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Is Sweet Baby Ray’s good on ribs?

Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce is one of the most popular and beloved barbecue sauces in America. Known for its sweet, tangy, and smoky flavor, many backyard grill masters swear by Sweet Baby Ray’s as their go-to sauce for ribs. But is it actually good on ribs? Let’s take a closer look.

The History of Sweet Baby Ray’s

Sweet Baby Ray’s was founded by Ray’s Enterprises in 1984 by David “Dave” Chernick. The story goes that Dave developed the original Sweet Baby Ray’s sauce recipe in his family’s Chicago home. After friends and family raved about the sauce, Dave started selling it at local fairs and festivals. It quickly grew in popularity throughout the Chicago area.

By 1986, Dave decided to start bottling and distributing the sauce on a larger scale. The “Sweet Baby Ray” name has two possible origins – it may have been named after Dave’s son, or it might have been inspired by blues musician “Sweet Baby James.” In any case, the name stuck and Sweet Baby Ray’s was officially born.

Over the next decade, Sweet Baby Ray’s sauce became available in more and more grocery stores and markets across the midwest. And by the mid-1990s, it had expanded distribution nationwide. The sauce steadily grew into one of the top-selling barbecue sauces in America.

In 2004, Sweet Baby Ray’s was acquired by Ken’s Foods. It continues to be made with Dave Chernick’s original recipe and is Ken’s Food flagship barbecue sauce brand today.

Sweet Baby Ray’s Sauce Profile

So what exactly is in Sweet Baby Ray’s original barbecue sauce recipe that has made it such a hit? Here are the main flavor ingredients:

  • Tomato puree – The base ingredient that gives the sauce its signature reddish-orange hue.
  • High fructose corn syrup – A sweetener that provides characteristic barbecue sweetness.
  • Molasses – Another sweetener that adds a rich, brown sugar-like flavor.
  • Vinegar – Gives the sauce tanginess to balance the sweetness.
  • Onion & garlic – Classic savory flavor boosters.
  • Spices & seasonings – A proprietary blend that likely includes paprika, mustard, and chili powder.

When combined, these ingredients create Sweet Baby Ray’s unique sweet, tangy, and lightly spicy barbecue sauce profile. It has a smooth, glossy texture and coats food extremely well. The sauce strikes a flavor balance that appeals to many mainstream American barbecue fans.

How Does Sweet Baby Ray’s Perform on Ribs?

Ribs with barbecue sauce are an American cookout staple. The finger-licking, meat-falling-off-the-bone goodness of saucy ribs is irresistible to many barbecue enthusiasts. But ribs can also be a canvas that showcases the nuances of different barbecue sauces.

So how does Sweet Baby Ray’s signature sauce actually taste on ribs? Here are some key considerations:

  • Sweetness – Sweet Baby Ray’s has robust sweetness from the corn syrup and molasses. This gives it strong candy-like flavors that coat the ribs.
  • Smokiness – While Sweet Baby Ray’s doesn’t contain liquid smoke flavoring, its blend of spices evokes subtle smoky tones.
  • Consistency – The sauce’s smooth, thick texture allows it to adhere nicely to meat and ribs.
  • Tanginess – There’s enough vinegar bite to cut through the sweetness, preventing cloying flavors.
  • Spiciness – Sweet Baby Ray’s has only mild spice heat, making it accessible for most palates.

When slathered on barbecued ribs, Sweet Baby Ray’s caramelizes into a sticky, finger-licking glaze. The sauce’s clingy consistency prevents it from sliding right off the ribs. Its subtle smoky flavors integrate with the smoky ribs. And while it’s on the sweeter side, it still has enough vinegar tang to avoid being too one-note.

How Does It Compare to Other Popular Ribs Sauces?

Sweet Baby Ray’s has plenty of competition in the world of barbecue sauces for ribs. How does it stack up against some of the other heavy hitters? Here’s a taste test comparison:

KC Masterpiece

KC Masterpiece is another leading grocery store brand like Sweet Baby Ray’s. It has a very thick, sticky texture and ultra-sweet flavor profile. On ribs, KC Masterpiece is almost candy-like, leaving an ultra-thick glaze. The flavors are bolder but less nuanced than Sweet Baby Ray’s.


Stubbs sauce is a classic Texas-style barbecue sauce made with all natural ingredients. It’s thinner and pepperier than Sweet Baby Ray’s, with a strong black pepper bite. On ribs, Stubbs gives a tangier, more peppery flavor compared to the sweeter Sweet Baby Ray’s.

Blues Hog

Blues Hog is a craft Tennessee-style sauce with a blend of tomato paste, vinegar, and mustard. It’s spicier than Sweet Baby Ray’s with a red chili pepper flavor punch. The vinegar gives it a twangy kick on ribs that highlights the pork flavors.

Head Country

Head Country is an Oklahoma-style rib sauce infused with apple cider vinegar. It has a unique savory, smoky, tart flavor. On ribs, the apple cider vinegar gives it almost a Carolina barbecue type of flavor profile compared to Sweet Baby Ray’s more conventional sauce.

While all these sauces make excellent ribs, Sweet Baby Ray’s is arguably more balanced and universally appealing than the bolder regional styles.

Best Practices for Using Sweet Baby Ray’s on Ribs

To get the most out of Sweet Baby Ray’s sauce with ribs, here are some best practices to follow:

  • Apply the sauce during the last 5-10 minutes of grilling only. This allows the ribs to caramelize the sauce rather than burn.
  • Try saucing just the meaty side of the ribs to prevent burning or charring.
  • Use a grill brush to apply sauce. Spooning it on thickly can make it pool and drip.
  • Don’t discard the bones and membrane – saucing them adds even more flavor.
  • Brush on a very light first coat. You can always add another layer or two.
  • Allow the ribs to cool slightly before serving for optimal sauce tackiness.
  • Store leftover sauced ribs properly refrigerated and reheat gently to prevent burning.

Sweet Baby Ray’s Ribs Recipes

You can make classic barbecue ribs using just Sweet Baby Ray’s sauce. But the sauce also pairs wonderfully with special dry rubs and ingredient twists. Here are a few popular recipe ideas:

Sweet Baby Rays + Dry Rub Ribs

Coat ribs with a Memphis-style dry rub before smoking or grilling. Apply Sweet Baby Ray’s sauce during the last 10 minutes only. The rub provides a spicy bark underneath the sweet glaze.

Sweet Baby Ray’s + Bourbon Ribs

Add 1/2 cup bourbon to 1 cup Sweet Baby Ray’s sauce. Simmer until reduced by half, then use as a baste for smoked ribs. The bourbon adds a boozy kick.

Sweet Baby Ray’s + Cola Ribs

Mix 12 oz cola soda with 1 cup Sweet Baby Ray’s to make a cola barbecue sauce. Use it to baste baby back ribs, and garnish with lime wedges.

Hawaiian Ribs

Top smoked ribs with grilled pineapple slices, then drizzle with Sweet Baby Ray’s. Add a garnish of diced green onions for a Hawaiian-inspired rib dish.

The sweet and tangy flavors of Sweet Baby Ray’s sauce pair well with many creative recipes beyond classic ribs off the grill.

Nutrition Info for Sweet Baby Ray’s Sauce

Like most barbecue sauces, Sweet Baby Ray’s is higher in sugar than some other condiments. Here is the nutrition information per 2-tablespoon serving (28g):

Calories Fat Sodium Carbs Sugar
60 0g 210mg 14g 12g

The sugar content comes mainly from the high fructose corn syrup. The sodium level is also quite high. This makes Sweet Baby Ray’s more of an occasional treat sauce rather than an everyday condiment.

Where to Buy Sweet Baby Ray’s Sauce

The popularity of Sweet Baby Ray’s has made it widely available at most grocery stores across the US. Here are some of the major retailers that carry it:

  • Walmart
  • Target
  • Kroger
  • Publix
  • Safeway
  • Albertsons
  • Whole Foods
  • Meijer
  • H-E-B
  • Food Lion

Sweet Baby Ray’s can be found in the condiment aisle at most stores, often near the ketchup. It’s sold in multiple sizes, ranging from 20 oz bottles up to 40 oz or larger. The sauce is also available from online retailers like Amazon.

In addition to the original, Sweet Baby Ray’s makes a number of other flavor varieties. These include Honey Chipotle, Hickory Brown Sugar, and “Bone Suckin’ Sauce.” The original remains the top seller and go-to ribs sauce for many though.

Making Your Own “Sweet Baby Ray’s Style” Sauce

Want to try replicating the Sweet Baby Ray’s flavor profile at home? Here’s a DIY recipe to try:


  • 1 cup tomato puree
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp molasses
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp mustard powder
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder
  • 1/8 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper


  1. Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan.
  2. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently.
  3. Reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until thickened.
  4. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  5. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate. Will keep for 1-2 weeks.

This homemade version gives a very close replica of the Sweet Baby Ray’s signature flavor. Adjust brown sugar and vinegar to taste if you want it sweeter or tangier.


Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce has earned its reputation as one of the top supermarket-brand sauces for ribs and barbecue. Its sticky, sweet and tangy flavor profile tastes delicious when slathered on a rack of ribs hot off the grill or smoker. It gives ribs a candy-like glaze but with enough vinegar bite to prevent being too sugary.

Sweet Baby Ray’s works well as a base sauce for customized ribs recipes too. Cooks can mix it with bourbon, cola, different spices, brown sugar, honey, and more to put creative spins on classic Sweet Baby Ray’s flavors.

While it may not have the sophisticated flavors of a microbrew artisanal barbecue sauce, Sweet Baby Ray’s has an accessible, crowd-pleasing taste. For backyard grillers looking for an easy ribs sauce that also pleases kids’ palates, Sweet Baby Ray’s is a reliable choice.