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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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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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
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.
Totally agree. One of the best I ever had.
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.
My favorite is Victoria Tomato basil. Not as good as homemade but close
I haven’t tried this one before – adding it to my list!
It is the best marinara.
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.
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!
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.
I don’t get the hype about this sauce. First it doesn’t taste that great. And 2nd, it EXPENSIVE.
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
Totally agree! It’s a great sauce to have on hand just in case I can’t make a quick homemade version!
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?
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.
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!
I don’t have an Aldi quite close by but am adding the vodka sauce to my must-try list!
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.
I agree, Rao’s is the best. I, too, wajr for the sales to stock up. Their soups are excellent as well.
I’ve heard from friends that their soups and frozen entrees are pretty good! Will have to add to my list to try!
Micheals of Brookland….best sause handsdown.
This is the truth.
If you liked Rao’s try Hoboken Farms my go to since I found it on sale. Beats out Rao’s IMHO.
Thanks, Terry – adding to my list to find and try out!
You should have tried Victoria Marinara, or their White Line sauces.
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!
Victoria’s is fabulous.
Sometimes Publix has it buy one get one $7.00
That makes it 3.50 a jar
Totally agree, would never ever buy Ragu. Raos is only jarred sauce I will ever buy.
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
What a great tip, will have to try this next time! Thanks for sharing, Lea!
I prefer Botticelli, just sayin’.
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.
Love Muir Glen sauce – didn’t have it at my store but it’s a great one for sure!
Hands down best jarred pasta sauce is Silver Palate and their Fra Diavolo is amazing
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!
Adding to my list – thanks, Leanne!
They all are just average. You can’t beat homemade.
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
I agree completely that The Silver Palette should not be overlooked. Hands down my family’s favorite jarred pasta sauce!
I totally agree. Raos is the best
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…
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.
I just became aware of Rao it is indeed FABULOUS!it cost a couple bucks more but it is truly worth it .
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.
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.
We Like Degrasso.
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.
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.
You didn’t even test Mid’s Sicilian Pasta Sauce which is easily twice as good as any on your list.
I have lots of RAO in my cupboard and I always buy it when it is on sale. I also always doctor it up and any other sauce that is bottled.
I also have Bertolli (made in Italy) and Muir Glen organic. If it is not made in Italy I want it to Organic.
We don’t have Rao’s in our grocery stores here in MD, or at least not the ones I shop in. Classico is my favorite. I’ve not seen the Barilla sauce with the gold top either, but I also like the Barilla with the blue lid.
You forgot the most important sauce ! And that’s Carbone the new boy on the block ! If you think Raos is good then your really missing out ! Carbone is the best jarred sauce on the planet ! You have to try it !!
Funny that every single one of these comparisons on the Internet all end with Rao’s as the winner.