When it comes to barbecue, one of the most important components is the sauce. While there are many different types of barbecue sauces, one common question that often arises is, “What’s the difference between BBQ sauce and tomato sauce?”

BBQ Sauce

BBQ sauce, short for barbecue sauce, is a condiment that is specifically designed for use with grilled or smoked meats. It is typically a thick and rich sauce that adds flavor, moisture, and a hint of sweetness to the meat. BBQ sauces can vary greatly in terms of ingredients and flavors depending on regional preferences.


While the specific ingredients can vary from recipe to recipe, some common ingredients found in BBQ sauces include:

  • Tomato paste or ketchup: Tomato-based products are a common base for many BBQ sauces as they provide a rich and tangy flavor.
  • Vinegar: Vinegar helps to balance out the sweetness and adds a tangy taste.
  • Sweeteners: Brown sugar, molasses, honey, or maple syrup are often used to add sweetness.
  • Spices: Ingredients like garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, cayenne pepper, and black pepper are commonly used to add depth and complexity of flavors.

Flavor Profiles

The flavor profile of BBQ sauce can vary depending on regional styles. For example:

Kansas City Style:

This style of BBQ sauce is known for its sweet and tangy flavor with a hint of smokiness. It often includes ingredients like molasses and brown sugar.

Texas Style:

Texas-style BBQ sauce is typically tomato-based with a balance of sweet, tangy, and spicy flavors. It commonly includes ingredients like chili powder and cayenne pepper.

Carolina Style:

Carolina-style BBQ sauce can be divided into two types: vinegar-based and mustard-based. Vinegar-based sauces are tangy and thin, while mustard-based sauces are slightly sweeter with a hint of tanginess.

Tomato Sauce

Tomato sauce, on the other hand, is a more general term that refers to any sauce made primarily from tomatoes. It is commonly used in Italian cuisine and acts as a base for pasta dishes like spaghetti or pizza sauce.


The main ingredient in tomato sauce is, of course, tomatoes. Other common ingredients include:

  • Onions and garlic: These aromatics add flavor to the sauce.
  • Olive oil: Olive oil is often used to saut√© the onions and garlic before adding the tomatoes.
  • Herbs and spices: Ingredients like basil, oregano, thyme, and bay leaves are commonly used to enhance the flavor of tomato sauce.
  • Salt and pepper: These basic seasonings help to bring out the flavors in the sauce.

Flavor Profiles

The flavor profile of tomato sauce can vary depending on the specific recipe but generally has a rich, savory taste with a hint of sweetness from the tomatoes. Italian-style tomato sauces often have a robust flavor profile with herbal undertones from ingredients like basil and oregano.


In summary, the main difference between BBQ sauce and tomato sauce lies in their intended use and flavor profiles. BBQ sauce is specifically designed for grilled or smoked meats and typically has a thicker consistency with sweet, tangy, and sometimes smoky flavors. Tomato sauce, on the other hand, is a more general term used for sauces made primarily from tomatoes and is commonly used in Italian cuisine with a savory flavor profile.

So the next time you’re firing up the grill or cooking up some pasta, you’ll know exactly which sauce to reach for!