In a household with three children under seven, we go through what seems like gallons of condiments every year. Ketchup, mayonnaise, jelly, chocolate syrup, ranch dressing, and pizza sauce top our “most frequently bought” list, because according to children, every food on the planet can benefit from some sweet, salty or tangy punch. And yes, pizza sauce falls into the condiment category as much as any of the others. It just might be the most versatile condiment in your kitchen.
Besides being an integral ingredient in pizzas, pizza sauce unlocks a whole suite of pizza-adjacent foods, like pizza crackers (pizza sauce and cheese microwaved on a Ritz cracker) or pizza bread (pizza sauce and cheese on toaster-ovened sandwich bread). Pizza sauce can also serve as a unique ketchup alternative. For example, think about breaded mozzarella sticks. If you make these at home, go straight for the pizza sauce to feel like you’re eating an appetizer at a roller rink. For advanced applications, grilled cheese dipped in some thick, oregano-dotted pizza sauce far exceeds the coverage any tomato soup can offer. Pizza sauce (in place of ketchup) on homemade meatloaf is so unnecessary, but so good.
Unlike marinara (aka spaghetti sauce), pizza sauce should have a more uniform consistency, where its spices are not chunks, but more pureed into a whole. It’s not uncommon to have a veggie chunk in a pasta sauce; in a pizza sauce, it’s off-putting. Also, pizza sauce tends to have more of a focus on herbs like basil and oregano, whereas a marinara is more focused on tomato with hints of onion and garlic.
Thus, you need a pizza sauce that’s a real workhorse at both snack time and mealtime. If you settle for any less, you’re wasting your money. To determine the optimal pizza sauce for the home, it’s important to taste the sauce twice: once on its own, cold from the jar, and then heated up and accompanied by pizza ingredients. In both cases, the sauce should taste great on its own (both hot and cold), pleasantly adhere to whatever food is dipped into it, and mix in nicely with the other flavors and textures.
Our household tested each pizza sauce with a cold spoon as well as a small pizza with cheese and Italian sausage. The sauces we sampled are brands that are widely available either online or in major national retailers. And since this is a condiment often consumed by kids, I enlisted the help of my oldest son (age 7) and my daughter (age 6) to test each one. A kid-approved condiment has just enough salt, sweet and smooth with almost no bitterness. I scored the kid friendliness of each sauce based on my children’s feedback. I’m proud of their candor.
This was the least popular when served cold. Visible onion chunks and a watery consistency made this hard to get through on its own. It was also less sweet than the others. On the pizza, opinions from my kids ranged from “tomatoey” to “bland.” Consider this a pizza sauce of last resort; otherwise, choose abstinence.
I have a bias toward smoothness in a pizza sauce, and this lacked smoothness. With some small chunks (which my daughter described as “yellow things that look like triangle things”), this was hard to differentiate from Prego spaghetti sauce. The visible specks of spice were visually nice, but the oregano left a bitter aftertaste despite a heaping dose of sweetness. The kids did not like the hot version of this on the pizza or the crackers, and I didn’t either.
Served cold: 3/10
Served hot: 3/10
Kid friendliness: 2/10
Total score (out of a possible 30): 8 points
This was the only organic sauce sampled. When I opened the can, I had to stir to fold in oil that had settled on top. True to its tomato brand roots, this was one step away from eating tomato paste, and not a good candidate for dipping. My oldest son made a show of spitting it out, even pulling out the “hey Dad!” to do it twice in case I hadn’t seen the first time (I had). On a pizza, though, it’s a different story: The pureness of the tomato counterbalances the other ingredients. It didn’t have the bitter spice taste present in other sauces, either.
Served cold: 1/10
Served hot: 8/10
Kid friendliness: 1/10
Total score (out of a possible 30): 10 points
I’ll admit, I was scared to open this can, based on the illustration of wiggly white cheese product. Fortunately no wiggles were present in the sauce, but we didn’t pick up any distinct cheesiness about this sauce versus the others. Orange in color, this was the thinnest sauce of the bunch by a country mile. There was no sauce texture on whatever we dipped into it; instead, they just became sauce-flavored crackers or crusts. Despite the off-putting texture, the flavor really was not bad. It had a better mix of spice and sweetness than a few of the other jarred sauces. The kids tolerated it well, and my son endorsed it to be “Like something I want to eat at Cub Scouts”—high praise from a second-grader.
Served cold: 3/10
Served hot: 4/10
Kid friendliness: 6/10
Total score (out of a possible 30): 13 points
Served cold, this tasted like a sweet and herbacious marinara; again, not too different from store-bought spaghetti sauce. It had a chunky/watery consistency that would adequately coat whatever was dipped into it. Heated up, this blended into the background of the pizza. Nothing about it stood out, but maybe that’s a good thing. The sweetness ensured the kids accepted it both cold and hot. I would describe this as an inoffensive and utilitarian sauce.
Served cold: 6/10
Served hot: 7/10
Kid friendliness: 7/10
Total score (out of a possible 30): 20 points
It’s better to think of this as pizza salad dressing. The packaging pretty much implies this is a condiment. It had a darker color and a uniform thinness, which held up fine to dipping. And with an almost-too-sweet sweetness paired with a pleasant scent (think the oregano of pizza-scented stickers), the Contadina was the only cold sample the kids completely finished. On the bread, the sauce held its form better than the Chef Boyardee. A solid two-way pizza sauce.
Served cold: 7/10
Served hot: 7/10
Kid friendliness: 9/10
Total score (out of a possible 30): 23 points
This was thicker than most of the other sauces sampled, but nowhere near the pastiness of the Muir Glen. It perfectly coated the spoon and would hold up well to whatever you dunk into it. Its flavor met the mental archetype of pizza sauce: acidic tang, saltiness, sweetness, a strong smell of herbs with just a tinge of the bitterness. I kept dipping my finger in the sauce can to have another taste, risking a cut on the jagged metal edge. Heated up, the sauce’s flavor and consistency held up and nicely complimented the pizza ingredients. The kids accepted it, too.
Served cold: 10/10
Served hot: 9/10
Kid friendliness: 6/10
Total score (out of a possible 30): 25 points
Pastorelli and Contadina were the winners when accounting for both the “cold for dipping” and “hot on a pizza” criteria. The Muir Glen sauce stood out on hot pizza, but failed miserably when eaten cold. Excluding the Chef Boyardee pizza-flavored lubricant, everything else sampled seemed like a riff on spaghetti sauce, with a thin consistency and small chunks of veggies commingled with a sweet tomato sauce. The kids liked the sauces that had higher levels of sweetness and saltiness and polished off the ones where it had a consistency like a condiment. If you’re buying for a household with kids, just remember: they don’t want to encounter any “yellow things that look like triangle things” in their sauce.