The Best Store-Bought Buffalo Sauces, Tested by Food Network Kitchen
Get those chicken wings and cauliflower florets ready!
Tested by Melissa Gaman for Food Network Kitchen
Buffalo sauce seems to be everywhere these days. The spicy blend has taken over the condiment aisle, the seasoning shelf, the snack rack — chances are you’ll even find something buffalo-flavored in the frozen food section of your local grocery store! From pretzels and chickpeas to mac and cheese and frozen cauliflower, you can “buffalo” just about anything. But what makes one buffalo sauce better than all the rest? For our latest taste test, Food Network Magazine recipe developer Melissa Gaman purchased and tasted 24 different bottles of store-bought buffalo sauces to find the absolute best ones out there. Keep reading to find out where (or if!) your favorite stacked up.
A Quick Note on Buffalo Sauce
Although homemade buffalo sauce is little more than a combination of vinegary hot sauce and butter, that hasn’t stopped companies from putting their own spin on it. In fact, if you were to check the back of most bottled buffalo sauces, you’d see a wide range of unique and surprising ingredients listed, like coffee, lemon, eggs, tamarind, oils, margarine, butter and/or butter-flavoring. Some buffalo sauces even have added sweeteners, while others are completely sugar-free. Garlic, celery seed and oregano are also fairly common. Ingredients aside, the overall appeal of buffalo sauce is due in large part to its texture. An ideal buffalo sauce should be just thick enough to adequately cling to the treat of your choice. When tossing or dunking a piece of food into a buffalo sauce, the sauce should also form a thin layer around the food item without dripping off, soaking through or sitting on top of it in a thick blob.
At its core, buffalo sauce is just medium-heat hot sauce combined with butter. So, the tricky part in creating a bottled version is capturing that same blend of flavors, while also making it shelf-stable. Some varieties I tested just didn’t make the cut on this list, because they had such a strong artificial butter flavor, while others got the balance of hot sauce and butter completely wrong. Sweet Baby Ray’s Buffalo Wing Sauce avoided both pitfalls. With its rich orange color, this buffalo sauce variety had a well-rounded tangy flavor and just the right amount of addictive heat. It tastes exactly as you would expect it to.
Everyone has a different tolerance when it comes to peppers and chiles, but you can still have a very satisfying buffalo sauce experience even if spice isn’t your friend. Some brands I tried replaced the heat with more butter flavoring, tomato or sugar, which in turn made them taste more like movie theater popcorn, ketchup or a savory syrup. Frank’s Red Hot Wings Sauce Mild stays true to the flavor of pure buffalo sauce, all while dialing back, but not fully eliminating, the warming heat of cayenne peppers. The sauce itself has a slight sweetness and the inclusion of garlic adds a bump in flavor. Despite its lower heat level, the overall flavor is big and craveable.
There was a whole group of buffalo sauces in my 24 bottle collection that proclaimed themselves to be "extra-hot" versions of the classic. This made me curious since many of the ones that were labeled "medium-heat" were plenty hot themselves. Though this category seemed promising, most of these dark red-colored sauces missed the mark. Some were more mild in heat than "medium," while others tasted way too much like hot sauce to even be considered a buffalo sauce. Steve’s & Ed’s Extra Hot Wing Sauce is full of sharp and bright bursts of heat, while still bringing the creamy vinegar flavor you want in a buffalo sauce. It instantly sizzled on my tongue and made my mouth start to prickle and water. The heat didn’t linger for too long, making it ideal for getting through a big platter of snacks without deadening your taste buds.
You know that one person who claims nothing is too hot for them? Melinda’s Creamy Style Ghost Pepper Wing Sauce and Condiment was created with them in mind! Made from a tangy blend of cayenne, habanero and ghost peppers, this extra-bold buffalo sauce is not for the faint of taste buds. In fact, the smell alone is enough to clue you in to how hot this buffalo sauce truly tastes. The heat doesn’t immediately hit your tongue. Rather, the burn starts quickly and intensely in your throat, moving upward. Beyond the numbing heat, its bright chile flavor is delicious. It is a slight departure in flavor from a traditional buffalo sauce profile due to the added flavors of habanero and ghost peppers, but well worth it if you’re a true heat seeker.
If you want to shake things up without veering too far away from that signature buffalo sauce flavor, Cholula Caliente Wing Sauce is a must-try. The brand, which is known for their expansive line of hot sauces, utilizes arbol and piquin chiles along with the more traditional cayenne in this zesty wing sauce offering. The combination gives the sauce a rich and earthy flavor that’s very reminiscent of dried chiles.
How We Tested
For this taste test, I gathered 24 bottles of prepared buffalo sauces (excluding dipping sauce varieties). I tasted the sauces over the course of a few days, and tried each variety plain, as a dip for a French fry and tossed with a piece of hot popcorn chicken. Most of the sauce brands also got a second and third tasting on another day, to make sure palate fatigue didn’t skew my overall ranking and opinion.