Our Favorite Jarred Tomato Sauce

Pantry PowerProduct Reviews

Overwhelmed with the sheer number of pasta sauces at the grocery store? Wondering which one is truly the best? The Simply team has you covered! We tested some of the top brands, and we're excited to share our favorites with you!

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As a child of the 80s with two working parents, we ate a lot of pasta on weeknights. And today, much like my mom, I always have at least one jar of pasta sauce in the pantry for quick throw-together meals.

But all weeknight meals aren’t created equal and in the case of many jarred sauces, the ingredients, flavor, or consistency can disappoint. Some sauces are loaded with sugar while others are pureed within an inch of their lives.

So our team set out to find that diamond in the ruff: the sauce with a robust, well-balanced tomato flavor and a great texture that — dare we say it — is just as good as homemade. Does it exist? Let’s find out!

How We Chose the Brands

We’ve known for a long time that we wanted to test jarred pasta sauce because, let’s be real, it’s the ultimate weeknight dinner hack. And we’re all about a good dinner hack.

But with such a wide range in quality and price, we struggled with how to narrow the field.

  • First, we chose the most basic marinara or tomato / basil flavor each particular brand offered to keep the playing field fair.
  • Next, we opted for sauces without added sugar
  • Then, we made sure the brands were accessible (you should be able to stroll into a mainstream grocery store or hop online to purchase them all).
  • And of course we took price into consideration, ruling out brands with more exclusive, premium-priced sauces.

The Contenders

How We Judged ‘Em

With our last Pantry Power post, we tasted each peanut butter straight from the spoon, but we knew that this test had to be a bit different. Yes, we wanted to taste the sauces straight-up, but we also wanted to taste them as they’d genuinely be used in real life: on pasta!

So we did a blind taste test of warm sauce on a spoon, and then stirred each into a bowl of pasta (tough work, but someone’s gotta do it!)

Our team is scattered remotely so we tasted them at home on our own, then hopped on a call (ahhh, the modern world) to discuss. Here’s the criteria we used:

  • Flavor: We looked for a classic, clean, robust tomato flavor that was well balanced without any distracting aftertaste. A sauce that tastes homemade!
  • Consistency & Texture: Does it truly exist? A sauce that’s not watery but also not too chunky? That has a consistency truly reminiscent of the homemade sauce we remember from childhood?
  • Coatability on Noodles: Oh, pasta how we love you. And oh how we hate when the sauce is too thin to coat our noodles or too thick to incorporate.

The Winner: Rao’s!

To be honest, we didn’t want Rao’s to win. We feel like Rao’s ALWAYS wins, so we were secretly hoping for a real upset here and a chance to root for the underdog. But it turns out: Rao’s deserves to win ten-fold.

What makes Rao’s stand out? The first thing you’ll notice is the flavor. I found myself actually taking multiple bites straight from the jar (and I wasn’t alone— much of our team did as well). Our Editor in Chief, Emma, notes that it feels like the grown-up one for sure: “If I was having a dinner party and wanted to impress my friends but didn’t have time for a homemade sauce, Rao’s is the one.”

The flavor comes largely from the high quality tomatoes they use as well as the healthy glug of olive oil (this is where I think the notable difference lies). It tastes as good or better than homemade, and coats noodles beautifully. Senior Editor, Summer, says she’s never craved a pasta sauce before until trying Rao’s (and I have to agree).

She went on to describe the awesome coatability of Rao’s” it’s the only one that actually changed the color of the noodles and really soaked into the pasta versus just sitting on top.” Suffice it to say, it’s safe to add our names to the list of recent converts.

First Runner Up: Newman’s

Our first runner up was a bit divisive: some of us really loved it while others took a hard pass. But the takeaway was that Newman’s is a solid middle of the road sauce. It’s not the one we’d grab when our boss is coming over, but if you don’t want to spend $8 on a jar of sauce, it’ll certainly do. Emma and Summer both had a great point that they liked it much better on noodles, whereas our Art Director, Andy, LOVED it on everything (actually preferring it to Rao’s – gasp).

It has a pretty strong basil flavor which Andy loved and many of us found too assertive. If you love basil, this sauce is for you!

The texture is definitely on the thicker side — it’d be a great choice if you’re making a casserole, pizza or using a heartier noodle.

Second Runner Up: Classico

Many of us on the team grew up with Classico, so it felt familiar and homey. The flavor doesn’t knock it out of the park — you likely won’t be taking secret spoonfuls straight from the jar like we were with Rao’s. But it has a comforting flavor, and is a solid choice to keep on hand in the pantry for quick, versatile meals.

While we all felt it was a good enough weeknight contender, Carrie found it a bit too sweet and Summer found the flavor unbalanced. Claudia had qualms with the texture, finding it a little soupy with very little coatability.

Emma, on the other hand, loved the chunky texture, as did I — it straddles that tough to achieve texture zone of perfectly chunky but still uniform enough to incorporate into your noodles. Emma put it best: This was my backup favorite to Rao’s, my Tuesday night ‘need a meal’ sauce.” And I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that many of us have had Tuesday night ‘need a meal’ situations.

Your Turn!

Did we miss your favorite sauce? Disagree with our choices? Ready to cook a pot of pasta tonight (we’re with you on that one)?

Thanks for reading another installment of Pantry Power—we look forward to seeing you next time with yet another pantry staple!

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Megan Gordon

Megan Gordon is the Director of Sales and Marketing at Simply Recipes. She's the author of Whole Grain Mornings and her blog, A Sweet Spoonful, focuses on healthy seasonal cooking and baking.

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66 Comments

No ImageOur Favorite Jarred Tomato Sauce

  1. Mark

    Hell! it’s Me again! Regarding sauce adhesion to pasta. There’s one NO-NO, never do, & one remedy procedure. Never add any oil to pasta boiling water. Salt is OK, but no oil. it coats and seals the starch into the pasta. If your boiling bath water goes milky-white it’s excessive starch leaching out of the pasta. Consider transferring to a fresh pot of boiling water, just prior to the al dente state. When done, sieve dry pasta for a few minutes until sticky. Then add the sauce. . . . Dynamite won’t separate those two. Manja-manja! ~Mark

  2. Janice

    I just an across this and up until about a year ago I wouldn’t would ave agreed with the winner, but then I discovered Hoboken Farms Marinara Sauce I told my hubby that I never need to make homemade sauce again(I was kidding but it’s a great last minute substitution.

  3. Lisa C.

    I am a fan of Bertolli’s, all flavours.

  4. Colleen Mullaly

    I’ve never seen Rao’s here in Canada. My cheat is to use a high quality passata with Italian grown tomatoes a jar is only $2. I use them in the buttery tomato pasta recipe from this site, put the pasta on first, start the sauce and the sauce will be done before the pasta is ready it’s that quick. It’s my go to quick meal we have it all the time. Great for kids.

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  5. Kristi

    I love Rao’s! I do eat it straight out of the jar and also poach eggs in it for breakfast. So, so delicious. I actually buy it by the case when the large jars go on sale at Whole Foods.

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Our Favorite Jarred Tomato Sauce