As much as I am a proponent for homemade over store-bought for many things, the one thing I rarely (if ever) make from scratch is marinara sauce. My brother is screaming as I write this. He never buys jarred sauce—it’s sacrilege to him, as I’m sure it is to many others out there. I, however, always have a jar of sauce on hand. The thing is though, I’m not loyal to any particular jar of marinara sauce. I normally just pick up whatever jar is on sale the week if I’m making some form of a pasta dish and call it a day. I’ll doctor it up with some parmesan, basil, extra spices, and roll on with life. But it does make me ponder: what is the best grocery store pasta sauce?

So, of course, this felt like the perfect next edition of my Taste-Off series. From the best pumpkin bread recipe to the best dark chocolate brand, I love putting my and our team’s tastebuds to the test. I have no bias or preference, so I could go into this taste-off completely open-minded without any idea of which jar my tastebuds should be looking for.

Ranking Guardrails:

We went into this taste-off with a few things in mind. While we were planning to taste each marinara sauce on their own to dissect the flavors and texture, we also know that marinara sauce isn’t eaten straight off the spoon—at least, not all the time. So we tasted each sauce on its own and also over spaghetti for the complete experience.

Here’s how we ranked each jar.

  1. Flavor: It’s all about the tomato here but we wanted the tomato to be balanced out by the spices. The sauce should balance the sweetness and acidity of tomatoes without leaning too far one way or the other. We didn’t feel like we wanted any of the spices to be overwhelming either, but rather just part of the sauce to round out the tomato flavors.
  2. Texture: When it comes to marinara sauce, we were all looking for something with with good tomato chunks, but that also felt cohesive with a thick sauce. We wanted a sauce that clung to our pasta with richness and also added a little texture to our bowls.
  3. Would I eat this off the spoon? Seems like a pretty straightforward explanation.

I was super skeptical that we would be able to rank these, I mean, it’s a jarred sauce. But when we compared these back to back, it was mind blowing how different each one tasted and how we were all into certain flavors and textures over others. In the end, it came down to two sauces that split our taste testing group, with one just edging out the competition by a nail. Keep scrolling to find the winner of our marinara sauce taste-off.

7) Trader Joe’s Organic Marinara Sauce: I was so disappointed that this sauce ranked so low because like basically everyone else, I love TJ’s. The texture of the sauce itself was slightly less than fine, but what really got us was that it had this weird after-taste and almost leaned a little sour. To quote one of our taste testers: “I don’t like this one”.

6) Newman’s Own Marinara Sauce: This sauce had a mild flavor that leaned to the sweeter side but was slightly acidic as well. We didn’t necessarily feel as though it tasted like tomatoes either. It tasted almost artificial in flavor even though there’s nothing artificial in it. The texture was fine, but this wasn’t a sauce we were down to eat without doctoring it up a lot.

5) Whole Foods 365 Organic Marinara Sauce: This was another disappointment because I practically live in Whole Foods—I’m definitely a frequent shopper—and think most of their branded items are great. While the flavor was fine on this sauce it was a little oregano forward and the texture really let us down. This sauce was the most watery of the group, and almost slid off of our pasta just leaving tomato chunks and a hint of sauce on the noodles. I think this one would be fine if it was doctored up a bit or reduced down in a pan to make it thicker and richer.

4) Ragu Old World Style Marinara Sauce: So I’ll swallow my piece of humble pie here because I remember hating on Ragu sauce for a long time. What kept this one ranked in the middle with our group was its mild tomato flavor that was exactly that, tomatoey. It felt like the purest tomato flavor, which some people liked and others wished would be pumped up with extra herbaceous flavor and savoriness that we like in a pasta sauce. What kept it out of the top three however was the texture. It’s smooth. Very smooth. And our group really wanted some tomato chunks to add textural interest. Overall, we felt like this would be a good base marinara sauce that we could doctor up as we like.

3) Prego Marinara Sauce: This was the sauce I grew up eating, so I was excited that it still held up. It was also mild in flavor and lighter on texture than our top two. Some tasters said this felt like the elevated Ragu. It was a little richer, a little more tomatoey, and packed with a little more flavor. Overall, we would eat it again with some doctoring.

2) Barilla Vero Gusto: Y’all, the difference between one and two was so close. What testers really liked about this sauce was its sweetness with a slightly savory ending note. The tomato flavor was upfront without being acidic and just tasted really good. The texture was so good, really rich, and a step above the others on our list. Several of us said we would eat this one without changing anything, and thought it tasted great over the pasta and by the spoonful. Would purchase this sauce again.

1) Rao’s Marinara Sauce: Before we started our tasting and did some polling, most friends and people said their go-to jarred sauce was Rao’s. One friend even said when Rao’s is on sale at the store, she buys at least five jars to stock up. I totally get why. This sauce lives up to the hype. The flavor is outstanding, striking the perfect balance of sweet tomato with herby savory, it has a perfect finish, and we all ate this one straight off the spoon with gusto. The texture is next to perfect, having both chunks of tomatoes, but also a nice almost-buttery finish to it. We would all eat this sauce without any edits. This is a 10/10 recommendation and you know I’ll be stocking up next time I’m at the store.

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Comments (51)
  1. 1
    Peggasus October 14, 2021 at 11:16 am

    My homemade is better than Rao’s, but I do agree that it’s very good, though too pricey. Just as good I’d DeLallo’s, and it’s several dollars cheaper

    Reply
  2. 2
    Scudder October 14, 2021 at 1:15 pm

    Before Batali went under his Marinara was tops. The most like real home made sauce. Now I go for Victoria Marinara Sauce not inexpensive but worth it.

    Reply
    • Vrgc October 15, 2021 at 12:24 am

      Totally agree. One of the best I ever had.

      Reply
      • Marni October 15, 2021 at 12:12 pm

        Let’s face it, all Italians love the sauce they were brought up with the best. So when we eat something other than that, we are naturally comparing what we are eating to what we grew up with. Since everyone’s family made sauce in their own way, what I think is great, you may hate. My family sauce is closest to Victoria, so I can easily make it my own with a few additions. I’m not fond of chunks of tomatoes, but I can easily use an immersion blender if I want. I rarely have an issue with the small chunks in Victoria. When it’s on sale in Costco I stock up. When I’m short on time it’s a welcome dinner.

        Reply
  3. 3
    James Fraunberger October 14, 2021 at 6:23 pm

    My favorite is Victoria Tomato basil. Not as good as homemade but close

    Reply
    • Suruchi Avasthi October 15, 2021 at 9:28 am

      I haven’t tried this one before – adding it to my list!

      Reply
    • Bill October 15, 2021 at 4:38 pm

      I agree

      Reply
    • Liz October 15, 2021 at 4:42 pm

      It is the best marinara.

      Reply
  4. 4
    Anm October 14, 2021 at 6:54 pm

    Of course homemade is the best but I hate chunks or pieces of tomato in my sauce (I’m Italion). The best Jared sauce for me is Ragu Simply traditional, no chunks just smooth and no sugar added.

    Reply
    • Suruchi Avasthi October 15, 2021 at 9:29 am

      Haha yes I agree! I don’t always love giant chunks of tomatoes but like a little texture – that’s why I was so surprised by the Ragu!

      Reply
  5. 5
    Ann October 14, 2021 at 6:57 pm

    Of course homemade is the best but I hate chunks or pieces of tomato in my sauce (I’m Italian). The best Jared sauce for me is Ragu Simply traditional, no chunks just smooth and no sugar added.

    Reply
  6. 6
    Dianne Casey October 14, 2021 at 7:26 pm

    I don’t get the hype about this sauce. First it doesn’t taste that great. And 2nd, it EXPENSIVE.

    Reply
  7. 7
    Florence Gentile October 14, 2021 at 8:27 pm

    I make my own sauce as well and my sauce is great. But I too keep Raos on hand. Itsgreat and saves time when I’m in a hurry and I also add a little water if I need to stretch it and this sauce holds up

    Reply
    • Suruchi Avasthi October 15, 2021 at 9:30 am

      Totally agree! It’s a great sauce to have on hand just in case I can’t make a quick homemade version!

      Reply
  8. 8
    Cheryl October 14, 2021 at 8:44 pm

    I never ever use pasta sauce straight from the jar. You have to doctor it up which only takes a couple minutes of prep then saute and add the jar contents. Then sit back and take the compliments?

    Reply
    • Beryl October 15, 2021 at 4:42 pm

      I always did the same! Always doctored up my sauce. Swore by it until I found Rao’s. I literally add nothing and it never disappoints. To me it’s worth the price. However, I do like to catch it on sale.

      Reply
  9. 9
    Jeannie October 14, 2021 at 9:28 pm

    I’ve tried a zillion and 1 jarred sauce. I do make my own too , but the best I’ve ever tried is from ALDI. Hands down. And their vodka sauce..o m g!

    Reply
    • Suruchi Avasthi October 15, 2021 at 9:30 am

      I don’t have an Aldi quite close by but am adding the vodka sauce to my must-try list!

      Reply
  10. 10
    DAGC October 15, 2021 at 3:47 am

    Nearly any jar sauce is good as an additional ingredient to homemade sauce. But In the end it really comes down to individual taste. I like cheap old Hunts sauce with ground beef added, if I’m going to skip making my own sauce.
    I have tried a lot of sauces. A LOT. It doesn’t have to take a ton of effort to make a good sauce at home.

    Reply
  11. 11
    John Sielaff October 15, 2021 at 5:23 am

    I agree, Rao’s is the best. I, too, wajr for the sales to stock up. Their soups are excellent as well.

    Reply
    • Suruchi Avasthi October 15, 2021 at 9:31 am

      I’ve heard from friends that their soups and frozen entrees are pretty good! Will have to add to my list to try!

      Reply
  12. 12
    Paul Orben October 15, 2021 at 8:18 am

    Micheals of Brookland….best sause handsdown.

    Reply
    • Mike McManus October 15, 2021 at 1:45 pm

      Yuppers !!!!

      Reply
    • Avi October 15, 2021 at 5:33 pm

      This is the truth.

      Reply
  13. 13
    Terry OMalley October 15, 2021 at 9:09 am

    If you liked Rao’s try Hoboken Farms my go to since I found it on sale. Beats out Rao’s IMHO.

    Reply
    • Suruchi Avasthi October 15, 2021 at 9:32 am

      Thanks, Terry – adding to my list to find and try out!

      Reply
  14. 14
    John A Valentino October 15, 2021 at 9:18 am

    You should have tried Victoria Marinara, or their White Line sauces.

    Reply
    • Suruchi Avasthi October 15, 2021 at 9:32 am

      Thanks, John – don’t think I’ve seen this brand at my store – but will keep an eye out and try it when I find it!

      Reply
    • Sharon Eileen Russo October 15, 2021 at 10:22 am

      Victoria’s is fabulous.
      Sometimes Publix has it buy one get one $7.00
      That makes it 3.50 a jar

      Reply
  15. 15
    Beth Bilous October 15, 2021 at 9:49 am

    Totally agree, would never ever buy Ragu. Raos is only jarred sauce I will ever buy.

    Reply
  16. 16
    Lea October 15, 2021 at 10:11 am

    No matter what jar sauce I use, I always throw in a can of crushed tomatoes. Stretches the sauce definitely helps make it taste more homemade

    Reply
    • Suruchi Avasthi October 15, 2021 at 6:50 pm

      What a great tip, will have to try this next time! Thanks for sharing, Lea!

      Reply
  17. 17
    Francine Levine October 15, 2021 at 11:04 am

    I prefer Botticelli, just sayin’.

    Reply
  18. 18
    Lee October 15, 2021 at 12:09 pm

    Muir Glen Organic “Italian Herb”, for the win, although it may be regional to NorCal. It’s difficult to make it fresh, better than these guys.

    Amazingly delicious sauce. Cheaper than Raos, too.

    Reply
    • Suruchi Avasthi October 15, 2021 at 6:51 pm

      Love Muir Glen sauce – didn’t have it at my store but it’s a great one for sure!

      Reply
  19. 19
    Lorraine October 15, 2021 at 2:05 pm

    Hands down best jarred pasta sauce is Silver Palate and their Fra Diavolo is amazing

    Reply
  20. 20
    Leanne October 15, 2021 at 2:05 pm

    You missed out on the best of the best! Lucini Italia; I buy it at Walmart. It’s pricey, but the best pasta sauce I’ve ever had! When I don’t want to make homemade, I simmer Lucini sauce with Rosina frozen meatballs (also from Walmart, and delicious!) and it is so good over pasta. Give it a try!

    Reply
    • Suruchi Avasthi October 15, 2021 at 6:52 pm

      Adding to my list – thanks, Leanne!

      Reply
  21. 21
    Charles Trettel October 15, 2021 at 3:48 pm

    They all are just average. You can’t beat homemade.

    Reply
  22. 22
    Laurie October 15, 2021 at 3:55 pm

    I’d love to see where The Silver Palette ranks here as it is hands down one of my families favorites. I can’t bring myself to spend $8 on a jar of sauce to get Rao’s

    Reply
    • Catherine October 15, 2021 at 4:10 pm

      I agree completely that The Silver Palette should not be overlooked. Hands down my family’s favorite jarred pasta sauce!

      Reply
  23. 23
    Kim Safran October 15, 2021 at 5:56 pm

    I totally agree. Raos is the best

    Reply
    • Ps October 15, 2021 at 7:04 pm

      Has anyone ever had Filipino sauce. It’s a sweet sauce in the Philippines they add hot dogs cut up to it I pass on the hot dogs but I do like the sweet sauce now and again…

      Reply
  24. 24
    Jennifer Ebeck October 15, 2021 at 7:29 pm

    I usually try to make my own spaghetti sauce. However, I have tried many over the counter sauces but didn’t like them. They were either too sweet or not the flavor I was looking for. My granddaughter told me to try REOs. WOW what a flavor. The best store bought sauce ever. Well done. My family loves it. Thank you REOs.

    Reply
  25. 25
    Zena SHIREY October 15, 2021 at 7:29 pm

    I just became aware of Rao it is indeed FABULOUS!it cost a couple bucks more but it is truly worth it .

    Reply
  26. 26
    Michelle Alexander October 15, 2021 at 7:54 pm

    For the price of Rao’s, I highly recommend you try Mom’s Marinara and Mezzetti Whole Garlic and Basil. The latter is about $2 less per jar and both are absolutely scrumptious! Mom’s is a bit tough to find, but Mezzetti can be found pretty easily.

    Reply
  27. 27
    Theodora October 15, 2021 at 8:14 pm

    Rao’s is the best in my opinion, too. I’ve made dishes for my very picky Italian friends and they asked me for the recipe for the sauce!!! ??? I said I’d have to think about it since a family secret.

    Reply
  28. 28
    Sandra Pucillo November 7, 2021 at 9:26 am

    We Like Degrasso.

    Reply
  29. 29
    Jane Smith November 8, 2021 at 7:49 am

    None of these for my taste. Francesco Rinaldi is my go to sauce. I can tweak it some but it’s the one I use.

    Reply
  30. 30
    Manny November 8, 2021 at 9:59 am

    You left out one the best small brand pasta sauces. Gia Russa makes an awesome line of sauces with the Hot Sicilian being by far the best. Also their sauces are more reasonably priced than Rao’s and taste delicious right out the jar. The ingredients taste fresh and have just the right amount of spices. Give them a try. You will love it.

    Reply
  31. 31
    Jonathan Gerstner November 10, 2021 at 4:56 am

    You didn’t even test Mid’s Sicilian Pasta Sauce which is easily twice as good as any on your list.

    Reply