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Is BBQ Sauce Vegan?

How to Choose a Vegan-Friendly Barbeque Sauce

Get those plant-based burgers ready, grilling friends. Whether you're riding the Meatless Monday bandwagon or trying to impress a vegan guest at your next barbecue, you might be wondering whether you can still use your go-to BBQ sauce (fingers crossed). 


So, is BBQ sauce vegan? It depends. Some BBQ sauces are made just for vegans, some are "accidentally vegan", and others should be kept far from your plant-based pals. The good news is that you don’t have to take a trek to the nearby hippie grocery store for an overpriced bottle of holier-than-thou, vegan-friendly sauce. In fact, you might already own a bottle or two of vegan BBQ sauce and not even know it!


What is BBQ Sauce Made of?

Most BBQ sauce starts with a variety of common plant-based ingredients, including tomato paste, vinegar, smoke flavor, herbs, and spices. Some manufacturers keep it simple, while others like to take it to the next level with any variety of flavor enhancers, like fruit, alcohol, hot peppers, honey, and more. The more creative the flavor, the greater the possibility that the sauce includes a non-vegan ingredient, like honey or anchovies, so never assume a sauce is safe for your plant-based friends without first checking the label. 

How to Tell if a BBQ Sauce is Vegan


While some BBQ sauce manufacturers make it nice and easy by planting a “vegan” stamp right on the label, most don’t. In this case, you’ll need to bust out your readers and start scanning the ingredient labels. Obviously anything with meat, milk, or eggs is out, but sometimes those animal ingredients hide under stealthier labels that you may not know. Look out for these ingredients that render a BBQ sauce definitively not vegan: 

  • Honey. It’s made by bees, so most vegans won’t go near it. Fortunately, most sauces that contain honey like to brag about it and slap it right on the front label so this one is usually pretty easy to catch, but check out the full ingredients list too, just in case. 
  • Anchovies. Those stinky little fishes they put on pizza like to wiggle their way into some BBQ sauce recipes to provide a punch of salt and umami flavor. Definitely not vegan (or vegetarian, for that matter). 
  • Worcestershire. This hard-to-pronounce sauce is made with fermented anchovies—see above for more details as to why that’s not a veg-friendly ingredient.
  • Sardines. Another type of fish, this one’s not vegan or vegetarian either.
  • Gelatin. With its signature thick and jiggly texture, gelatin may be used to help thicken some sauces. However, it’s made from the slaughterhouse scrap pile—we’ll spare you the details. All you need to know is that this one’s a total no-no for any vegan or vegetarian. 
  • Sugar. This one’s pretty tricky, because sugar itself comes from the sugarcane plant, but some white sugar is processed through bone char which makes it not vegan. But not all sugar is processed this way. So how do you know? Well, unless the sauce includes a “vegan” stamp on the label, you don’t, really. Either skip any sauce that contains sugar (beet sugar, agave, coconut sugar, and even high fructose corn syrup are all safe options) or opt for an “organic” BBQ sauce, since organic sugar is always vegan. 


You don’t have to be a food scientist or ingredient expert, just be sure to check the label of your go-to grilling staple before serving it to any plant-based pals.  


Grab Some Vegan BBQ Sauce and Get Grillin’

If there's one rule you follow when grilling, it's to never forget the sauce. Without BBQ sauce, your veggie skewers, portobello mushroom patties, and black bean burgers will be boring, dry, and bland. Who'd want to eat that at a cookout? Whatever type of party you're having, grab some vegan BBQ sauce to spice it up (and then snag some vegan hot sauce while you’re at it).

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