Just because BBQ sauce was invented for the grim reason of being slathered on grilled meat, doesn’t mean we vegans can’t separate the sauce from the history and enjoy that sweet smokiness.
But are there some sneaky ingredients hidden in that rich brown-red blend that we need to avoid?
The Sauce’s Source
Tracing BBQ sauce back to its roots in 1698, we see that the recipe, consisting of hot peppers and lemon juice, was both elegantly simple and vegan as heck!
But a lot has changed since then, and in a world where fish, milk, and even sometimes egg is used to make red wine, you can never be too careful.
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So, is BBQ Sauce Vegan?
As is the case with most things in life, it’s complicated. BBQ sauce can indeed be vegan, but just as often, if not more so, it isn’t.
Other than reading articles by fellow vegans like this, your only way to decipher which BBQ sauce is death-free is by going over the ingredients with a fine-toothed comb.
Before you hit the shops, you’ll need to know exactly what to look out for, as sometimes, non-vegan ingredients can be pretty covert, buried in vague language. Not to worry, though.
Before we get started looking at some of the most popular BBQ sauces on the market and whether they’re vegan or not, we’re going to discuss some of the usual suspects as well as the not-so-obvious offenders.
Non-Vegan Ingredients Commonly Found in BBQ Sauce
It’s a shame that so many BBQ sauces contain animal-derived ingredients because, as you’ll discover from this article, they can be just as delectable without them.
Unfortunately, though, until the world sees sense, all we can do is educate ourselves and avoid those products like the plague.
This is often a shock to carnists, and sometimes even vegans who’ve been fighting the good fight for years, but I’m afraid to say that honey is in fact not a vegan product. I know, I know…it’s not as if it’s milked from tiny bee udders or anything, but that’s not really the point.
Believe it or not, bees don’t make honey for us; it’s for them. It provides them with carbohydrates, amino acids, antioxidants, and even antibiotics, and when they’re robbed of this fundamental lifeline, they can die.
Even if you don’t directly care about the suffering of bees (although you absolutely should), they’re responsible for pollinating a massive proportion of human produce. I’m talking apples, blueberries, watermelons, etc.
What’s more, to force the production of more honey on commercial bee farms, hives are frequently culled to cut the quota they use for their own survival.
Honey is slavery, folks, so next time you spy that honey-sweetened BBQ sauce on the shelves, say no and move on.
If you really need that sweet kick, why not use agave nectar or for some sauce that works amazingly well with pancakes, maple syrup.
This is another head-scratcher for most. I know what you’re thinking… Fish! In BBQ sauce?
You could check a hundred different bottles of BBQ sauce from different brands and never find this ingredient, but that’s because it’s hiding in plain sight.
Often one of the core ingredients in mass-produced BBQ sauce, Worcestershire sauce, apart from being impossible to spell, is known to commonly contain fermented anchovies.
They provide what’s known as Umami flavoring, a unique savory flavor pallet often utilized in Chinese and Japanese cuisine.
If you’re doubly let down because you’re a lover of both BBQ and Worcestershire sauce, don’t panic, vegan warrior, there are plenty of delicious vegan alternatives available, but stay away from the big names like Lea and Perrins. Here’s one of my vegan favorites:
Vegan Worcestershire Sauce
- Premium Quality Vegan and Fish Free
- Great for Meat, Fish, Poultry, Marinades, Gravies and Dressings
- Adds an Awesome Flavor to Pastas, Stews, Chili, and Stir Fry Recipes
- Convenient, Resealable Bottle to Retain Optimal Freshness
- Certified Kosher for Passover
Of course, we all know that horseradish is a vegetable, but horseradish the sauce isn’t actually vegan.
It’s another mind-blower, I know, but unless it’s a specialist vegan product, there’s egg yolk lurking in that tangy concoction.
It’s not a common ingredient in store-bought BBQ sauce, but it’s definitely something you need to keep your eye on when in restaurants and treating yourself to fancy home-brew BBQ sauces.
If you can’t live without the horseradish kick in your life…get some mustard. It’s almost always vegan, and it’s pretty much the same thing.
This one causes problems, and not just because of the way it’s produced, but because it’s rarely advertised on packaging or even noted online whether a sugar is vegan or not.
Produced by the leaves of the sugar cane plant during photosynthesis, sugar itself is 100% vegan, but of course, we humans aren’t satisfied until at least some macabre aspect of animal subjugation is involved.
When some sugars are processed, bone char, – or in sanitized commercial tongue, natural carbon – is used as a discoloring agent, so we can enjoy sugar as white as the driven snow.
What makes this twice as ridiculous is that there are other ways of achieving this pure white hue. Granular carbon (made from things like coal and coconut shells) or ion-exchange systems (a water treatment method) are perfectly capable of achieving exactly the same results.
Unfortunately for us, this practice is much more common in the States and is not so prevalent in places such as the UK.
Insanely difficult to avoid, my advice is to either buy organic sugar or contact a selection of brands directly asking them if their refinement process is vegan. Once you know, you can stick with those morally superior vegan BBQ sauce brands for good.
One last caveat is that even though it’s used to whiten sugar, brown sugar is not totally exempt from the bone char discoloration process.
It’s because brown sugar is just white sugar with a dose of molasses to give it its signature caramel color and soft, sticky consistency.
So, there’s a good chance that your brown sugar was sourced from a facility that uses bone char processing. The real kicker is that raw sugar is already brown and naturally contains molasses.
To get you started on your mission to find totally vegan sugars, here are a few of the known brands known to shun the bone char process.
- In the Raw
- Big Tree Farms
- Florida Crystals
- Michigan Sugar Company
- Red Path
- The Raw Cane
- Trader Joe’s
- Western Sugar Cooperative
- Woodstock Farms
The term ‘Natural Flavorings’ has a very wholesome vegan vibe, doesn’t it?
But sadly, it’s more of an umbrella term companies use to communicate that a product uses naturally sourced ingredients rather than synthetics. This means that they could indeed be derived from animals.
A huge amount of ingredients exist beneath this term. They can be as innocent as lemon oil naturally derived from normal lemons, or as sinister as castoreum, an exudate extracted from the caster sacks (situated next to the anal glands) of mature beavers.
Although it’s pretty much impossible to say exactly which ‘natural flavorings’ BBQ sauce might include, they’re usually employed to imbue it with that definitive smokey taste and smell.
For the most part, smokey flavors are derived from wood chips and flavored pellets, but as this process takes longer than throwing in a few flavorings, companies may deem it a threat to productivity.
If you want to make your own vegan BBQ sauce and you don’t have the means to smoke your ingredients, why not try liquid smoke, a potent alternative full of BBQ flavor.
Here’s one I personally use not just for vegan barbecues, but as an ingredient in homemade soy protein steak and when I have a hankering for a big old chili con carne.
Colgin Liquid Smoke
- Dash or brush it on steaks, chicken, hamburgers, or hot dogs for a tangy outdoor smoke flavor
- The package length of the product is 6. inches
- The package width of the product is 5. inches
- The package height of the product is 4. inches
Right, now we’ve gotten that unpleasant business out of the way, let’s get to it and decide whether these popular BBQ sauce brands get the big green ‘V’ of approval.
Is Heinz BBQ Sauce Vegan-Friendly?
Heinz has eight BBQ sauces available in the States at the minute, so it wouldn’t be much to ask that just one of them was vegan. Well, there’s good and bad news.
Their Original BBQ Sauce blend seems to be vegan. It doesn’t contain any dicey ‘natural flavorings’, nor does it contain honey or anchovies. The problem is that Heinz is such a large organization, it’s highly likely that at least some of their suppliers use bone char to process their sugar.
Heinz’s Carolina Mustard BBQ Sauce is the same. There are no overtly non-vegan ingredients, but the sugar may well have been processed with bone char.
Whether you feel it’s such a big deal is up to you. Many vegans don’t like the idea of bone char but don’t particularly mind consuming sugar processed using this method.
Their BBQ sauces plastered with that hauntingly vague ‘natural flavors’ label include Carolina Vinegar Style Tangy BBQ, Hawaii Style BBQ, and Kentucky Bourbon Style Rich and Savory BBQ.
As for the other three BBQ sauces in their repertoire, stay well away. They contain dead fish.
Let’s summarize before moving on to our next contender.
100% Definitely Vegan
- None of them.
The following Heinz BBQ sauces contain ‘Natural Flavors’ that may be animal-derived, and sugar that may be refined using bone char:
- Heinz Original Sweet and Thick BBQ Sauce
- Heinz Carolina Mustard Style BBQ Sauce
- Heinz Carolina Vinegar Style Tangy BBQ Sauce
- Hawaii Style BBQ Sauce
- Kentucky Bourbon Style Rich and Savory BBQ Sauce
- Kansas City Style Sweet and Smokey BBQ Sauce – Anchovies.
- Memphis Style Sweet and Spicy BBQ Sauce – ‘ ‘
- Texas Style Bold and Spicy BBQ Sauce – ‘ ‘
Is Kraft BBQ Sauce Vegan-Friendly?
It’s the same old story when it comes to Kraft BBQ sauce as well. We just don’t know how their sugars are processed. As Kraft merged with Heinz in 2015, it’s likely they also use bone char.
That said, none of their sauces contain any eerie natural flavorings, but their Mesquite, Honey, Spicy Honey, and Sweet Honey sauces all contain, you’ve guessed it… honey.
Apart from the nebulous sugar situation, their other four sauces seem to be vegan-friendly, yet their products have no label confirming this, nor does their website offer any clarity.
100% Definitely Vegan
The following Kraft BBQ sauces don’t contain sugar (they use high fructose corn syrup as a sweetener), or natural flavors. They can therefore be considered vegan:
- Original BBQ Sauce and Dip
- Thick and Spicy BBQ Sauce
- Hot and Spicy BBQ Sauce
- Sweet Brown Sugar BBQ Sauce – contains brown sugar that may be processed with bone char
The following Kraft BBQ sauces contain honey and are not vegan:
- Mesquite Smoke BBQ Sauce
- Sweet Honey BBQ Sauce
- Spicy Honey BBQ Sauce
- Honey BBQ Sauce
Is Bull’s-Eye BBQ Sauce Vegan Friendly?
Bull’s-Eye is another Kraft-Heinz outfit, so once again we have to have a healthy amount of suspicion about how their sugars are refined, but much like Kraft’s own BBQ sauces, they rarely state natural flavorings as an ingredient, which is a good start.
Setting the sugar conundrum aside, the bulk of Bull’s-Eye BBQ sauces do seem to be vegan-friendly, which is nice to see. There are some absolutely tongue tinglin’ flavors on their roster as well!
I’d certainly like to smother some chargrilled broccoli with their Dark Beer BBQ Sauce, or even drizzle some Roast Onion BBQ Sauce on an Impossible Burger.
As much as I respect Bull’s-Eye’s vegan-heavy catalog, I’d be remiss if I didn’t report that their Smokey Bacon BBQ Sauce isn’t just designed to compliment a pork meal, bacon is literally one of the ingredients. Dang it, Bull’s-eye, I was just starting to like you.
Here’s the full list of Bull’s-Eye BBQ sauces as it currently stands in 2021.
100% Definitely Vegan
The following Bull’s-Eye BBQ doesn’t contain sugar, natural flavor, or honey.
- Hickory Brown Sugar BBQ Sauce – Contains brown sugar
- New York Steakhouse BBQ Sauce – Contains sugar
- Dark Beer BBQ Sauce – ‘ ‘
- Roasted Onion BBQ Sauce – ‘ ‘
- Tennessee Style Sweet Whiskey Glaze – Contains Honey
- Smokey Bacon BBQ Sauce – Pork
Is Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ Sauce Vegan-Friendly?
I’m ecstatic to say that Sweet Baby Ray’s recently released two certified vegan barbecue sauces to their lineup.
As these new sauces contain no added sugar, we can cast aside our bone char doubt and chow down. The two flavors available without sugar are Sweet Baby Ray’s Original and Hickory, and they’re gluten-free too!
There are a lot of other Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauces that might be vegan, but it’s hard to ignore the ‘natural flavors’ remark on the labels.
I did manage to dig up that the natural flavors in their full-sugar Original BBQ Sauce are not animal-derived, as for the rest of them…who knows.
Let’s have a look at their sizable roster.
100% Definitely Vegan
- Original BBQ Sauce No Sugar Added
- Hickory BBQ Sauce No Sugar Added
- Original BBQ Sauce – Sugar may be processed using bone char.
- Sweet ’n’ Spicy BBQ Sauce – Sugar and natural flavors.
- Hawaii BBQ Sauce – ‘ ‘
- Kickin’ Bourbon Wing Sauce – ‘ ‘
- Sweet Golden Mustard BBQ Sauce – ‘ ‘
- Buffalo Wing Sauce – ‘ ‘
- Mild Buffalo Wing Sauce – ‘ ‘
- Sweet Vidalia Onion BBQ Sauce – ‘ ‘
- Hickory and Brown Sugar BBQ Sauce – ‘ ‘
- Honey BBQ Sauce – Honey.
- Maple BBQ Sauce – ‘ ‘
- Honey Chipotle BBQ Sauce – ‘ ‘
- Honey BBQ Wing Sauce – ‘ ‘
Is Stubb’s BBQ Sauce Vegan-Friendly?
We’re finishing strong here. Stubb’s has confirmed that their BBQ sauces are completely vegan-friendly. Hurray!!
There are however a couple of exceptions, namely, the Smokey Mesquite and Sweet Honey and Spice Sauces, both of which contain honey.
Let’s rack it up one last time!
100% Definitely Vegan
- Dr. Pepper BBQ Sauce
- Hickory Bourbon BBQ Sauce
- Original BBQ Sauce
- Sticky Sweet BBQ Sauce
- Spicy BBQ Sauce
- Sweet Heat BBQ Sauce
- None of them.
- Smokey Mesquite BBQ Sauce – Honey.
- Sweet Honey and Spice BBQ Sauce – ‘ ‘
How to Pick a Vegan BBQ Sauce
Let’s discuss some of the precautions and steps you can take to ensure you’re bringing home a jar, bottle, or jug of the vegan good stuff.
Research – Doing some thorough research online can sometimes raise more questions than it answers, but there are loads of fantastic online vegan communities that you can tap for knowledge. Use your socials to connect with these groups and you’ll be kept in the loop.
Read the Label – This is an obvious one, but you absolutely have to read the label. It can be a little time-consuming in the store, but label reading really is vegan-101.
Contact Companies – Unfortunately, most of the time the only way to find out if a product is truly vegan is to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth. Don’t be afraid to contact manufacturers directly to get a straight answer. Not only do we then get clarity, but it puts veganism on the company’s radar, encouraging them to produce more vegan goods, or at least start labeling their products adequately.
Decide How You Feel About Bone Char – It might be that you really don’t feel too strongly about the use of bone char in sugar refinement, and that’s totally fine. Of all the injustices forced on animals, it’s at the milder end of the spectrum. That said, it is an unnecessary, archaic process that needs to be stopped, so it’s best if we vegans make a bit of a stink about it.
Make Your Own – If you really want some fresh 100% vegan BBQ sauce, why not have a go at making some of your own. It’s really not that difficult to make. The chances are you already have most of the ingredients sitting somewhere in your kitchen already!
There’s little in life more devastating than accidentally breaking your veganism. It’s not your fault, and it doesn’t make you a bad vegan, it happens to us all.
As long as you learn from it, it’s a worthwhile experience, but now your brains are full of BBQ know-how, you’re unlikely to make that dreaded mistake ever again, Yipee!