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.
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!
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.