Is BBQ Sauce Vegan? A Breakdown of Your Favorite Brands

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Is BBQ Sauce Vegan

Welcome back to my series, “Is It Vegan?”. When it comes to being vegan, not everything is straightforward. Some foods, especially processed foods, have simply too many ingredients to know, even for the most veteran of vegans. So I do the research for you! I break down the simple, the difficult, and everything in between so that you can be sure you are choosing foods that fit your ethics and ideals.

Is BBQ sauce vegan? Yep! Most barbecue sauce is in fact vegan. Not all of it…you can definitely run into bottles that aren’t vegan-friendly. But most don’t use any animal products to make their mouth-watering creations.

The ones that aren’t vegan usually have honey, sardines, or anchovies. Others may have ingredients that don’t fit the cruelty-free standard for strict vegans, like sugar.

We’ll discuss all of these, along with a look at the most popular brands, so that you know exactly what you’re looking for.

Is BBQ Sauce Vegan?

I love barbecue sauce! Always have. Ketchup and mustard are okay, but I can smother pretty much anything in bbq. I haven’t eaten meat in years, and don’t really get down with the mock meats that often either. They’re just too much like the real thing, which makes me feel like I’m eating the cow. I gave that up, and don’t really want to relive it.

But marinate some tempeh in barbecue sauce for 30 minutes before baking it…if you aren’t doing that on the regular, it’s time to start my friend!

When I first started eating a plant-exclusive diet I didn’t eat bbq sauce. For years I avoided it. I just had this idea that thick consistency was probably earned by adding honey to the recipe. I didn’t look, I just didn’t buy it.

Then my wife’s cousin brought Sweet Baby Rays to a potluck. I was shocked! It was vegan! Not healthy, but it was a party, so I enjoyed myself. Now, vegan barbecue sauce is a somewhat regular condiment in my never-ending quest for spending less time in the kitchen but still getting incredible flavor.

If you’ve been on the fence and just venturing back out into the world of bbq, there are typically four ingredients that you want to watch out for:

Honey

Sardines or anchovies

Refined Sugar

Natural Flavors

You may even run into eggs, milk, pork, or animal stock, which I’ll talk about as well.

Quick Tips for Choosing the Right Vegan BBQ Sauce

You probably already have your favorite BBQ sauce brand. Mine’s been Stubb’s for going on 20 years now. It’s not expensive and has great flavor!

But whether you already have your favorite brand or are looking to get back into the molasses-y sweetness of BBQ sauce, here are some tips for choosing the right one.

Check the ingredients on the nutrition label. If you see any obvious animal-derived ingredients, including honey, anchovies, chicken, or pork, avoid this flavor.

Look for the word palm on the nutrition label

Look for the Vegan trademark. This just makes it easy.

Vegan Trademark

Look for Organic. I’m not pushing organic or non-organic, but if the sugar in the product is organic it will be organic. Since 2020 organic sugar must be vegan.

USDA Organic

Don’t worry too much about refined sugar or natural flavors. I’ll explain more later, but these are small ingredients that are likely vegan-friendly and have very little impact in the big scheme of things.

You’re already vegan and are making a world of difference!

Let’s get into non-vegan ingredients that you may find on barbecue sauce labels.

BBQ Sauce Non-Vegan Ingredients

Honey

Bees make honey, and they require it for food and warmth

Honey is still somewhat debated in the vegan community. I’m not sure why.

Honey is food for bees, and they require it to survive winters. Often the bees are raised for the honey and then the colony is killed with the harvest. Not cool. This is why most vegans avoid it.

The worst part is that many of the healthier, lower-sugar options are sweetened with honey.

Sardines, Anchovies, and Worcestershire

Some bbq sauces use sardines or anchovies as a flavor ingredient

Some barbecue brands use these fish to add a savory flavor and a bit of saltiness to their sauce. These are straightforward. They’re fish, so they’re out, and if they are in the sauce they’ll be on the label.

Some of Heinz’s BBQ flavors have anchovies listed on their labels. So check those.

But I have seen Worcestershire sauce on BBQ labels before. Worcestershire is usually flavored with anchovies. That’s where it gets its umami flavor. Vegan Worcestershire sauce is actually really hard to come by, so if you see this on the label, assume it’s not vegan-friendly and move on.

Beef or Chicken Stock

You will rarely see this today. This was more common decades ago. But it is a possibility, so just watch out for it.

Milk or Egg Yolks

Why do milk and egg have to end up in everything?!!

Again, this is a rarity, but common enough that you need to check for it. You won’t usually find this on the Original or Spicy flavors of your favorite brand. These are more common in specialty flavors. Brands want to have something no one else has, so they’ll use ingredients to get a flavor that is new to the market.

Milk and eggs are easy to spot, but sometimes we get lulled into thinking that since every other flavor from our favorite brand is vegan, then they all must be. When you try a new flavor, definitely check the label.

Natural Flavors and Smoke Flavor

The FDA does define natural flavors. The problem is, Natural Flavors on a nutrition label could be anything, plant-based or animal-derived.

Chances are, any natural flavors in BBQ sauce are going to be plant-based. But again, this is such a small issue that’s is not really worth causing yourself too much stress over.

Oh, and smoke flavor is vegan, too! It’s condensed from the actual smoke off burning wood! I always have a little bottle of hickory-flavored liquid smoke in my pantry. It’s amazing on tofu and tempeh!

Gelatin

Gelatin is from animal collagen. It is sometimes added to BBQ sauce as a thickener and texturized. Other gums and emulsifiers can be used instead, most of which are plant-based. Gelatin is the main animal-derived thickener to look out for.

Processed Sugar

Processed sugar comes either from sugar beets or sugarcane. Sugar beets are always vegan, but sugarcane is refined using bone char filters about 50 percent of the time. Yep, bone char. It’s exactly what it sounds like. Bone char is the carbonized bones of animals. The bones are burnt and then used to filter the sugar.

In 2020, bone char was removed from the USDA’s National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances for Organic products. So Organic Sugar is always vegan.

Read more about sugar, what to look for, and other sweetener options that fit with a vegan lifestyle here.

Personally, I rarely worry about this. The chances that the refined sugar in your processed food was filtered using bone char is pretty minimal. I worry about it more when purchasing sugar for baking at home. If I need sugar, I’ll buy organic, raw, or choose a different sweetener like coconut sugar or date sugar.

Remember that veganism isn’t about being perfect. It’s about doing your best and causing the least amount of harm.

All right, let’s talk specifics!

Most barbecue sauce brands have both vegan-friendly and non-vegan options in their lineups. So let’s look at some of the most popular BBQ sauces out there so you know which ones to avoid and which ones to enjoy.

I am going to call out brands that use animals in their product lineup. Most companies will use honey in a flavor or two. That ingredient is controversial, and every vegan gets to make up his or her own mind.

But there’s a difference, to me at least, between a company that sweetens a flavor or two with honey and one that kills fish or pork to make their sauce. Again, you do you. Avoid the flavors that have animal-derived ingredients and buy the ones that don’t.

Me, I’m not buying from the companies that use fish or mammals for any of their sauces.

Is Jack Daniel’s BBQ Sauce Vegan?

All Jack Daniel’s barbecue sauce is vegan except their Tennessee Honey sauce. Honey is the name of the flavor is usually a dead giveaway.

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Is Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ Sauce Vegan? (Animal-Derived Ingredients)

Sweet Baby Ray’s has an absolutely ridiculous number of sauce flavors. You want it, they have it! But this is another company that adds milk, chicken broth, or eggs to their lineup, along with the honey pretty much everyone uses.

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Here are the ones to avoid if you like their sauce but want to keep it vegan:

Honey Barbecue Sauce (honey)
Maple Barbecue Sauce (honey)
Honey Chipotle Barbecue Sauce (honey)
Honey Hot Sauce & Marinade (honey)
Honey Barbecue Wing Sauce (honey)
Honey Teriyaki Marinade (honey)
Sweet Red Chili Wing Sauce (chicken and milk)
Honey Mustard Dipping Sauce (honey and egg yolk)
Creamy Buffalo Wing Dipping Sauce (egg yolk)
Ray’s Secret Sauce (egg yolk)

Is Stubb’s BBQ Sauce Vegan?

Stubb’s is all vegan except their Smoky Mesquite and Sweet Honey & Spice flavors.

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I love Stubb’s. Tangent coming…

When I was in college, one of my roommates and I were making a run to the store. I asked our other roommate if he needed anything. He said, “Barbeque sauce. Get me something authentic.”

Now I’m no connoisseur. At that point, my pallet had all the sophistication of a flat rock. But I took his money and told him I’d find something.

So I’m looking in the sauces aisle and I see this face smiling up at me. Even the name, Stubb’s, was about as authentic as I’d ever seen.

I’ve never looked back. Thanks for keeping we vegans in your customer base.

Is Primal Kitchen BBQ Sauce Vegan?

You’ll usually find Primal Kitchen in the Natural Foods section of your local grocery store. They’re an interesting brand. They’re all about primal, even their logo is a hunter, but then they have vegan-labeled products.

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It’s like they either can’t make up their minds or they’ll make anything for anyone to turn a buck. But so do most.

All of their BBQ sauces are vegan.

They make a ton of other, non-BBQ sauces as well. I haven’t looked into whether or not they’re vegan. I’m kind of guessing they are. They seem to put every single label they can on their bottles (Paleo, Vegan, USDA Organic, GF, etc., etc., etc.)

Is Kinder’s BBQ Sauce Vegan? (Animal-Derived Ingredients)

Kinder’s BBQ sauce recently showed up at my local Costco. I hadn’t had barbecue sauce in quite a while, so I decided to check the label. Vegan! I checked through their entire lineup.

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They have one flavor that is not vegan-friendly, so avoid their Extra Hot (Worcestershire) if you want to buy Kinder’s.

Is Kraft BBQ Sauce Vegan?

Many Kraft BBQ sauces are vegan-friendly, but they have four that aren’t.

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Avoid their except their Sweet Honey, Spicy Honey, Honey Barbecue, and Mesquite Smoke flavors. They all have added…you guessed it…honey.

Is Heinz BBQ Sauce Vegan? (Animal-Derived Ingredients)

Heinz does have some vegan-friendly sauces, including their Original BBQ Sauce.

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But they have several that aren’t vegan because they include anchovies. I kind of get honey, but I’m avoiding a brand that’s using fish. This stinks because it’s one of the most affordable sauces on the market.

If you’re going to buy a Heinz sauce, avoid these flavors: Kansas City Style, Memphis Style, and Texas Style sauces.

Bull’s-Eye BBQ Sauce (Animal-Derived Ingredients)

Bull’s-Eye has some vegan-friendly sauces and some that add honey to sweeten.

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But they also use pork in one of their BBQ sauces. I mean, really? Most people are going to put barbeque sauce on meat. Do you also need to add meat to the sauce? Come on. Oh, and this is actually made by Heinz.

Avoid these if you’re going to buy a Bull’s-Eye sauce: Smokey Bacon BBQ Sauce (bacon) and Tennessee Style Sweet Whiskey Glaze (honey)

Is McDonald’s BBQ Sauce Vegan?

Can’t talk BBQ sauce without getting into at least some of the fast-food chains. I used to love the little BBQ dipping trays from McDonald’s and Ron’s (a local fast food restaurant in my area that’s been around since the 1950s). Now, most of the big fast-food chains have their sauces bottled and available on store shelves.

Mcdonald’s has two BBQ sauces: the BBQ Dip and the Smoky BBQ Dip.

The Smoky BBQ Dip contains honey, so it is not vegan-friendly.

Is Burger King BBQ Sauce Vegan?

Mentioning Mickey D’s and not Burger King is like talking about Coke and not mentioning Pepsi. They kind of go hand in hand.

Burger King only has one BBQ sauce, and it’s vegan, according to their website.

Is Subway BBQ Sauce Vegan? (Animal-Derived Ingredients)

Subway has some good sauces, but their barbecue isn’t one of them, at least for vegans. Their Smokey Hickory BBQ sauce is made using eggs.

Make Your Own Homemade Vegan BBQ Sauce

Make Your Own Vegan BBQ Sauce

Storebought sauces are nice. They’re tasty and you don’t have to do any of the cooking yourself. But if you’ve got the time it’s actually really easy to make your own BBQ sauce at home, with only the ingredients you want and for cheaper (and healthier) than your favorite store-bought brand.

I’m not much of a creative cook myself (not at this point at least), so I rely on some of my favorite plant-based bloggers and their recipes. Here are a couple of vegan barbecue sauces I’ve made that are incredible!

This first recipe comes from Nora, with NoraCooks. All you’re going to need is:

ketchup
molasses
brown sugar OR maple syrup (I use maple syrup)
apple cider vinegar
soy Sauce or tamari
vegan Worcestershire sauce (Annie’s is usually the easiest one to find)
sriracha (I use Frank’s Red Hot Sauce instead)

This recipe is incredibly easy to make and it’s delicious! The only drawback is that vegan Worcestershire sauce can be hard to find. Make the recipe here!

The second recipe I really like is from A Couple Cooks. You’re going to need:

ketchup
apple cider vinegar
white vinegar
maple syrup
smoked paprika
soy sauce
ground cumin
hot sauce (I used Frank’s)
Salt & pepper

This one is not quite as sweet as Nora’s but is delicious in its own way. Neither recipe requires too many ingredients, and you get to avoid absolutely horrible additives like high fructose corn syrup. Major plus! Make the recipe here!

Check out both of these recipes and let me know what you think in the comments.

Watch Out for Homemade Barbecue Sauce

I just told you that you can make your own, but be careful when accepting a sauce from a friend, family member, or coworker.

I make my living helping others be more plant-based. Everyone who knows me knows this. So anytime someone offers a kind gesture in the way of home-baked goods they always tell me they made them vegan, special just for me.

The problem is the number of animal-based ingredients people just don’t know about. I don’t always worry about it. Just giving you a heads-up.

Is BBQ Sauce Vegan Conclusion

Is BBQ sauce vegan? Most of it is. The base recipe for all barbeque sauce is plant-based, but most brands will add honey to a flavor or two in their lineup. Use the information in this post, check your labels, and you’ll be good. Or make your own! It’s really easy and you get to choose exactly what goes into your recipe. The recipes I posted are two of my personal favorites, so check those out and give them a shot!

Do you have a recipe you’d like to share with our community?

*Author's Note: The content on this website is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. The content of our articles is not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. It's always best to speak with your doctor or a certified medical professional before making any changes to your lifestyle, diet, or exercise routine, or trying a new supplement.

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AUTHOR
Matt Walter, CHN, M.A.T
I studied Food Science and Human Nutrition at Washington State University and interned as a Strength and Conditioning Coach for the WSU football team. I am a Certified Holistic Nutritionist and former personal trainer and competitive CrossFit athlete. My mission is to make embracing and adopting a healthy vegan lifestyle simple and fun!