Is BBQ Sauce Vegan? (Here’s Everything You Need To Know)

There are many flavors and varieties of BBQ sauces, though the most common is the tomato-based sauce, which usually comes in the form of ketchup.

The standard BBQ sauce is vegan-friendly, as it’s mostly tomato paste combined with spices. However, some brands produce BBQ sauces with honey, mayonnaise, and sometimes anchovies, which are not vegan ingredients.

BBQ sauce may also contain controversial ingredients that may discourage some vegans from consuming it, namely sugar and natural flavors, as they may or not be vegan. 

In this article, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about BBQ sauce. 

What is BBQ Sauce? 

BBQ sauce is a sauce that is used as a marinade, basting, condiment, or topping for meat cooked in the barbecue cooking style, and it’s very common in the Southern United States, though it’s also used on many other foods.

Like I’ve mentioned, there are BBQ sauces with different ingredients and flavor profiles, but they mostly include vinegar, tomato paste, liquid smoke, onion powder, spices like mustard and black pepper, as well as sweeteners such as sugar and molasses. Some versions use mayonnaise (combined with tomato paste) as a base. 

BBQ sauces seem to vary based on the region, so the BBQ sauce in South Carolina differs from the BBQ sauce in Alabama; even in how they’re used. 

For example, the BBQ sauce in South Carolina is yellow because it’s made primarily from yellow mustard, vinegar, sugar, and spices, while the BBQ sauce in Alabama is white because it’s a mayonnaise-based sauce that also includes apple cider vinegar, sugar, salt, and black pepper. 

Therefore, the recipes change from place to place. 

Is BBQ Sauce Generally Vegan?

BBQ Sauce

BBQ sauce is mostly vegan, as most brands combine vinegar, tomato paste, sugar, and spices like mustard or black pepper.

However, several brands add honey to their recipe, which is a more common animal derivative present in BBQ sauces. There may also be other animal derivatives like mayonnaise and anchovies, but they are less common, especially among commercial brands.

The original BBQ sauces from brands like Heinz and Kraft are vegan-friendly, but they may also contain a few controversial ingredients as per some vegan standards. 

Potential Non-Vegan Ingredients in BBQ Sauce

There might be a few controversial ingredients in BBQ sauce, including honey, anchovies, cane sugar, and natural flavors. I’ve expanded on these ingredients below. 

Honey

The majority of vegans don’t consume honey, which is rather obvious because honey is derived from bees, and as an animal product, most vegans will avoid it. 

However, some vegans are okay with consuming honey, more specifically honey produced by ethical beekeepers. Ethical beekeepers claim that their honey is produced in a cruelty-free environment, and they only take the excess honey that bees don’t use. 

With that being said, the honey you will find in commercial BBQ sauces does not come from ethical beekeepers, so it’s not sourced in a way that has bee’s wellbeing in mind. 

Conventional beekeeping (or large-scale beekeeping) is less ethical and in many cases, cruel practices are employed to maximize the production of honey. 

Unfortunately, when conventional beekeepers remove honey from a hive, they replace it with a sugar substitute that is significantly worse for bees because it lacks the micronutrients that are naturally present in honey. 

In many cases, honey bees are also bred to increase productivity, but selective breeding narrows the population gene pool which increases the bee’s susceptibility to disease and large-scale die-offs. 

These diseases can also spread to other pollinators we and other animals need to thrive, so there’s a risk associated with honey production that might be damaging to the environment. 

Something that a lot of vegans also consider to be profoundly upsetting is that queen bees often have their wings clipped by beekeepers to prevent them from leaving the hive and produce a colony elsewhere, which would obviously hurt both productivity and profits. 

For these reasons I’ve just mentioned most vegans are against consuming honey.

Anchovies

Anchovies are less common, but you might still find them in certain BBQ flavors. 

Unfortunately, anchovies are small-sized fish, so they’re certainly not suitable for vegans. However, some vegans consume bivalves because they don’t consider bivalves to be sentient beings like cows. 

However, if you’re like most vegans, anchovies are not a vegan ingredient. 

Refined Sugar

Refined sugar generally comes from two sources: sugarcane and sugarbeets.

While both sugars are similar in taste and texture, their refining process is different. Beet sugar is extracted using a diffuser and mixed with additives to crystallize, but no animal ingredients are used to process it. 

Refined sugar derived from sugarcane is not always vegan, because unfortunately after the sugarcane stalks are crushed and the juice is separated from the pulp, the juice is then processed, filtered, and bleached with a property called bone char, which is derived from animal bones. 

According to PETA, bone char comes from the bones of cattle in countries such as Afghanistan, Argentina, India, and Pakistan. The bones are sold to traders in Scotland, Egypt, and Brazil who then sell them to sugar companies in the United States. 

Bone char, also referred to as natural carbon, is mainly used as a decolorizing agent, so it gives sugar its white, pristine color by removing any existing inorganic impurities. 

However, it’s important to point out that this practice is only common in North America, as most countries in Europe, as well as Australia and New Zealand, have banned its use. 

Some companies have started relying on alternatives like granular carbon or ion-exchange resins, but the problem is that many companies source their sugar from a mixed pool of suppliers, including ones that use bone char. 

Therefore, yes, the sugar in your BBQ sauce may or not be vegan, particularly if it’s produced in North America. 

Natural Flavors

Natural flavors are tricky in the sense that they may be derived from either animals or plants. 

Here is the FDA’s broad definition of natural flavors:

“The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.”

Also, unless we’re referring specifically to an allergen, a company doesn’t have to disclose what type of ingredient they are using under the “natural flavors” umbrella.  

Therefore, in some cases, even though some products might contain meat or honey, they don’t have to be explicitly listed because they’re not regarded as allergens. 

Which BBQ Sauces Are Vegan?

While most BBQ sauces are suitable for vegans, unfortunately, not all of them are. 

Let’s quickly break down different brands and see if their BBQ sauces are vegan-friendly.

Is Heinz BBQ Sauce Vegan?

Heinz has several BBQ sauces, including:

  • Original Sweet & Thick BBQ Sauce (Vegan)
  • Carolina Mustard Style Sweet Mustard BBQ Sauce (Vegan)
  • Carolina Vinegar Style Sweet & Tangy BBQ Sauce (Vegan)
  • Kansas City Style Sweet & Smoky BBQ Sauce (Not Vegan)
  • Memphis Style Sweet & Spicy BBQ Sauce (Not Vegan)
  • Heinz Texas Style Bold & Spicy BBQ Sauce (Not Vegan)

The Original BBQ sauce and most other flavors are suitable for vegans, but unfortunately, some of them contain anchovies as an ingredient and cannot be considered vegan. 

Is Kraft BBQ Sauce Vegan?

Most Kraft BBQ sauces are suitable for vegans, except for the Honey, Sweet Honey, Spicy Honey, and Mesquite Honey varieties, which all contain honey. 

Other than honey, there are no other animal ingredients in non-vegan Kraft BBQ sauces. 

Is Bull’s Eye BBQ Sauce Vegan? 

Bull’s Eye is a brand that specialized in BBQ sauces and is owned by Kraft Foods, and like most brands, they also have several flavors, including:

  • The Original
  • Hickory Molasses
  • Smoky Mesquite
  • Hickory Smoke
  • Hickory Brown Sugar

Most flavors are suitable for vegans, except for The Original as it contains honey. 

However, Bull’s Eye is also a brand that emotionally caters to meat-eaters, so even though some of their products don’t contain animal ingredients, their messaging promotes meat consumption, which is something that may deter vegans from purchasing their products. 

bull's eye website message

Is Stubb’s BBQ Sauce Vegan?

Stubb’s is another brand with several BBQ sauces, namely:

  • Dr. Pepper Legendary BBQ Sauce (Vegan)
  • Hickory Bourbon BBQ Sauce (Vegan)
  • Original BBQ Sauce (Vegan)
  • Simply Sweet Reduced Sugar BBQ Sauce (Vegan)
  • Smokey Brown Sugar BBQ Sauce (Vegan)
  • Smokey Mesquite BBQ Sauce (Not Vegan)
  • Spicy Bar BBQ Sauce (Vegan)
  • Sticky Sweet BBQ Sauce (Vegan)
  • Sweet Heat BBQ Sauce (Vegan)
  • Sweet Honey & Spice Legendary BBQ Sauce (Not Vegan)

Most of Stubb’s BBQ sauces are suitable for vegans, but a few of them contain honey, which is not regarded as a vegan ingredient by most vegans. 

Is Mcdonalds BBQ Sauce Vegan?

According to Mcdonald’s official website, they have two different BBQ sauces: the Smoky BBQ Dip, which is served with chicken selects in 50g pots, and the BBQ Dip, which is served in 25g pots.

The Smoky BBQ Dip is not suitable for vegans because it contains honey, however, Mcdonald’s regular BBQ Dip is vegan, as it doesn’t contain any animal ingredients. 

Is Burger King BBQ Sauce Vegan?

According to Burger King’s allergen menu, their BBQ sauce doesn’t contain any animal ingredients, which means it’s suitable for vegans. 

Is G Hughes BBQ Sauce Vegan?

Unfortunately, G Hughes Smokehouse BBQ Sauce is not suitable for vegans, as it contains a natural honey flavor, which is derived from honey. 

As we’ve mentioned, most vegans avoid honey, but some vegans eat honey, but it’s usually honey that is produced by small-time beekeepers that have a more “ethical approach” to beekeeping. 

Is Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ Sauce Vegan?

Yes, Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ Sauce is suitable for vegans, as it doesn’t contain any animal ingredients.

Some vegans might not consume because they fear the sugar in it may have been processed with bone char, but that might not be the case for this BBQ sauce. 

Is Masterfoods BBQ Sauce Vegan?

Masterfoods BBQ sauce doesn’t have animal ingredients, so it is technically considered vegan, however, some vegans avoid products that contain sugar because they fear the sugar might have been processed with bone char – a charcoal-like powder derived from cattle bones. 

However, Masterfoods is an Australian brand, and Australia is a country where the use of bone char is not allowed, therefore it’s likely that their sugar is always vegan. 

Is Subway BBQ Sauce Vegan?

Unfortunately, Subway’s Smokey Hickory BBQ sauce is not vegan as it’s made using eggs. We found this information through their US allergen menu. 

Is Dominos BBQ Sauce Vegan?

Fortunately, Dominos BBQ Sauce does not contain animal ingredients, therefore it’s technically considered vegan.

However, it does contain cane sugar, which some vegans avoid because it may have been processed with bone char, a property derived from cattle bones. 

Can’t Find a Vegan BBQ Sauce? Make Yours At Home

The best way to ensure your BBQ sauce is vegan is by making it yourself.

Unfortunately, even though some BBQ sauces may technically be vegan because there are no animal ingredients listed on the label, there’s the issue with sugar, which some vegans might want to avoid.

While I’m not a cook or recipe author, I often like to recommend some recipes I’ve found delicious, and this particular BBQ sauce recipe is one of those. 

Also, I like to recommend recipes that aren’t too difficult, since I’m not exactly proficient in the kitchen.

For this recipe, you only need seven ingredients:

  • Ketchup
  • Molasses
  • Maple Syrup (or Organic Sugar)
  • Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Soy Sauce
  • Vegan Worcestershire Sauce
  • Sriracha

Basically, you only need to put these ingredients in a bowl and whisk them together. You don’t even need a food processor, so as you can see, it’s quick and easy to make. 

This recipe is from noracooks.com, which is a vegan recipe blog.

Summary

Fortunately, most BBQ sauces are suitable for vegans as they don’t require animal ingredients.

However, in some regions in the United States, it’s also common to use honey or mayonnaise to make BBQ sauce, so you’re also bound to find some non-vegan BBQ sauces.

Furthermore, brands like Heinz and Kraft also have BBQ sauces that are not vegan because they contain honey, and even anchovies, which is a small, forage fish. 

Just read the ingredients listed on the label before you purchase any BBQ sauce in the supermarket, and make sure you check allergen menus if you’re going to have BBQ sauce in fast-food chains or restaurants.  

Hey there! My name is Alex and I've been vegan for over five years! I've set up this blog because I'm passionate about veganism and living a more spiritually fulfilling life where I'm more in tune with nature. Hopefully, I can use Vegan Foundry as a channel to help you out on your own journey!