Trader Joe’s Bold and Smoky Kansas City Style Barbecue Sauce (5/5)

Trader Joe’s Bold and Smoky Kansas City Style Barbecue Sauce (5/5)

Awesome stuff. If you love the sweet/bold/smokiness of Bullseye BBQ sauce, with some additional onion and spice flavors added, you’ll love TJ’s Bold and Smoky KC Style BBQ Sauce.

And if you don’t have a Trader Joe’s near you, well… you should move. 🙂

From Wikipedia: Trader Joe’s describes itself as “your unique grocery store”. Products sold include gourmet foods, organic foods, vegetarian food, unusual frozen foods, imported foods, domestic and imported wine, “alternative” food items, and basics like bread, cereal, eggs, dairy, coffee and produce. Non-food items include personal hygiene products, household cleaners, vitamins, pet food, plants, and flowers. Many of the company’s products are considered environmentally friendly.

Trader Joe’s sells many items from any of several of its own private labels. Such labels are quirkily named by the ethnicity of the food in question, such as Trader Jose’s (Mexican food), Trader Ming’s (Chinese food), Baker Josef’s (bagels), Trader Giotto’s (Italian food), Trader Joe-San (Japanese food), Trader Johann’s (lip balm), and Trader Darwin’s (vitamins). By selling almost all of its products under its own label, Trader Joe’s “skips the middle man” and buys directly from both local and international small time vendors.

Trader Joe’s is the exclusive retailer of Charles Shaw wine, popularly known as Two Buck Chuck because of its $1.99 a bottle price in California (although in some locales it sells for over $3 a bottle, due to varying state liquor taxes and transportation costs).

In October 2007, Trader Joe’s started to phase out foods imported from China amid concerns that standards on “organic” products from the country aren’t as stringent as they should be…

TJ’s has done a very nice job with this sauce and like many of the best sauces I try, it becomes a staple around the house for about a week or so, then I miss it like an old comfortable T-shirt gone lost.. I feel incomplete, like something is lost inside me, like a little boy in the woods who can’t find his parents. Just kidding, I actually don’t really care because I typically have another sauce queued up, ready-to-go. Nowadays I have about 10 sauces that are ready to go because I’ve been a bit busy with a new daughter!! But again, this sauce was really damn good.

Enough around already – on to the review!


If there is a heaven, I hope it smells like this. A wonderful bold-sweet-smoky aroma with streaks of onion and garlic. Sweet, yet natural. I could bathe in this stuff.

Before Cooking Flavor

The good sauces go both ways. I have come to appreciate the versatility of a sauce now that I am more comfortable adding a little touch of barbecue sauce to mayo (or Miracle Whip) to create a unique sandwich dressing. It’s not just for grillin and Q’in ! TJ’s Bold and Smoky, especially, is a great uncooked sauce made to sweeten those french fries, onion rings and add zest to traditional sandwiches.


The only possible kvetching I could provide the manufacturers of this sauce would be in its thin leanings. It moved around a little too fast in the bottle and in my experience, this typically manifests itself later as a basting problem – i.e. watery stuff typically doesn’t go on meat well. Gotta say I thought the flavors and everything else in this sauce combined for a total of “11” so removing a star to demote TJ’s sauce to a 4 just seemed like overkill. The sauce was also easier to apply than I would have thought. Good appearance (with natural specks) and color as well.

After Cooking Flavor

As a well tested and selected (TJ’s are the best product selectors I know) sauce, this could do no wrong. The onion and garlic flavors flared up nicely without being too strong, the sweetness settled in to a richer, bolder, smokier flavor. And I couldn’t help but cook up some Boston baked beans on the side (of course with a dollop of this sauce added). It’s wonderful to have 3 TJ’s within a reasonable distance!

Tomato Puree (Water, Tomato Paste), Sugar, Molasses, Distilled Vinegar, Salt, Spices, Onion Powder, Natural Hickory Smoke Flavor, Garlic Powder, Caramel Color, Natural Flavor. Made on Equipment shared with wheat, milk, and soy. Facility processes eggs and shellfish. Bonus points: No HFCS (high fructose corn syrup, the wonder ingredient sometimes blamed for the fattening of America), No preservatives, No artifical flavors. I’d give you 6 stars if I could TJ.


Calories 60
Total Fat 0g
Cholesterol 0g
Sodium 420mg
Carbs 15g
Protein 0g

A little high on the sodium compared to other sauces…

Marketing and Packaging

If I had to give some bad marks, it would have to go to pure ugliness of this label. Like the rest of the TJ’s product line, sometimes the product specific qualities are going to take a backseat to the overall brand of TJ’s. In this case, they tried hard to make sure they squeezed in every possible combination of “keywords” that would attract the BBQ sauce buyer, such as Bold, Smoky, KC style. And hey, I’m no expert designer, but the graphics with the big brown text box holding in the letters, just seems a little bit on the weak side. TJ’s is usually so good at packaging, so I guess I just expected a bit more fun. But seeing as this is one of the only sauces they carry, if you go to TJ’s and need some BBQ sauce, that’s going to be your only choice anyway! I thought the sauce would do better if it had something more appealing such as pictures of grilled foods, dripping sauce, and kept the name in smaller letters… oh well.

Trader Joe’s Fan website.

Site Editor, BBQ Sauce Lover, Family Guy, Hi Tech Marketer by Day. He recently wrote the Ebook “How to Market Your BBQ Sauce” which can be purchased on this site.



  1. Eric Devlin says

    I had a very different take on Trader Joe’s sauce. I thought it was very pedestrian. I guess that’s why taste is subjective. I usually love their products, so I was very disappointed.

    Eric Devlin

  2. Fair enough.

    Yeah I liked this because it reminded me of Bullseye. And many people disagree with me on Bullseye being “up there” as far as sauce, but I really like the flavor. I gave Bullseye a ‘4’

    I actually did a side-by-side grill off between these two and found them strikingly similar with TJ’s having a bit more spice flavoring. So I could only go to a 5. I’m currently debating half-star increments, but I’m not sure if it’s worth it.

    One thing I like about your site is how you introduce yourself and some other folks in the beginning of your posts… it’s a nice touch. Also you got some crazy sauces – like that Tequila one.

  3. Eric Devlin says

    Thanks. I appreciate the kind words.

    The variant sauces makes life a little easier. Sometimes I debate shooting myself in the head when I have to sample and discuss another KC style sauce.


  4. Yeah, I guess. Personally I find I’ll take a good KC style any day over some of the sludge that is on the market. The interesting thing is that as the site gains exposure I’m having to go out and buy sauces to round out the lower score sauces – because many of the people who actively seek out and send me sauces just know they have good sauce.

    BBQ vendors, please be patient, I’m about to send up a large list of reviews but things have been crazy around the household with a new baby…

  5. Eric Devlin says

    Brian, I know EXACTLY what you mean. They aren’t going to send it to you if they know it isn’t up to snuff.


  6. Smokey Joe says

    A plus for Trader Joe’s sauce is no modified food starch in the ingredients list. Modified food/corn starch is just another name for MSG. Not good.

    This goes along with TJ’s avoidance of HFCS. TJ is one of the more credible purveyors of nutritious food. I live in Europe now and TJs is one of the few things that I really miss about the states.

    There is another good BBQ sauce that my daughter sent me. It is made in Ponca City, OK, called Head Country. The first bottle was wonderful, but another sent to me a few months later was watery. I finally got around to looking at the ingredients… not good.

    I puree and freeze my own tomato sauce from the garden each year. I think that this year I will begin to experiment on creating my own BBQ sauce, from all natural ingredients.

  7. As a transplant to Minneapolis from Kansas City, I was really looking forward to trying this sauce. I was incredibly underwhelmed with this TJ sauce (I do like TJ and many of their products).

    I did not find that this sauce compared favorably to any of KC’s best sauces (Arthur Bryant’s, Gates, Jackstack, Haywards).

    Instead I found it to burdened with a heavy dose of Molasses and a tar-like color that should have raised flags.

    I do like trying different products and I look forward to the day that I find a great BBQ sauce here in Minneapolis.

  8. sounds good – everyone’s got their favorite, the website is simply a list of mine 🙂 It would be great if you would come back and share your Minneapolis finds as you learn more about the area and native sauces.

  9. Thanks Brian,

    I’ll share my experiences, both good and bad, as I try new sauces.

  10. Can trader Joe’s BBQ Sauce be purchased online? If so, can you send me a link.


  11. Soapboxpreacher says


    I completely agree with you on this. I really enjoy the taste of the TJ KC sauce. I lived 30 minutes southeast of KC for 6 years and ate a ton of sauces…and this one does a decent job. I think people need to remember this is a fairly readily available sauce. I like it, I find it slightly bolder, with a light tang, and a hint of smoke Molasses taste. It is 2.99 at my local trader joes. It beats any store brand sauce out and it is easy to find for most!

    As for Bullseye…I completely agree as well. it is a decent store brand sauce. OpenPit is garbage and taste like chemicals! Sweet bady rays is far to sweet and has a ton of high fructose corn syrup, I honestly dont know why people like this stuff? Texas best made a terrible come back and needs to go away, KC Mistake Piece is fair…there are others but none desire mentioning. So if you are in a pinch bullseyes is a great grab. I am yet to get one complaint!

    My favorite boutique sauce has been curleys! It is quite good but it can be a little expensive!

  12. I’ve been using this BBQ sauce to make slow cooked pork spare ribs and nothing compares. Before trying Trader Joe’s Bold and Smoky Kansas City Style Barbecue Sauce, I tried Sweet Baby Ray’s Barbecue Sauce and I can’t even find the right words to describe how wrong it was. I tried a bunch of other big names and little names until my boyfriend found this BBQ sauce. We have never gone back. For the record, I agree with SoapBoxPreacher; it IS slightly bolder, with a light tang, and a hint of a smokey, molasses taste. In my mind, it’s simply perfect.

    You know, I bet Costco loves me for all the pork ribs I buy…

  13. This is the only store bought BBQ sauce that I like.
    It is the only store bought sauce that I would use on a good steak.
    I think it is way better than Bullseye.
    I also want to buy it on line if I can find it.

  14. Our TJ’s doesn’t carry it any more! Where can I find more?

  15. MachineGhost says

    The replaced with it a vastly inferior Organic version that’s no longer Bold nor Smoky nor Sweet. Bunch of idiots they are. If KCers think TJ KC B&S was weak, I can’t imagine what they’ll think of the replacement.

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