cases, the safest bet is to look for a “vegan” stamp on the label.

As a general rule of thumb, the biggest red flags for vegan BBQ sauce are anchovies and honey—though the latter is considered by many to be a “controversial” vegan ingredient.

Treehugger Tip

Just because you have a favorite vegan brand of BBQ sauce doesn’t mean there won’t be different versions that include non-vegan ingredients. Brands will often change the makeup of their products depending on different countries, regulations, or ingredient availability, or even reformulate their classic recipes over time. For this reason, it’s always important to double-check the ingredients list when purchasing a new bottle of your favorite brand.

What About Honey?

Honey is a pretty common ingredient in BBQ sauce and it tends to be somewhat of a gray area in the vegan community. Honey is produced using flower nectar collected by honeybees, who break it down into sugars that are stored, naturally dehydrated in their honeycombs, and capped with beeswax.

Some vegans believe that beekeeping as a form of agriculture is exploitative to the insects and argue that taking their honey is harmful to them, making honey a non-vegan product. Others argue that beekeeping doesn’t necessarily count as animal exploitation since insects are killed in other types of agriculture as well, such as sugar production. Whichever vegan camp you belong to, don’t be surprised if your BBQ sauce lists honey as one of the main ingredients.

Types of Vegan BBQ Sauce

Jar of barbecue sauce on a wooden table
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Vegan BBQ sauces are commonly found in most major grocery stores, but you can also go to health food stores or specialty local markets to try something different. As noted above, all ingredients are subject to change, so always check the label before purchasing to make sure the sauce is still using vegan recipes.

Note also that many BBQ sauces contain sugar and it may not be clear what type of sugar it is or if it is processed using bone char. The best way to ensure that your BBQ sauce uses vegan sugar is to buy products certified as organic or vegan.

The following BBQ sauces are vegan-friendly:

  • Annie’s Original BBQ Sauce
  • Annie’s Smoky Maple BBQ Sauce
  • Annie’s Sweet & Spicy BBQ Sauce
  • Primal Kitchen Classic BBQ Sauce
  • Primal Kitchen Golden BBQ Sauce
  • Primal Kitchen Hawaiian Style BBQ Sauce
  • Primal Kitchen Mango Jalapeño BBQ Sauce
  • Organicville Original BBQ Sauce
  • Organicville Tangy BBQ Sauce
  • Tessemae's Matty's Organic BBQ Sauce
  • Kraft Original Slow-Simmered Barbecue Sauce & Dip
  • Kraft Hot & Spicy Barbecue Sauce & Dip
  • Kraft Hickory Smoke Slow-Simmered Barbecue Sauce & Dip
  • Kraft Sweet & Spicy Barbecue Sauce
  • Bull’s-Eye Original BBQ Sauce

The following sauce brands contain vegan ingredients but also non-organic sugar:

  • Sweet Baby Ray’s Original Barbeque Sauce
  • Sweet Baby Ray’s Sweet ‘n Spicy Barbecue Sauce
  • Heinz Carolina Mustard Style BBQ Sauce
  • Heinz Carolina Vinegar Style Sweet & Tangy BBQ Sauce
  • Heinz Original Sweet & Thick Barbecue Sauce
  • Heinz Kansas City Style Sweet & Smoky BBQ Sauce
  • Heinz Texas Style Bold & Spicy BBQ Sauce
  • Bull’s-Eye New York Steakhouse BBQ Sauce 
  • Bull’s-Eye Smokey Chipotle BBQ Sauce 
  • Bull’s-Eye Roasted Onion BBQ Sauce
  • Bull’s-Eye Smokey Bacon BBQ Sauce
  • Stubb’s Original Bar-B-Q Sauce
  • Stubb’s Dr. Pepper Legendary Bar-B-Q Sauce
  • Stubb’s Hickory Bourbon Bar-B-Q Sauce
  • Stubb’s Simply Sweet Reduced Sugar BBQ Sauce
  • Stubb’s Smokey Brown Sugar BBQ Sauce
  • Stubb’s Spicy Bar-B-Q Sauce
  • Stubb’s Sticky Sweet Bar-B-Q Sauce
  • Stubb’s Sweet Heat Bar-B-Q Sauce

Types of Non-Vegan BBQ Sauce

Of course, there are bound to be some sauces on the shelves that sneak honey and other non-vegan ingredients into their products, including the following varieties:

  • Sweet Baby Ray’s Honey Barbecue Sauce
  • Sweet Baby Ray’s Maple Barbecue Sauce
  • Sweet Baby Ray’s Honey Chipotle Barbecue Sauce 
  • Kraft Sweet Honey Slow-Simmered Barbecue Sauce & Dip
  • Kraft Mesquite Smoke Barbecue Sauce
  • Kraft Spicy Honey Slow-Simmered Barbecue Sauce & Dip
  • Heinz Memphis Style Sweet & Spicy BBQ Sauce
  • Bull’s-Eye Tennessee Style Sweet Whiskey BBQ Sauce
  • Stubb’s Smokey Mesquite Bar-B-Q Sauce
  • Stubb’s Sweet Honey & Spice Legendary Bar-B-Q Sauce

Vegan Alternatives of BBQ Sauce

Homemade BBQ sauce
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When in doubt, make your own BBQ sauce! There are plenty of vegan BBQ sauce recipes spread across the internet; most consist of some combination of tomato paste or tomato sauce (or even pre-bottled ketchup), vinegar, spices (including but not limited to pepper, smoked paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, chili powder, and mustard powder), vegan Worcestershire, sweetener (such as agave, vegan brown sugar, coconut sugar, or maple syrup), and liquid smoke.

BBQ sauce recipes typically call for mixing all the ingredients in a pan, bringing to a boil, and then simmering until the sauce has thickened. In a pinch, vegans can also substitute BBQ sauce with just plain ketchup, though it likely won’t have the same unique flavor that BBQ sauce is known for.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • Is vegan BBQ sauce gluten free?

    Mass-produced vegan BBQ sauce will likely be made in a large facility that is exposed to gluten or uses gluten-based thickeners, so small-batch brands with the certified gluten-free label are a better option if you’re allergic.

    Keep an eye on the ingredients list for any hidden names of gluten, especially with different flavors of BBQ sauce, such as soy sauce. 

  • Is McDonald’s BBQ sauce vegan?

    According to Treehugger’s Vegan Guide to McDonald’s, both the tangy barbecue sauce and the sweet and sour sauce are vegan.

  • Is vegan BBQ healthy?

    This depends on your definition of “healthy,” but it’s good to be aware that some commercially produced BBQ sauces use high-fructose corn syrup as a main ingredient, which may not be ideal for those following a low-sugar diet.