Food

We Did a Taste Test: Jarred Pasta Sauce

pasta sauce taste test

I grew up with a working mom who was not afraid to take shortcuts at dinnertime — there were meals built around Campbell’s soup and Kraft Mac and Cheese, and to this day, a bite of Stouffer’s Chicken Pot Pie is a turbo portal to my childhood mustard-colored linoleum kitchen. The one thing she never cheated on, though, was pasta sauce…

pasta sauce taste test

It was never from a jar, always from scratch. This could be because my mom is 100% Italian; it could be that this was the eighties and the options for good-quality jarred pasta sauce were few and far between. It could also be that she was never in charge of hosting 35 cross-country high school students for a Friday night pasta party.

pasta sauce taste test

Let me be clear that I love my 16-year-old Phoebe’s cross-country team, and I love this ritual, which happens on the nights before big meets, and serves to load the runners with as many carbs as their sinewy, 30-mile-a-week bodies can handle. The menu is always the same: Caesar salad, garlic bread, brownies (“They must be from the box, Mom!”), and tons and tons of spaghetti with marinara sauce. In theory, I guess I could spend a few hours cooking up a cauldron of my mom’s sauce, but 35 kids (half of them boys) is a lot of kids and also: Why? When there are so many fresh, flavorful jarred options on the supermarket shelves these days?

The question is: Which one of those jars is the best?

I decided to hold a taste test to find out, and I invited my family (Phoebe, her sister, Abby, and my husband, Andy) as well as some of Phoebe’s teammates (aka the real experts) to partake in the proceedings.

pasta sauce taste test

But first, the methodology. I could not include every jarred sauce that exists, but I tried to offer a selection of brands that were widely available and that hit a range of price points. To keep things apples to apples (uh, tomatoes to tomatoes), I stuck to the simplest marinaras I could find. In total, we ended up tasting ten brands: Trader Joe’s, Bertolli, Emeril’s, Ragu, Whole Foods 365, Rao’s Homemade, Newman’s Own, San Marzano, Ooma Tesoro’s, and Cucina Antica.

Bowls of sauce were individually numbered — only I knew which number corresponded to which brand — and everyone used baguette slices to scoop their tastes. No double dipping, kids!

pasta sauce taste test

I created a review sheet on Google Forms and had my tasters grade the sauce on a scale from 1 (gross) to 5 (excellent). If there’s anything a high school junior knows how to do well, it’s filling out ovals with Number 2 pencils.

pasta sauce taste test

I told them they were welcome to write notes as they judged, reminding them that taste is personal and, unlike the ACTs, there are no wrong answers.

pasta sauce taste test

They took their assignment very seriously.

pasta sauce taste test

It’s not that I don’t trust you, teenagers, but I wanted to make sure the granddaughter of Mary Camino Catrino (me) and the great grandson of Vitina Turano (Andy) had a similar take on the situation. I switched the bowls around and taped the sauce I.D. on the bottom of each to make it a legitimately blind taste test for us, too.

pasta sauce taste test

The Winner: Rao’s Homemade Marinara
Score: 4.5 out of 5 points
Price: $9 for a 25-ounce jar

I’ve done at least three pasta sauce taste tests in my nearly two decades as a food writer and editor, and Rao’s has won all three of them, as decisively as a marathoner breaking the tape. It was my favorite, it was Andy’s and my daughters’ favorite, and it garnered the highest score from my junior testing team (4.5 out of 5). Rao’s, with its vibrant orange-red hue, wins you over almost before you even taste it. The flavors are fresh and distinct. and the hint of basil and oregano do just enough to enhance rather than overwhelm. “Oregano-homey flavor,” wrote Phoebe; “well-seasoned,” noted reviewer Emmy. And perhaps the highest praise: “Reminds me of pasta and meatballs,” said Matt. Perhaps not surprisingly, it also ranks among the most expensive, averaging $9 for a 25-ounce jar. (Note: Prices vary from store to store and, as always, you can get better deals on all of these when you buy in bulk online.)

I personally found Ooma Tesoro’s ($11/26-oz jar) and Cucina Antica ($6/25-oz jar) to be close seconds, but the runner-up among the younger testers was Whole Foods 365 brand with, coincidentally, 3.65 points, and a considerably lower price tag ($3/25-oz jar).

pasta sauce taste test

Of course, the kids saved the best comments for the worst sauces. “Tastes like bad licorice,” one wrote about Newman’s Own, which I presume was heavy-handed on the fennel. “Tastes like how hand sanitizer smells,” another said about San Marzano. Emeril’s got the dreaded ketchup comparison a few times, as well as a straight-up “Just isn’t good.”

pasta sauce taste test

Rao’s also distributes beautifully on spaghetti, especially when you toss the spaghetti with a pat of butter first. (Pro tip: No matter what sauce you are using, butter helps the sauce stick to the pasta better.)

pasta sauce taste test

pasta sauce taste test

After we declared the winner, I read a few of the ingredient lists out loud, noting that all our favorites began with “Italian Whole Peeled Tomatoes” (not Tomato Puree) and contained nothing artificial or un-pronounceable. When I was done, one of them said, “Look at us being all smart.”

And before I could even say thank you, they all ran out the door.

What’s your favorite jarred marinara? And what other products should be tested by my distinguished panel?

P.S. An ice-cream sandwich taste test, and a deli challenge with Smitten Kitchen’s Deb Perelman.

(Photos by Yossy Arefi for Cup of Jo.)

  1. I only buy Rao’s, and it was often on sale at my supermarket in CT when we lived there (I’ve yet to see it on sale here in CA but I buy it still!).

    One exception: When I’m nostalgic for my mom’s wife’s chicken parm, I have to use Ragu, because that’s what she uses.

  2. Anie Watson says...

    Surprisingly, Aldi’s Organic pasta sauce is my absolute favorite! And I’m not much of a marinara lover (I prefer Alfredo), so that’s really saying something.

  3. Tori says...

    Why didn’t you do a run down list in order of all the sauces- 1-10?

  4. Angela says...

    I’ve really loved along Jenny’s posts and am so happy she’s become regular here. And I guess this is the post that finally pushes me to sucking up the cost and trying Rao’s…!!!

  5. Stephanie says...

    Raos is everything. No other sauce compares. Not surprised at all it’s the winner.

  6. Rebecca says...

    Love this post! I’ll have to try the top winners. I’ve enjoyed Lucini’s tomato basil and pesto marinara too, but what I really miss is the marinara my mom would get (by the quartful) from a local Italian restaurant and market, Demacelli’s. Sadly it burned down when I was a teen but I still remember the bay leaves and chunks of tomatoes we’d find in the sauce. I dream of re-creating it someday.

  7. Erin says...

    My family LOVES Ooma Tesoro’s sauce! It’s the best.

  8. Rainbow says...

    We’re die-hard Rao’s fans and are always complaining about how expensive it is…and then buying it anyway because nothing else can compare. When I started reading this I immediately thought ‘if anything other than Rao’s wins, they’re wrong.’ LOL. PHEW!

  9. Christine says...

    I’ve never seen this on the West Coast? Is it a specialty sauce?
    Prego is our favorite..

    • I buy it at Safeway or Whole Foods. (I’m in Northern CA.)

    • Tracy says...

      I live in the Bay Area and get Rao’s everywhere! (Except Trader Joe’s, of course.) I find that Costco has some surprisingly excellent alternatives too, either Kirkland Signature, when it’s available, or other brands that have extra virgin olive oil and are called “premium.”

    • kathy says...

      i’ve seen it at whole foods regularly. i saw it last time i was at costco, though that’s the first time i’ve seen it there.

    • Liz says...

      We have Rao’s at our Von’s in Ventura County. I’ve yet to try it. Looking forward to my own taste test! Thanks!

  10. Robin says...

    I use Pastene’s Chateau tomato sauce. I don’t know if its just a MA thing, since the Chateau Restaurant is in MA, but it’s excellent sauce! My husband is suuuuper picky about food and he loves this sauce.

    • Anne says...

      I’ve never been, but I love driving past the Chateau – family Italian dining! – because I find it sooo hilarious that chateau is a French word

    • Catherine says...

      Yes! Chateau is amazing! I’m from Stoughton originally and grew up eating at Nocera’s (now Chateau) in Stoughton and the other Chateau locations. I also worked for the Nocera family at Jake Joe’s right after college. My mom usually orders their lasagna, chicken parm and pasta for easy family get togethers! :D

  11. Sonya says...

    Thanks everyone for turning me on to Rao’s! :-) I’ve seen it so many times in various stores, but passed it over because of the price. No more – can’t wait to try it and running out to Target tomorrow! (where it is on sale for $5.99) Will also check at Costco. Without having tried Rao’s, my favorite is Victoria’s, which is sold in large jars (a 2-pack of them) at Costco, and often goes on sale there.

    • Karen says...

      I love Rao’s but always buy the Victoria’s from Costco because of price:)

  12. Meg says...

    I typically make it from scratch, but always keep a jar of Rao’s in the cabinet for crazy nights. I stock up when Whole Foods has it on sale 2 for $9. Well worth it. Only complaint is the sodium content in all jarred sauces (including this one).

  13. Debbie Godowsky says...

    Several years ago, the recipe for Rao’s Sauce (and meatballs) was shared on the Today Show. I have been making it since then and freezing it in zip lock bags, which take no time to thaw. Here’s the link: https://www.today.com/recipes/rao-s-meatballs-marinara-sauce-t68306 But I still buy Rao’s jarred stuff. Some day I need to do a taste test between the two!

    • Paige says...

      Thank you for this! I can’t pay $9 for a single jar of sauce. The recipe says to use a non-reactive pan, what kind of pan do you use when you make it? I only have stainless steel. Thanks, again!

  14. Lauren E. says...

    YES Rao’s! It’s the only jarred sauce I buy and it’s the easiest dinner paired with ravioli. I love all their sauces but the sausage and mushroom is stellar.

  15. Diane says...

    Dell’Amore sauce, hands down, is the best sauce! But I may be partial because it is my family that makes it :)

    • Anne says...

      Diane – I commented the other day here that Dell’Amore is the best!! So cool that it’s your family’s business.

  16. Monica says...

    Michaels of Brooklyn is the best!

    • Rose says...

      I thought Micheals of Brooklyn was really BAD, then I tried Little Italy of the Bronx and I put it in the Top 1 with Rao’s !! Try the Bronx you’ll toss Micheals out !! Just letting you know I’m a Brooklyn girl ! Also try Victoria Marinata it’s pretty good.

    • Tomato Sauce Lovah says...

      agreed!

  17. This was a great, light-hearted, funny post. Thank you for brightening my afternoon!!

  18. Jess says...

    I’ve never had Rao’s but I’ll have to try it! FYI, it’s on sale on Target.com for $5.99 right now :)

  19. Rosemary Bacala says...

    I really love Cucina Antica sauce! It has no added sugar and is made with San Marzano tomatoes, its the only thing my family buys!!

    • Lisa says...

      Marcella’s is my favorite!!

    • Rae says...

      Yup. Love this sauce.

  20. Eleise says...

    I’m a cyclist that’s always looking for homemade alternates to energy bars/gels/sports drinks because I hate the sugar load! If you have cross country kids as the testers, would love to see something along those lines.

    • Jenn J. says...

      I’ve been using Skratch until I find homemade versions. Sugar doesn’t seem to be as high and I like that they’re made with actual fruit!

  21. Eva says...

    Why didn’t you include Prego. I sometime use this for my lasagne as a base and it’s ust as good as homemade

  22. Ah! This is literally one of my recurring grocery story conundrums that I don’t remember to research once out of the pasta aisle. I’m always standing there transfixed, trying to recall which sauces I’ve liked over time. Inevitably, I pick something that “seems right” but never is and it sits 75% full in my fridge for months…

    So, this is all to say, THANK YOU!

  23. I just spent a small fortune on some jars of pasta sauce this week! I should have gotten Rao’s. I’ll report back on what ours tastes like, but I find that any jarred sauce is enhanced by a sloshing of quality red wine, some fresh basil and freshly grated cheese. High-low, right?

  24. Mariele Wardian says...

    Rao’s is the BOMB! The jar is pricey but it last forever and they have it at Costco now.

  25. Stephanie says...

    Entirely unrelated to the pasta sauce taste test… I would love to know where Jenny’s blue sweater is from and what her deep red nail color is. The two together are striking to me! Thank you!

    • Stephanie says...

      Thank you, Franny!

  26. I used to work at Whole Foods. Whenever there was a sale on Rao’s, the shelf was empty by the time I had to face it!

    Another way to save money on it there is to buy a case – I can’t remember how many that would be for the sauce, but I used to do that with Siggi’s and each case was 12 yogurts. Even post-Amazon buyout, they give 10% off cases of anything in the store that isn’t the 365 brand or on sale. It won’t be as cheap as a sale, but it helps a little!

  27. Julie says...

    Rao’s is absolutely the best, with Victoria marinara sauce and Bove’s vodka sauce as close close seconds. They’re great for when I don’t want to spent too much time in the kitchen making my own sauce.

  28. Jill says...

    I’ve never made my own pasta sauce before. Can you share your mom’s recipe?

    • june2 says...

      @Jill Here’s a great one I can share. I used to make it while working for a local gourmet deli.
      Soften a diced onion in olive oil and a stick of butter on med heat til translucent, add a Tbs of grated garlic, a Tbs of salt, 2 tsp’s of sugar, and a quarter cup of finely sliced and diced prosciutto, then pour in peeled, crushed san marcano tomatoes and a cup of white white and simmer until flavors combine, about 40 mins or so. It’s the best marinara I’ve ever had.
      I think it’s based off of marcella hazan’s classic viral recipe:
      https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1015178-marcella-hazans-tomato-sauce

    • Lindsay Marie says...

      Drain a 28 oz can of whole peeled marzano tomatoes and puree it. Warm olive oil in pan with red pepper flakes and garlic, after a minute or 2, add the tomatoes. Put a bunch of basil in or favorite herbs, I like herbs de provance, bring to a simmer and let it go for about 20 minutes. Til it thickens. Add a bit of butter or cream and reggiano. Perfect.

  29. Sarah says...

    I actually use Rao’s every time I make Jenny’s chicken parm meatballs!!!

  30. Jess says...

    Rao’s Vodka Sauce is AMAZING. Thanks Jenny!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes so so so so good!! also the roasted eggplant one.

  31. Alexis says...

    Rao’s for sure! I work in Little Italy (NYC) down the street from the pasta shop that makes fresh pasta for all the restaurants down here as well as Dipalo’s, which is an NYC institution. Both have their own versions of homemade marinara as well as pesto and vodka sauces. I usually buy from there, but if I’m at home in Brooklyn I’ll pick up a jar of Rao’s in a pinch. Or, I get a can of whole plum tomatoes and make my own with garlic, lemon zest, and a pinch of salt and pepper.
    Another pro-tip for those avoiding butter (or if you don’t have any), pasta water helps the sauce stick, too!

  32. Oh Yeah – Rao’s is the best. Hands down. So worth the money, and the Arrabiata jar is the absolute best. We love it on homemade pizza.

  33. Christina O says...

    Raos is my absolute favorite!! And the ingredients are all so simple, no fancy words or additives in there.

  34. Megan says...

    Rao’s is too pricey by us! I usually use Classico, which is easy to find on sale, and we all like it :). Noticed that brand wasn’t tested so I wanted to mention it!

  35. Hilary says...

    I’m a mom of two elementary-school-age kids who works outside our home full-time. MY mom (a great cook and a huge help to our family, who knows our sometimes crazy lives and finds beautiful and lovely ways to help) gave me a jar of Rao’s marinara and some good-quality pasta in my Christmas stocking last year. Brilliant! It made me laugh, and it made me a Rao’s fan. And it did, in fact, save us on several nights when my husband and I are asking the inevitable 5 PM question: What’s for dinner? Now I can’t buy any other jarred sauce. It’s worth the splurge for us!

  36. Nina says...

    I rarely eat pasta or red sauce (my son doesn’t like sauce) but I’m intrigued enough to buy Rao’s. I’d love to hear how other’s doctor their sauce. I squeeze in some anchovy paste. I’ve always been partial to Ragu with mushrooms.

    As a side note when I was a teen babysitter I would have taste tests for the kids. Not mean like the girl who watched my son did with peppers and stuff but just like different crackers. pretzels and crackers. cheetz its and goldfish crackers. american cheese v monterey jack. ham v salami. etc. usually with a blind fold or close your eyes. kids loved it and my son even enjoyed learning (when I did it with him) which food he liked better.

  37. Valerie Del Grosso says...

    Rao’s is so good! We eat the arrabiatta at least twice a week. Totally worth the price.

  38. Adrienne says...

    Publix Premium tomato sauce is hands above Rao’s!!

  39. Jess Mill says...

    There is no greater sin than jarred pasta sauce in my family. However I still love Jenny and this blog.

    MARCELLA HAZAN TOMATO SAUCE!! Takes zero effort and time and is the best base of any sauce. Just add veggies and meat!

    • Joanne Stober says...

      Once I learned about the Hazan sauce all bets were off. I make double batches and freeze the sauce. Plus a jarred sauce for 9USD is likely 12 Canadian—that is a lot of money.

    • Kim G says...

      This is true! It’s so good. My son’s favorite meal is her meatballs with her sauce. We make giant batches and freeze it in portions. It’s so easy to make for the kids on the fly.

    • JenMarie says...

      I’d be a goner without that Marcella recipe. My son eats pasta for lunch Every. Frickin’. Day and that sauce is so easy and delicious. I also use Barilla Protein Plus pasta, which basically tastes identical to regular pasta but has a mix of flours (including chickpea lentil and flax) that gives it a nice additional boost of protein.

  40. Meg says...

    I can’t read post right now but skimming it looks like Rao’s won.
    Did you try Victoria? I

  41. My sister loves Rao’s, but I’ve always been put off by the price point. Now I’m doubly convinced I’m missing out–buying a jar this weekend!

    • Emily says...

      For what it’s worth, Rao’s is on sale frequently at Whole Foods.

  42. MB says...

    There’s a Bon Appétit article about Ina Garten’s pantry–she chooses Rao’s too!

  43. Liz says...

    Anyone have recommendations for yummy non- chunky tomato sauce?

    • Katie says...

      Definitely the Marcella Hazan sauce that another commenter talked about above — you can puree it in a blender after it cools slightly, or use an immersion blender. Gets silky smooth!

    • Sara says...

      Rao’s fan here. My son hates chunks. If you get the big 32 oz jar of marinara, you can put an immersion blender in it and…voila! Chunk free sauce!

    • Anna says...

      Hi Liz! I blitz my Raos (which is already pretty smooth) and salsas in the blender. Voila–non-chunky sauce!

  44. MM says...

    I totally concur, and have found it on sale at my local Target store!
    Perfect stock up, & gift w/ fancy pasta!

  45. Caroline says...

    I’m a huge Rao’s fan, and buy several jars when it goes on sale, but I’ve also been happy with Victoria’s which is also often on sale and is sold at Costco.

  46. michael says...

    Why didn’t you include dellalo. IMHO Makes raos taste like ragu.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oooh so curious to try!

  47. Roger says...

    Rao’s is one of our two favorites. The other is Michael’s of Brooklyn Marinara Sauce which is available at Publix in the Southeast. Love them both. They have changed all of our Italian recipes using marinara from just okay to great. I also have a homemade marinara recipe that equals them if they were not available.

  48. talia says...

    I have hosted sooo many pasta dinners (my girls ran cross country, track and crew!). Fond memories! I made vats of homemade sauce (I’m Italian, so….)

    Great post!

  49. CB says...

    I love this post so much and completely takes me back to our high school sports traditions. I am excited to give Rao’s a try!

  50. What a fun idea! Also super interesting to see that Newman’s Own ranks so far down the list. It’s my partner and I’s favorite, but that might have something to do with the fact that we don’t have Whole Food in the whole state and the only Trader Joe’s in the state is nearly two hours away. Also, I never ever serve pasta sauce that I haven’t doctored up. I dated an Italian for four years and will never be able to shake the knowledge that undoctored pasta sauce is for peasants ;)

  51. Jessica says...

    Rao ‘s is amazing, and I love when I find it on sale. If you use Thrive market online, their Thrive brand sauce is up there with Rao but about half the price.

  52. Tyler S Khoury says...

    We love Rao’s too! Not only for the taste, but because we can buy in bulk at Costco and it’s lower in sugar that most sauces– which is a double win for my pasta-loving toddler!

  53. I love making tomato sauce from scratch when I have enough time. I learned from an Italian Chef how to boil the sauce and it is the real thing!

  54. JP says...

    Muir Glen Organic Tomato Basil!

    • Ann-Marie says...

      +1 :)

  55. Awads says...

    yeah, Rao’s for the win every time! (My DC Costco sells a 2-pack of Rao’s for $10!). i don’t understand how it’s better than homemade, but it just is. i’m never not buying Rao’s, but i’m still making my own just for the aroma alone.

  56. N. Rogers says...

    Rao’s is the only sauce I buy now. So good! I stumbled upon it while doing a sugar detox as there was no sugar in the ingredient list! (There may some grams of sugar in the nutritional content as tomatoes have inherent sugar — but as long as there is no sugar in ingredient list, I can eat it).

  57. Shelley says...

    Yes fully agreed. One of the only pasta sauces I buy!

  58. Olivia K says...

    Love this! Whenever I buy Rao’s it always takes me until I get home and remember that the extra 6 or 7 dollars is actually worth it, it’s just tough in the grocery store when that 2 dollar jar of sauce is right there!

  59. Genius! Tempted to do a similar test here in Germany :)

  60. Sally says...

    I don’t think we have any of those brands in the UK…

    I ALWAYS use a jar of sauce. Life is way too short to make my own!

    The brand I always reach for is Dolmio’s Intense Onion & Garlic. In the slow cooker to make a meat sauce…? YES PLEASE.

  61. Monica says...

    Rao’s sensitive marinara is even better, IMO!

  62. Anu says...

    I actually first bought a bottle of Rao’s because I did some comparisons of the different sauces to see which one had the least added sugar. Rao’s wins there too! And then I loved the taste of it so I’ve never looked back. I most recently employed it to make cheater Shakshuka in our shared vacation rental house. Lots of compliments and Rao’s does most of the work!

    • Anne Elliot says...

      This is what I came to say! I started buying Rao’s because I began eating low carb / very little sugar and was shocked to find that most of the cheaper better-known brands of pasta sauce have a lot of added sugar. (I’m looking at you, Ragu and Prego.) So I’m thrilled to hear its legit the best tasting because it is for sure the most LC/keto friendly of nationally available brands.

  63. Roa’s All the way! I could not believe how willing I was to fork over $8-10 for a jar once I gave it a try. I was always the make my own type before but now? I could eat the whole jar with a spoon. Delish!

  64. isobel says...

    I agree on Rao’s! Maybe test
    dried pasta itself next!
    Meanwhile, good going!

  65. Celeste Deggeller says...

    Safeway Select brand Arrabbiata is the best! If your family likes a flavorful, spicy sauce you should try it!

  66. Melissa says...

    I started using Rao’s because it was the lowest in sugar…..and keep using it because it’s delicious!

  67. You should try my Marinara gal sauce. It could be purchased at marinaragal.com

  68. Jackie says...

    I LOVE to cook, so it kinda pains me that my family’s favorite meal of all time is baked spaghetti – a box of spaghetti, a jar of Rao’s, some ricotta (if I’m honest, I sometimes use the whole container) topped with fresh mozzarella, parm, and bread crumbs. Fresh basil at the end if it’s on hand. If not, no one seems to mind. I swear, it’s the Rao’s.

  69. Kelsey says...

    For several months now, we’ve been buying the big jars of Rao’s basic marinara in bulk and it’s what saves our two-working-parents household every week. One weeknight goes to pasta (or better, ravioli) with Rao’s, and I feel grateful every time that the meal is so satisfying and fresh. I had two working parents when I was growing up and my dad served pasta on rotation most nights of the workweek (Mac-and-cheese, pesto pasta, pasta with Alfredo, pasta with red sauce, and pasta with half-red, half-Alfredo). And repeat! I truly did not eat pasta from my late teens until I became a mother myself a couple years ago. Rao’s saves me from the yuck reaction I would feel if I was stuck with those watery, metallic-tasting jarred sauces that I grew up eating. I am so happy to see them win this contest!

  70. Kate says...

    I got on the Roa’s bandwagon after my absolute favorite, Rosano’s (sold at BJ’s) disappeared. It was so good, we kept our BJ’s membership for years just because of the sauce (and would buy 4 two-packs at a time). Then it disappeared. Rao’s is nearly identical and 2x the price, but the flavor is worth it.

    • Kim G says...

      Rao’s is at My Costco right now!

  71. jeannie says...

    Great to know!!!!!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      But there’s still a wrong answer!

  72. Becca says...

    As an Italian-American raised on my grandmother’s sauce, Rao’s is the only jarred sauce that I will buy. It is delicious!

    • Lisa Zieger says...

      Yes! That combination is a favorite in our house, too!

  73. Once you’ve tried Rao’s you can’t go back. I used to make my own sauce all the time, because it truly is so easy and good, but Rao’s has pushed me over the edge. It’s so so good.

    • Brooke says...

      One of my go-to side dishes is just a can of cannellini beans mixed with Rao’s sauce. Kids and adults always love it!

  74. Heather says...

    Do any Canadians know if Rao’s sold at Costco in Canada (and if not…where can I buy it? Whole Foods? Farm Boy?). I’m intrigued.

    • Shelley says...

      Hello fellow Canadian! I’ve found it at Sobey’s :) Expensive but worth it!!

    • T says...

      I’ve seen it at Loblaws! Speaking of which, the PC black label brand is good too. :)

    • Robin says...

      Wondering the same thing!

    • Kitty says...

      No stores but you can get it on well.ca!

    • Becca says...

      Thanks for the tip! I just checked and it’s on sale at Well.ca right now :)

  75. bisbee says...

    My stepdaughter turned us on to Rao’s…since then I buy nothing else. We doctor it sometimes, but it is worth every penny!

  76. David sliwka says...

    Lidia Bastianich and Mario Batali sauces are superb! And not too sweet like many you tested..I like savory…..

    • Evelyn says...

      I totally agree about the Lidia Bastianich sauces – which are also certified kosher if that’s an issue you care about.

    • Wendy says...

      The jarred Batali sauce is no longer available since it came out that he harassed women. I liked it too! I’ll try the Bastianich if I can find it.

  77. mindi says...

    When I was a junior in college, my mom flew halfway across the country with 10 pounds of homemade frozen marinara in her carry on bag (this was the late 90s). Her goal was to feed my entire a cappella group and the boys’ group we were hosting from Colby College. My mom totally won mom-ming that day (and is still totally kicking butt and taking names).

    • Morgan says...

      This sounds like something my mom would do. She is know for prepping huge batches of things like Julia Child’s Beef Bourguignon, or Chicken Marsala, freezing them, then schlepping them cross country for special events. She did this my for sister’s wedding reception and it tasted amazing!

    • Jenny Rosenstrach says...

      Your mom is my hero.

  78. Sarah says...

    Another taste test but this one for the Caesar salad dressing she uses!! I feel like bottled dressings often taste a little off somehow. I’d love to know what Jenny does!

    • Kelsey says...

      Me too! Yes to a Caesar dressing contest!

    • Alice says...

      Co-signed!

    • Regina says...

      Third!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      such a great idea!!

  79. Karen says...

    I agree with you about the 365 brand marinara. It’s not too chunky, has a balanced flavor and on a pinch canbe used as pizza sauce. I do love the Rao’s too!

  80. Anne says...

    My Costco fave is Dell’Amore – tastes the closest to my mother’s homemade sauce and like Rao’s starts with vine-ripened tomatoes as it’s first ingredient!

  81. Ann says...

    No Prego?!?!

    I’ll have to try Rao’s but Prego takes me right back to home.

  82. Alex says...

    I have such good memories of my xc team carb load meals! What a fun idea (I can safely say we never had Rao’s).

  83. Johanna says...

    I knew Rao’s would win. It really is so good.

  84. Annette says...

    I love Rao’s! It’s always the winner for me, hands-down. This year, I made an ill-fated attempt to carry my one-year-old son and a jar of Rao’s up the stairs of my third-floor walk-up and disaster struck–I dropped the jar and it shattered all over my apartment stairs. After I cleaned it up (no easy feat while juggling a one-year-old), I went right back to the grocery store and shelled out for another jar. So really, my love of this sauce knows no bounds!

  85. N says...

    Agree! This one tastes the closest to my Nonna’s from Calabria! (Don’t tell her I said that!)

  86. Christy says...

    I love Mezzetta! Great price point for high quality ingredients. To be fair, our favorite is the Mezzetta tomato and basil sauce.

  87. Gina says...

    Loved this!
    However, I have never seen this brand in MO.
    Is this a boooo?

    • Heidi says...

      I am in Oklahoma and if we have Rao’s, you should! I’ve seen it at Target and Sprouts. Hope that helps!

    • Maryanne says...

      I’ve seen it at Costco in Iowa.

  88. Lori H says...

    Love Rao’s! But even better is their Arriabiata (sp?) sauce! A little spicy

    • Lauren says...

      YES! Was waiting for a Rao’s Arrabbiata sauce comment…. insert drool emoji. It’s the best.

  89. Melanie says...

    The taste test party itself looks like so much fun! I wonder if it would make a good “adult” party theme/concept? Even just testing boxed brownies could be fun!

    • Brooke says...

      Love this idea!

    • Annie says...

      We’ve done this before! My dad bought a couple different root beers, chocolate bars, potato chips, Powerade vs. Gatorade, yogurts, microwave popcorns, etc. and then we all did a blind taste test and ranked our favorites! We had a little sheet to fill out with numbers and then we saw what the crowd favorites were! So fun!

    • Jenny Rosenstrach says...

      Such a good idea, I’m totally stealing it!

  90. Kaitlyn says...

    Yum! I love this, so fun and informative. My favorite is a local jarred sauce, Mid’s. It’s about $5/jar and tastes amazing!

  91. Heather Young says...

    I have been hunting for a solid jarred dressing for decades. So far, only Cardini’s Ceasar dressing and whole foods “Buttermilk Ranch” are the only two palatable for me. I would love to know if I am missing out on others?

    • Kate says...

      I used to use Cardini’s until I tried Girard’s. There’s no going back.

  92. Renee says...

    I make homemade sauce often, but when I need a jar sauce, I buy Rao’s. Actually, I buy a jar every time it is on sale at the grocery store and my husband picks it up at Costco.

  93. Lauren says...

    Sorry if this is a dumb question but did you serve the sauce to your taste testers at room temp or warmed up? Just curious!

    • diana k. says...

      This is important!

    • Lynn says...

      This is my question as well. A crucial detail!

  94. Audrey says...

    Like your mom, I always made homemade sauce because my Italian mother in law taught me how to make it, and after seeing How easy it was to make, I never bought jarred sauce again. However a few weeks ago you featured a simple dinner recipe: polenta/poached egg/Rao’s marinara sauce. I bought the sauce and found it to be delicious and have used it about once a week since. Walmart has the best price I’ve found @ $7.00 a jar.

  95. Katie Hermesmeyer says...

    I feel vindicated! I heart Rao’s and it’s all I will buy. Thank you for this post.

  96. J.R. Bearth says...

    I just recently tasted bertolli’s Italian sausage and garlic spaghetti sauce for the first time and fell in love! As a foodie I have tasted many but now I found this wonderful sauce and I cannot find it in any store anywhere! Help

  97. Emily says...

    Will you please, please, please do a similar post on the best store-bought jar of pesto? I would really like to know! :)

    • Marisa says...

      The Kirkland basil pesto at Costco is an absolute staple in our house. Super fresh and flavorful, and only $8 for a huge jar! I have eaten it every day this week – on pasta, on chicken, mixed with cauliflower rice…

  98. Emma H. says...

    If you live in the NJ/NY area, Hoboken Farms sauce is hands-down the best I’ve ever tried! It’s almost impossibly fresh for a jarred sauce. Sometimes I even eat it cold with a spoon right out of the jar when I need a quick savory hit.

  99. Joaquina says...

    Any one else prefer to make their own sauce? I hate wasting a whole jar, though someone recommended freezing, and homemade allows you to avoid sugar, cheese (ick!), and to add herbs!

  100. Tania says...

    I was thinking I hope they say Rao’s and there it was! It is the best. I live in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and it is $6.99 at my local C-Town supermarket. Still pretty spendy, but priced right for the neighborhood in which it which it is sold :)

    • Zoe says...

      I don’t know, there is just something about box brownies that can’t be beat!

  101. Anne says...

    well I know what I’m having for dinner now. :)

    too bad I’m not a teenage cross country runner….

  102. Korin B. says...

    Totally awesome and fun post. Thank you for sharing!

  103. Stefanie says...

    My favorite sauce is hands down Victoria White Linen marinara. I buy it in a two pack from Costco and it is HEAVEN! This sauce is so good that I always have to refrain from eating it straight out of the jar. It is clean, classic, and simple, what every pasta sauce should aspire to be.

    • Erin says...

      I completely agree! My favourite too!

    • Agree! I did not care about sauce until my husband stared buying Victoria’s at Costco. Now I struggle to eat or serve anything else

    • Heidi says...

      I was hoping someone mentioned Victoria White Linen! I buy mine at Costco too… such simple ingredients, (No sugar, I think?) and it is delicious. I have even taken the last third of the jar, added a little chicken broth and a splash of half and half to make the BEST cheater tomato soup!

    • Caroline says...

      Yes! And it’s great with the turkey meatballs from TJs in the crockpot for a party.

  104. Sasha L says...

    We buy Kirkland organic marinara sauce from Costco, so cheap it’s basically free! It’s surprisingly good, and organic, and comes in a three pack.

    I love this post, so fun. XC kids are the best ❤️❤️❤️ more taste tests please, I love them!

  105. Betsy Vuillemin says...

    OK…don’t hate me! But, I do not like marinara. But to be fair, I do not like tomatoes, ketchup, pizza sauce, or marinara. My boyfriend, on the other hand, thinks it is the best.thing.ever. So, my question is, can I freeze half the sauce after opening the jar? Not in the glass. I assume a jar would last through a couple of spaghetti dinners for him? Not sure I would make it for him again before the jar goes bad in the fridge. Thanks!

    • Lisa says...

      Lol, I’m the same. I think tomato sauce is disgusting. Ketchup is fine (doesn’t like taste like tomato sauce anyway) and tomato sauce with tons and tons and tons of spices (again, doesn’t taste like tomato sauce) is ok too. Never understood how anyone eats marinara sauce BY CHOICE?!

    • b says...

      You can definitely freeze sauce. I prefer to cook extra pasta so I can use the entire jar and freeze it that way, in meal form, but sauce by itself will also freeze fine.

    • Yes! I do it all the time.

    • Marianne says...

      Yes, tomato sauce freezes well! We make double batches of sauce all the time and freeze and pull out as needed.

    • Zoe says...

      You could try freezing it in the jar as long as there is enough space for it to expand a bit. But freezing it wouldn’t be a problem!

    • Ashley says...

      Yes you can freeze leftover sauce. Any sauce you won’t use in the next week, can be frozen for 3-4 months.

    • Betsy says...

      Thanks, everyone! I assumed you could freeze it, but you know what they say about assuming!!

    • Stefanie says...

      I pour mine into large Ice cube trays (the huge silicone kind you use for whiskey). Once they are frozen I transfer them to a ziploc bag. I love this method because I can pull out a few cubes for a single serving of pasta and don’t have to reheat all the leftover sauce at once.

  106. Sarah B says...

    Thank you!! I always get Newman’s Own (I think because that’s why my first roommate always bought? My mom make homemade too!) but never thought to branch out. Forehead slap! Picking up several jars tonight.

  107. Oneida says...

    Want to chime in as well to say I’d love more posts like this! I can’t even eat pasta and I make my own sauce but it makes for great reading!

    • Kirsten says...

      I agree!!

  108. Megan says...

    Rao’s is the absolute best, and pro-tip: World Market at Bed Bath and Beyond sells it already discounted AND you can use BBB coupons (!!)

  109. ErikaMC says...

    I’ve never heard of Rao’s so I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in my small-town midwest store. Great post though and I’d enjoy seeing more taste tests!

    • Ashley H. says...

      I had never heard of Rao’s either, but surprisingly, they had it at our local, middle-of-nowhere Walmart…so try there if you are able!

  110. maria says...

    Michael’s of Brooklyn is by FAR the best jar sauce i have ever tasted. Rao’s is quite good, but Michael’s is better. ;)

    The Arrabbiata sauce is to DIE for!

    • nora says...

      Totally agree about MIchael’s! Too bad they don’t carry it at Costco.

  111. Erica says...

    This pos took me right back to high school. Well, not the taste-testing part (but high school me would’ve love it and taken it very seriously), but seeing the cross country team dinner is what took me back. Team dinners the night before meets were one of my favorite parts of being on the team. There were always 80ish girls and 80ish boys on the team, so we had two separate dinners and the hosting parents were only in charge of the pasta and sauce, while each class of girls split up the sides (seniors always got to bring desserts). I hadn’t thought about team dinners in years, thanks for the walk down memory lane!

    • Jenny Rosenstrach says...

      I read this to Phoebe to remind her that she’s going to be so sentimental about these years. There’s something very special about cross country team traditions. xx

  112. Carrie says...

    I never use a whole jar of sauce when I cook. Can I freeze the rest? Has anyone tried this?

    • Sasha L says...

      Yes! I do this with marinara sauce, pizza sauce, canned tomatoes, tomato sauce and paste, and homemade enchilada sauce and chilaquiles sauce. I just freeze in reused glass jars.

    • Sarah says...

      Yes! You can definitely freeze leftover sauce, whether jarred or homemade.

    • Heidi says...

      I make a cheater bowl of tomato soup with leftover sauce… take the sauce, thin it with a little chicken broth and a splash of half and half. Serve with crackers or a grilled cheese sandwich!

    • Caroline says...

      Or use the rest with eggplant cutlets (TJs has great ones). Or meatballs later in the week.

  113. Emily R says...

    Haven’t bought jarred sauce in over a decade. It takes about 20 minutes to make it from scratch – either fresh, or with canned tomatoes. It’s cheaper, and so many jarred sauces contain sugar for reasons I will not understand.

    • Sandra says...

      I started making my own just recently (bummer it took so long for my to try it), and it’s incredible! I roast rough-cut tomatoes (all diff kinds) with olive oil, chopped onion and whole garlic cloves, and turn on the broiler at the end for a nice char. Then I blend it up in a food processor, adding a little bit of vinegar, salt & pepper. Easy and so darn good.

    • Capucine says...

      @Sandra Thank you for that sauce making breakdown, I feel like hey – that DOES sound like something I can do. I’m going that route and we’ll see if my kids like it! (I can see the challenge will be that I can’t have jars just sitting around unless I learn to can or get a bigger freezer.)

  114. Jo says...

    Rao’s is our favorite too. And Ghirardeli brownie mix FTW! This is better than the brownies I’ve made from scratch.

    What do you all do with leftover pasta sauce, once the bottle is opened? Can it be frozen?

    • Sarah says...

      Yes, you can freeze it!

    • That is the #truth about the Ghiradeli brownie mix.

  115. Emily says...

    Any Canadians know where we can buy Rao’s? I’ve never heard of it!

    • Susan Kilpatrick says...

      Check out Well.ca – they have it!

    • Michelle says...

      Yes. In Vancouver you can find Rao’s at specialty shops. Gourmet Warehouse has it for sure. Cioffi’s may have it or any other Italian markets.

    • Susan Kilpatrick says...

      Check out Well.ca
      They appear to have it!

    • Matt says...

      The Italian centre in Edmonton.

    • Erin says...

      I’ve only bought it in the US (Walmart, Target). I would say the White Linen Marinara from Costco is just as good and cheaper!

    • Kelly says...

      Nope but Sacla which is available in Canada is delish!

    • Sarah K. says...

      I’ve seen it in Loblaws in Toronto.

  116. Courtney says...

    Has anyone else done this? I don’t let it simmer for 45 minutes like the recipe says but we always have a jar of crushed tomatoes handy. I put it in the pot with a giant whole onion and let it simmer for however long my pasta needs to be cooked. I melt butter at the end. Not jarred obviously, but sort of Sandra Dee’s version of semi-homemade (if anyone remembers that show!!)
    https://food52.com/recipes/13722-marcella-hazan-s-tomato-sauce-with-onion-butter

    • Hannah G says...

      oh me! This is forever and always my go-to for the nights I don’t want to make dinner. And sometimes I’ll only simmer for as long as it takes the water to boil and spaghetti to cook :)

  117. Tami says...

    Once you’ve tried Rao’s you’re pretty much ruined for life (meaning it’s the best).
    If my husband goes to the store – which is generally a big mistake – he always brings home the grocery store brand sauce.
    The Rao’s $8.99 price tag puts him into cardiac arrest every time.

  118. The Meatball Shop sauce is my favorite. I don’t know how widely it is distributed, but if you are in NYC it is def. worth a try!

  119. Kim says...

    This is such a great post! I never know which one to choose. Will grab Rao’s next time.

  120. Kristina says...

    I love Rao’s! It truly is the best : ) Pasta is my love language and I always feel better after a big bowl of noodles and tomato sauce. I also like the Trader Joe’s Autumn Harvest sauce (not marinara, but still yummy this time of year), a tip I got from a COJ commenter!

    • Hannie says...

      “Pasta is my love language” – YES!

  121. Danielle says...

    Rao’s is my favorite for taste but it also has SIMPLE INGREDIENTS and no added sugar! It saved me when I did Whole30.I’ve tried and loved every single one of their sauces.

  122. Katie Larissa says...

    For some reason, this may be the most fun COJ post ever! I love it!

  123. Michelle Elliott says...

    I used to love Rao’s-it was the only sauce I’d buy-until I found a giant cockroach in it! I was so disappointed, but ultimately, beyond disgusted. Never again will I buy that sauce!

    • Sasha L says...

      Oh my. I’m not sure which deters me more though, tbh, the roach or the price lol. I am so freaking cheap! Seals the deal though. Sticking with my buy in bulk, uber cheap Costco sauce!

  124. Megan says...

    I loved this post! One of the most riveting posts in awhile and still had that personal, Cup of Jo feel. I would love to see more taste tests!

  125. CaraM says...

    I absolutely love Rao’s! It is also consistently the lowest as far as added sugar is concerned. I stock up when it is on sale. My next favorite version is Silver Palate (also has low sugar content), but it still pales in comparison to Rao’s!

  126. Jenny says...

    Rao’s for the win! We literally just debated this topic over the weekend and Rao’s won 3 to 1 (my husband maintained his homemade sauce is better) in our family. Can’t be beat for jarred sauce…totally worth the price.

  127. Kelley says...

    This is my favorite sauce! I never bought it before this past summer because of the price. But then we House sat for a family who told us that we could eat whatever was in their pantry and there were two jars in there. Needless to say, we’ve never gone back. I could eat it straight from the jar with a spoon (& have to my husband’s horror). Plus, I see it on sale all the time, and usually stock up on two jars when I do. And not for nothing, it makes a fantastic base for shashushka.

  128. Colleen says...

    Yes, Rao’s all the way! We stock it in our pantry and our basement so we always have it on hand!

  129. deborah saul says...

    I knew it, plus no sugar

  130. Betsy says...

    I knew the winner would be Rao’s even before reading the results. I am a big proponent of making homemade sauce and turn my nose up at most jarred sauces Note: I’m single, 30, childless and have all the time in the world to make sauce- I’m sure I’ll change my tune if I ever have children), but Rao’s is great in a pinch! It really does taste homemade and the simple ingredient list makes it all the better.

  131. selby says...

    i’m loyal to the “prego” brand, mostly because it’s what my dad cooked the pasta with growing up!

  132. Rachel says...

    I love Lidia’s Tomato Basil – it’s the closest to my grandma’s that I’ve ever found. Second choice is Jersey Italian Gravy.

  133. Rao’s is sold at Costco now! :)

  134. Isabel says...

    I knew it would be Rao’s! I was scrolling down with anticipation and when I saw the picture of its jar, I knew I had to be right. Rao’s is the only sauce that tastes home made, has the perfect consistency and is not acidic, bland, or with too much going on. Everyone always loves it and it doesn’t over power the pasta. You can add fresh basil, or even cooked ground meat and turn it into a fantastic bolognese sauce. Go Rao’s all the way!

    There is only one downside to Rao’s: there’s no going back.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      “There is only one downside to Rao’s: there’s no going back.” = hahaha so true!!

    • Lena Corwin says...

      I also knew it would be Rao’s, ha.
      And you’re so right… it’s hard to buy other sauces now. But Rao’s is pricey so we often buy Trader Joe’s.

    • alyce says...

      Yes, that’s why I’ve never tried it. Given the price and how much my husband eats marinara sauce like it’s candy, it’s better to just not go there.

    • Caitlin says...

      AGREED!
      Same to everyone saying you can eat it right out of the jar…I literally lick the pasta serving spoon once the pot is gone.

  135. Corinne says...

    I knew the answer before I started reading the article. :) Rao’s is my absolute favorite. It tastes the closest to my grandmother’s sauce. It’s worth every penny but it is also on sale a lot at my Stop & Shop so I stock up. Their other flavors are excellent too!

  136. Jen says...

    We’re not Italian but we always make our sauce from scratch and our kids are used to this taste. I did get the Whole Foods marinara sauce for convenience but my daughter just did not like it. Honestly this sauce is stupid easy and has five ingredients:
    – Whole canned tomatoes, crushed by hand
    – Salt
    – Chili flakes for a bit of kick
    – Sliced garlic
    – Lots of EVOO
    Simmer for 15 mins
    No jar sauce can compete with this.

    And boxed ghiradelli brownies are the best!

    • Emily R says...

      Yes! This is how I always make mine. Costs less, and no sugar!

    • Anu says...

      Rao’s has no added sugar either. Look at the ingredients – you’d be surprised how few. It’s not what I usually think of as a bottled sauce at all.

    • Sally K says...

      I either make a sauce like this or Marcella’s sauce.

      Based on things I’ve read previously, this article and the positive comments about Rao’s, I decided to try it. If Rao’s is the best, I don’t want to taste the worst.

    • Mamie says...

      Yes! I wholeheartedly agree that Victoria White Linens Marinara is fabulous and it’s half the price of Rao’s.

    • Stefanie says...

      Completely agree!!! It is the only one I will buy now!

    • Sarah says...

      It is good but my Costco stopped carrying it awhile back! I’ll have to check to see if they have it again.

    • Mary says...

      Totally! Victoria’s is the BEST… so is Rao’s, but the price of Victoria pushes it into the win column. I stock up on it whenever I see it at the local Giant!

  137. Melanie says...

    Rao’s is the BEST jar sauce ever!! This tastes so similar to my 100% Italian grandmother’s homemade sauce that it’s scary. Everyone in my family has remarked how similar it is. It makes my life SO much easier because I can use this jar as the base and add a few extras to make it my own. It is so comforting :) Also, when I saw this post, I thought to myself, “If Rao’s doesn’t win, these people don’t know what they’re talking about.” Haha!

    • Lee says...

      “If Rao’s doesn’t win, these people don’t know what they’re talking about.”

      Hahaha. I thought the same thing! My husband has recently requested we always have a jar of Rao’s available “just in case.”

    • Rachel says...

      Ditto, I thought the same too!

  138. Nicole says...

    We adore Rao’s! It’s been our only jarred sauce for years. Sometimes our local Sam’s Club has massive jars for cheap and we stock up!

  139. Heather says...

    This is such a fun post – would love more taste tests!

    • Nina Nattiv says...

      YES! second vote for more taste tests. Especially with this family.

    • Carrie says...

      I second that!! This post was so fun while also being so helpful!

  140. Bethany says...

    Costco carries Raos! That helps offset the price premium for it.

    • Christina says...

      Bethany, my queen! Thanks for this hot tip.

  141. K Rez says...

    I’ll have to look for Rao’s in San Diego, I’ve never heard of it before!

    Our house favorite is Trader Joe’s.

    This was fun!

  142. Vivian says...

    Not marinara-related, but as a Canadian, it’s so weird to read “Kraft Mac and Cheese” – we call it Kraft Dinner! :)

    • Tis says...

      Or KD if you’re in a hurry!

    • Ellen Sears says...

      Yes! Haha

    • Twyla says...

      Yes to KD!!

  143. Abesha1 says...

    Dave’s Organic Tomato Basil!!! The flavor I’ve been looking for my whole life.

    (Sometimes Costco, also at Whole Foods)

  144. Jessie H. says...

    Jenny’s blog and cookbooks have absolutely tremendously influenced who I am in the kitchen both when I was a childless college student and now as the working foster mom. Love love love her. (I feel like this is also an amazing party idea!)

    • Sabrina says...

      Hey — any chance CoJ could do a post on this: Cool Party Ideas? Something to liven up the grey, cold days of November. I bet the comments on this would be amazing!