I Tried 12 Red Sauces From Major Manufacturers And Restaurant Or Artisan Brands
I grew up on Long Island, New York, where it’s called sauce, not gravy and “cheating” with a jarred formula earns you a whack with a wooden spoon.
Still, supermarket shelves are stocked with an array of convenient options, though it’s hard to know which actually live up to the hype and hefty price tags.
So I tried 12 basic, nationally distributed red sauces to find out.
I chose tomato-and-basil formulas as opposed to marinara since freshness-forward recipes are better for gauging the quality of the tomatoes and brightness of the seasonings, which can get muddy if there’s a high proportion of oil. Additionally, marinara sauce can get thinned out over pasta because of its strained nature, which would defeat the purpose of the review.
I first tried all of the pasta sauces on their own straight out of the jars to get a baseline before the heat would activate the acidic and herbaceous notes.
I then heated up 2 tablespoons of sauce spooned onto cooked, unsalted, and unoiled pasta for 14 seconds in the microwave. This method expedited the liquefaction of the sauce, so I could better critique the emulsification.
As for the pasta, I opted for Banza chickpea cavatappi for its medium size and ability to grip onto sauce within its ridges and hollow center.
Read on to find out how these different sauces stacked up.
The Inexplicably Woodsy One: Walmarts Great Value Marinara Pasta Sauce 23 Oz
The Sauce: Walmartâs store-brand marinara sauce clocks in at 4.2 stars online and contains, by label, the exact same list of ingredients as Targetâs. One purchaser claimed that itâs âthe same consistency as the name-brand sauces.â And another wrote about how âââit saves you so much on sauce, and itâs awesome.â
The Taste: Though it contains no added sugar, this bright red sauce is definitely âon the sweeter side,â says Anguiano. Our taste testers really liked the consistency slightly chunky with onion bits and plenty of body to thoroughly coat pasta. Somehow the flavor profile veers slightly floral and âcinnamon-y,â says Sinha. âThereâs a woodsy quality here,â agrees Gurjar. To neutralize the sweetness, Asbrink says sheâd add more salt. Or sheâd add a complementary âsplash of balsamic vinegarââdepending on the application. A little shake of red pepper would also bring some much-needed heat.
The Verdict: This is a versatile, slightly sweeter sauce that Anguiano suggests offsetting with some golden crunchy-salty mozzarella sticks. You could also sub it in for fresh or canned tomatoes when braising chicken, baking eggs, or making guanciale and chile-laced bucatini.
Mezzetta Napa Valley Homemade Marinara
Moving on to store-bought marinara sauces that look a little nicer, we have Mezzetta Napa Valley Homemade Sauce. The sauce comes in a good-looking jar with a fancy label, winning points for looks, while even the name of the brand evokes an Italian essence. But that doesn’t mean the sauce is good. In fact, it’s bland, overly salty, and feels like a rip-off, considering the higher price.
One review of the pasta sauce was precise in its criticism, calling Mezzetta’s stuff “flavorless.” Another described it as downright “horrible,” while quite a few complained about the overwhelming salt content of this jarred marinara sauce. So basically, not only will the Mezzetta Napa Valley Homemade Sauce have a pretty poor flavor, but it will also likely be way too salty for your palate, seriously letting you down. So, next time you’re grocery shopping, just skip this purchase.
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Rag Old World Style Traditional
Ingredients: Tomato PurÃ©e , Salt, Olive Oil, Sugar, Dehydrated Onions, Dehydrated Garlic, Spices, Garlic Powder, Onion Powder
Appearance & Consistency: Upon twisting open this jar of RagÃº, I immediately noticed the chunks floating atop an otherwise runny orange-red sauce. One simple stir confirmed that this sauce isn’t very hearty.
Taste: Average mediocre nothing special. This sauce didn’t pack an extra umami punch, even though RagÃº sprinkled romano cheese into the mix. In fact, it could’ve ranked a bit higher on this list if it slashed off a few grams of sugar.
Eat This, Not That! Verdict:
Though RagÃº loudly spells out “Our Richest, Thickest Recipe” on its label, it definitely doesn’t deliver. The added Romano cheese didn’t lend any richness to this pasta topper, let alone thicken it up. Besides lacking in the taste and texture departments, RagÃº didn’t impress us nutritionally either, given that the sodium and sugar contents per serving are sky-high.
The Sauce From This Harlem Eatery Is Flavorful When Eaten On Its Own
The first thing I noticed about the Rao’s sauce was that it was definitely wet in texture as opposed to paste-like. When I tasted it, I noticed how it felt more like hand-crushed tomatoes instead of a purée because of the inconsistencies of liquid and chunky bits.
I could see tiny specks of basil along with tomato seeds just by looking at the sauce.
It was acidic, but not overwhelmingly so, and it tasted like I could dip fried calamari or mozzarella sticks directly into the jar without doctoring it up at all or heating it. I thought it was delicious and perfect at room temperature.
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Healthy Instant Pot Chicken Parmesan
Chicken Parmesan in the Instant Pot leaves chicken breast cutlets juicy and tender, and there’s just one pot to clean. And it doesn’t require a lot of added fat to boot. Serve the chicken with whole-grain pasta, zoodles or steamed vegetables if you like.
Get the Recipe: Healthy Instant Pot Chicken Parmesan
The Simple Sauce: Costcos Kirkland Signature Organic Tuscan Marinara 24 Oz
The Sauce: Costcoâs store-brand marinara has a delightfully short ingredient listâweâre talking tomatoes, onions, carrots, basil, sea salt, and bona fide olive oil from Toscana. âHands down fave,â wrote one Canadian reviewer online.
The Taste: âItâs vibrant!â says associate editor Antara Sinha. And âsuper basil-y,â adds Anguiano. Regardless, this very red sauce doesnât pack a whole lot of tomato flavor. âItâs as if the tomatoes arenât fully ripe or something,â says Gurjar. With clumps of onion and tomato skins itâs also âchunky as hell,â says Anguiano, which caused it to fall off the pasta while we were tasting. Still, âitâs mild enough that you can take it where you want to,â Gurjar admits, which for her, would likely be a salsa. Sheâd also cook it for longer âwith a chicken bouillon cubeâ to bless the sauce with some umami and eke out more savory notes.
The Verdict: Sheâs not the right texture to slick your spaghetti, but this salsa-like sauce is adaptable and will come to life in a meaty setting. Dollop it over nachos, send it into a hot oven with some sausage and ricotta-stuffed cannelloni, sub it in for whole tomatoes in a chicken pulao or minestrone, or use it as a chip dip by bulking it up with chiles, onion, fresh tomatoes, and cilantro.
Don’t Miss: Pioneer Woman Homemade Spaghetti Sauce
Want The Best Brands For Your Pantry The Taste Of Home Test Kitchen Put Them To The Testthis Time Trying 11 Pasta Sauces Find Out Which Brands Are Best
Claire Krieger/Taste of Home
When it comes to pasta sauce, we all enjoy the homemade stuff just like Mom used to make, but we dont always have the time. Thats why knowing a good store-bought brand is so crucial. A good jar of marinara can make weeknight dinners easy and delicious. Our culinary and editorial teams wanted to find this perfect jarred sauce, so we tested 11 brandssome standards and a few that were totally new to us.
Classico Traditional Sweet Basil $4 24 Ounces
The runaway favorite of this taste test, Classico is slightly sweet, pleasantly herby and the perfect consistency to grab onto your pasta. Our editors described it as “lovely,” saying it could pass for fresh sauce, with chunks of delicious tomato and basil throughout. When you’re unable to make your own, Classico is surely the next best thing.
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Why You’ll Love Breaded Chicken With Homemade Marinara
- Perfect for Nugget Lovers – This is a great less processed way to eat chicken nuggets. I call it a grown up chicken nugget. Nuggetarians rejoice! Some store bought chicken nuggets have so many added preservatives, so this is a nice alternative when you have time to make it.
- Versatile – You may add chopped carrots or spinach to the sauce or even blend it for your most selective eaters. You can also add additional spices if you like a more aromatic sauce. I kept it simple here for pickier eaters.
- Protein Rich – the chicken is a lean, low fat, and a great protein source. The cheese also adds some protein to the mix.
Dry Brine Marinade For Chicken
The first step is to make sure the chicken stays juicy after the double cook because this essentially overcooks the chicken. Schnitzel-thin chicken take just 4 minutes to cook we want to fry for 4 minutes THEN bake for 15 minutes to make that cheese molten!
So were using a simple dry brine that acts as a marinade to keep the chicken juicy. Dry brine is better than the typical liquid marinades because they will cause the chicken to leech liquid as it cooks, making the crumb soggy.
Read Also: Famous Dave’s Beans Recipe
I Then Moved On To The Restaurant And Artisan Brands Starting With Tomato
The restaurant Rao’s is a New York City legend for its exclusivity. With its tradition of “table rights” all of the seats are reserved for regulars, and you can’t get in unless you’re invited to dine as a guest chances are most of us will never experience what the fuss is truly all about.
That said, this sauce was a vision of naturally broken-down, whole tomatoes that were coarsely and unevenly melted into a slurry, just as the good gods of red sauce intended.
It was generously sprinkled with sweet basil leaves and stems, punctuated by dark spots of olive oil, which I tasted right away.
There was an immediate richness to this sauce a slow-cooked, smoky flavor not present in any of the previously tasted options.
Warming it led to some separation between the tomato juice and solids, but that didn’t stop it and the chopped basil from elegantly draping over the pasta.
Its profile developed a fuller body and aromatically opened up as the tomatoes got bolder and warmer. It also got significantly saltier and the umami flavor became more pronounced, leaving me craving meat and wine.
In short, it lived up to the hype.
I Kicked Off This Taste Test With Easily Accessible Budget Classics Starting With Prego’s Traditional Red Sauce
A well-known brand sold in supermarkets nationwide, Prego seemed like a good place to begin.
Stirring the sauce, I found it had a medium consistency with some cubed tomato chunks. It tasted sweet from the get-go, and even more so when returning to it after trying the others.
It had a soupy, artificial flavor that reminded me of SpaghettiOs if you were to add diced tomato and some puree to thicken it up, which made sense since both brands are owned by Campbell’s.
Warmed up, this already-watery sauce thinned out only a little bit more, but it got really sweet, the sugars concentrating with a caramel-like quality and becoming the prevalent theme.
It lost its SpaghettiOs flavor and became like a rich, thick ketchup with a mind of its own in that it preferred sliding off the pasta rather than clinging to it.
Recommended Reading: Raos Sauce Where To Buy
This Sauce From Michael’s Of Brooklyn Was A Standout
Michael’s of Brooklyn is a three-generation family-owned joint that has operated out of the same location on the edge of Marine Park since 1964.
The pasta sauce is still cooked and packed at the source, and its label holds onto that mom-and-pop feeling with simple branding and multiple exclamation points at the end of its short ingredient list.
In this case, short was sweet. Right out of the uniquely squat jar, this sauce immediately lived up to every word of its fresh tomato-and-basil title.
The color popped, a gloriously vivid red even lighter than that of Primal Kitchen’s sauce.
The little bit of olive oil used in the sauce’s slow cooking was well incorporated and invisible to the eye, while big, green basil leaves leisurely floated in the hearty mix.
My eyes literally opened wider with joy as it hit my taste buds, with a real “wow” factor that only quality ingredients and careful cooking can provide.
This was super clean bright and lively with a taste like softly warmed tomatoes picked at the peak of ripeness and chopped up with fresh, sweet basil. It trailed off with the faintest ghost of garlic.
The balance in this sauce was like a symphony mild and nonacidic while still presenting flavor and character, simple but not plain as its ingredients took turns shining in each mouthful, and sweet without being cloying.
How To Make Tomato Sauce For Chicken Parmesan
I have a thing for tomato sauce, really good intensely tomatoey tomato sauce. Occasionally, if I’m really pressed for time I’ll buy a good quality tomato sauce like Rao’s, but usually I make my own tomato sauce from scratch because it’s very easy to do.
All you need are a handful of simple, good quality ingredients: imported Italian canned tomatoes, fruity extra virgin olive oil, a little fresh garlic, and crushed red pepper flakes. Fresh basil to stir in at the end is optional but highly recommended.
The type of canned tomatoes you choose for your sauce matters a lot. If you use excellent canned tomatoes for sauce, you get amazing results.
The Best Canned Tomatoes for Tomato Sauce:
I’ve paid close attention to taste tests over the years and the consensus is that the best canned tomatoes are either those from San Marzano, Italy or Muir Glen Organic tomatoes, grown in California’s San Joaquin Valley. In both cases the tomatoes are picked at the peak of ripeness, so they are fruity and deep red and make delicious sauce.
My favorite homemade tomato sauce takes 5 minutes of prep:
You May Like: Rao’s Tomato Sauce Costco
Tomato Sauce Or Marinara Sauce
We like to use a homemade tomato-garlic sauce. The difference between a tomato sauce and a marinara sauce is:
- Tomato sauce is a smooth sauce made with a combination of crushed or pureed tomatoes, onions, garlic, red wine, herbs and spices. It slowly simmers on a back burner until it is thick, rich and flavorful.
Delicious Chicken Parmesan With The Best Homemade Red Sauce
Who wouldnt run to the dinner table for a classic like chicken Parmesan? Topped with melted mozzarella and a well-balanced marinara, this Italian dish is easily rounded out with pasta, salad, and some crusty garlic bread.
In the US, serving chicken Parmesan with pasta is a no-brainer but elsewhere in the world, the composition is different. In the UK, it comes topped with a white sauce as well in Australia, replace the pasta with chips .
Here, were just using a simple marinara and some pasta. Use store-bought sauce if youd like, or follow this easy recipe for a smooth red sauce. The result will still be delicious!
Salt And Pepper Are Your Friend
Whenever we bread chicken , we always go heavy on the seasoning. Breading the chicken is a three part process. The chicken is dredged in flour, dipped in egg, and then is tossed in breadcrumbs and a little parmesan before pan frying.
Fortunately, that means there are lots of chances to season the chicken. First, we lightly season the chicken itself. Then, we actually add salt to the flour and to the breadcrumbs. This way, not only is the chicken seasoned, but the breading is as well. Win!
Ingredients What You Need
Chicken cutlets or breast: use boneless skinless chicken breasts. Flour: use all purpose flour for dredging the chicken in. Eggs: an egg mixture is used to help the breadcrumbs stick to the chicken after coating in flour. Breadcrumbs: for the breading mixture you can use store-bought panko breadcrumbs or use homemade breadcrumbs . use a quality store-bought marinara sauce or make a homemade sauce! See below for my top recommendations.Olive oil: oil is used to brown the chicken in batches. Parmesan cheese: to add salty flavor to the breadcrumbs and for sprinkling over the chicken at the end!Fresh mozzarella cheese: to layer over the chicken and for sprinkling over the top! You can use shredded or sliced pieces of mozzarella. Dried Italian herbs: to season the breadcrumbs so the chicken cuts have lots of herb flavor. Fresh basil: Add fresh basil at the end for bright flavor!Garlic powder: for flavoring the breadcrumb mixture. Black pepper & salt: for flavor!
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Baked Chicken Parmesan Recipe
Its pretty much 100% obvious that most of you will agree, but I think crispy cutlets of Parmesan-coated chicken are one of the tastiest types of chicken you can eat. I mean, I have more than just one parm-coated chicken recipe here on the blog with different techniques, here and here, that says so. And unlike my recipe for homemade chicken Parmesan, that calls for pan-frying in a skillet and then baking, this one is even easier to make.
Heres what makes this recipe different:
- This baked chicken parmesan is pretty much hands-off cooking. We use thinly cut, boneless chicken breasts that cook fast but stay moist when baked on a sheet pan at high heat in the oven.
- We skip the typical flour/egg/breadcrumb dredge and instead use a slather of mayonnaise for the bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese mixture to stick to.
- Its awesome to batch cook for meal prep and then portion into containers. I like to make extra and deliver to as a surprise dinner for my mom and day, or eat as a make ahead dinner, lunch, or freeze for later.
Topped with a simple marinara sauce and gooey, melty cheese, this easy dinner is complete when its served alongside your favorite pasta. And because this dish can be fixed in 30 minutes, it somehow tastes even better.
Let the dinner bells ring!