I’ve come to realize that the best part of this gig isn’t just that I get to taste and write about all sorts of spicy food products; more specifically, it’s that the vast majority of things I review come from small, honest, independent growers and producers. These hard-working men and women consistently create products using bold and daring combinations of all-natural ingredients, the kinds of things you just don’t find on many store shelves. Sometimes, though, I do like to browse the aisles of my local HEB and hope something catches my eye, something that can serve as a more accessible alternative to our readers who cannot easily obtain the things we normally review. In that spirit, I have a bottle of McCormick’s Sweet Island Pepper BBQ Sauce, from their Grill Mates brand, with me tonight. Can this mass-produced sauce stand up to the honest goodness of the independent guys? That’s the key question of this review.


Tomato Puree (water, tomato paste), Spice Rub (sugar, salt, tomato, onion, mustard seed, red pepper, chili pepper, black pepper, celery seed, cloves), Distilled Vinegar, Corn Starch, Molasses, Natural Hickory Smoke Flavor.

The word “island” in a sauce’s name makes me think of Caribbean stylings, but there’s nothing distinctly Caribbean about this ingredients list. It’s possible that the makeup of the spice rub blend gives it the feel McCormick’s going for, but there sure isn’t anything that particularly stands out.


Sweet Island Pepper packs the deep rust-red color of a tomato barbecue sauce, but it’s the consistency that is really surprising. This stuff is much thicker than most sauces I’ve had, and is actually more of a slather than a typical sauce. This is perfectly in line with the label’s claim that this is both a barbecue sauce and a spice rub, so that’s pretty cool. On the downside (though generally expected from store-bought sauces), there’s little personality in the sauce, since I don’t see any pepper flakes, seeds, or chunks of anything anywhere.

Smell and Taste:

First the tomatoes hit, which makes me think of ketchup, and then I do get that spice rub blend. The smell is both sweet and tangy, but not really peppery. The flavor, though, is actually more like someone had a Reese’s moment and accidentally spilled sweet and sour sauce into their barbecue sauce, with the end result being a surprisingly happy mixture.



As expected from a mass-market sauce, this stuff won’t blow your capsaicin receptors away. It does, however, have a noticeable kick, so I’ll give it a Medium. The flavor is also better than I expected, with a neat blend of sweet and heat. I really don’t feel the Island here, but the overall taste is good enough to rate a Nice in my book. It could be better, but it is impressively tasty for something I just happened to pull off the shelf a few days ago.

Suggested Uses:

Over the past two nights, I’ve used this on both chicken and a burger, and it works beautifully. This is probably obvious for a barbecue sauce, but it complements meat rather well. What’s cool is that this probably does, in fact, double as a rub, so you can slather it all over your meat during the grilling process. I wish I had access to a legitimate grill (other than the community grill at my apartment complex), but if anyone tries this stuff as a rub, please comment below and let us know how it goes!

Final Word:

So, this stuff is pretty good, but here at EAT MORE HEAT! we really are all about supporting the little guys. When possible, buy from the independent folks, because you typically get a more natural flavor without all the preservatives and extra stuff that’s designed to extend shelf life (not that this particular sauce is guilty of that). This has been your public service announcement for the day.



  • linda ragsdale 2014 Apr 29 / 12:30

    want to know where I can buy it..

  • Brian Sellers 2014 May 02 / 18:07

    McCormick is a mass-market brand, so you may be able to find it at a major grocery store.

  • Terrie E. Winslow 2014 Jun 24 / 18:50

    I was purchasing this delicious sauce at my local Hy-Vee, and they have discontinued it. I have checked Wal-Mart, Target, and Fareway in Cedar Rapids, IA. No one carries it. How can I purchase it. I use this for all my marinating and barbecuing….I ‘ll be lost if I can buy this in my area any more.

  • Brian Sellers 2014 Jun 27 / 19:03

    Oh no! I wouldn’t normally lament the disappearance of a big-brand product (considering we routinely feature items from the little guys that are much better), but this is a legitimately good sauce! I’ll take a look next time I’m at the grocery store to see if we have it here. If so, it may just be your area (distributors can be really, really annoying like that). If not, time to move on!

  • richard posey 2014 Jul 06 / 10:13

    Have you found McCormick’s Sweet Island Pepper BBQ Sauce anywhere? I have looked all over Alabama with no luck. I would order it if not in stores. Please advise and thanks for your help.

  • Glenda 2014 Jul 07 / 11:25

    Sorry folks just checked with McCormick and this product has been discontinued and is not even sold under a different name.

  • Brian Sellers 2014 Jul 11 / 16:25

    Well, that would explain why I haven’t been able to find it anywhere! That’s a real shame. Time to move on, folks!

  • Tom Herrington 2014 Nov 04 / 10:17

    Final word – Why is it that everytime a mass-produced product comes out that is above average, as this McCormick Sweet Island Pepper BBQ Sauce certainly was, it is soon discontinued?
    This happens with appalling regularity.

  • mwoliver 2014 Dec 23 / 17:32

    Has anyone been able to find a like replacement for this one? I really enjoyed using this for meatballs and I can’t find anything else that has the kick I liked from this sauce. I’d be grateful for any pointers to a like sauce or even a recipe for a sauce very like this one. Thanks!

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply