The best marinara sauce is savory, fragrant, and deeply flavorful. It should never be too sour or excessively sweet, and it should, ideally, be made with high-quality ingredients while not costing a small fortune. If it does cost a fortune, it better taste good.
Everybody makes it seem like red sauce can only be good if it’s homemade, like it’s a sin to even consider not making your own red sauce. But therein lies a falsehood. Say it with us: Homemade doesn’t necessarily equal quality. How we cook (good) and how you cook (we don’t know you) are very different. Maybe we don’t want our friend Dave’s “homemade sauce” that he’s been tinkering with in his dirty kitchen where his cat hangs out. And, statistically speaking, not everybody’s grandmother can be a good cook. It’s just not possible, man!
We know good sauce. Sporked contributor Danny Palumbo, who led our first taste test, even had a side hustle selling homemade pasta dinners. We’re pleased to report that the store bought sauce landscape is promising. Sure, some brands we shall not directly call out still taste like a bunch of dried oregano and undercooked tomatoes. But, there’s good stuff out there, too. Sauces with zip, bang, and bite. Savory, deeply flavorful sauces that go big on flavor and save you a ton of time.
We recently sourced some jars of sauce we hadn’t previously tried in order to update this ranking of the best marinara sauce to buy. If your pasta could thank us, it would.
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- Bertolli d’Italia Marinara
Bertolli d’Italia is a perplexing product. On one hand, it’s made with a combination of tomato juice and tomato paste, which helps balance out texture without having to use more expensive ingredients. Tomato paste brings some nice sweetness to any pasta sauce; my personal opinion is that it’s quite necessary. On the other hand, Bertolli also uses citric acid as a preserving agent, which is a potential red flag on an ingredient list for me. That said, the normally acrid taste of citric acid didn’t come through as much as I thought it would. Even though Bertolli cut some corners that other companies didn’t, this is a solid (and widely available) sauce. It might not be the absolute best jarred marinara sauce, but the flavor here is quite good. —Danny Palumbo
Credit: Liv Averett / Walmart
- Cento Marinara Pasta Sauce
Cento’s sauce tastes like a true, homemade marinara. The onion flavor is really strong, so if you like a pungent bite Cento is the best jar of marinara sauce for you. Still, it’s not too overpowering. Cento’s marinara is basic, but the good kind—understated, flavorful, and straightforward. I imagine this is what the prison sauce in Goodfellas tasted like. Don’t put too many on-jins in the sauce! But, also, if you do, hopefully it tastes as good as Cento. —Danny Palumbo
Credit: Liv Averett / Amazon
- Rao’s Limited Edition Reserve White Truffle Marinara
Rao’s recently launched a Limited Reserve line of sauces and we had to try them. I’m glad we did. These aren’t as accessible as most of the sauces on this list, but after this taste test, we decided two deserved to be included, even if you have to order them directly from Rao’s website. If you love white truffles, you’re going to absolutely flip out for this sauce, the best marinara sauce for truffle lovers. The flavor of white truffle lingers on your tongue after you take a bite, but still, the sauce itself is so outrageously flavorful, that it doesn’t get overpowered by the truffle flavor. It’s perfectly balanced, and if you’re accustomed to eating foods flavored with truffles and truffle oil, you know that’s not always the case. The consistency is perfectly oily and would cling beautifully to any pasta shape. Buy this while you can! —Gwynedd Stuart
Credit: Liv Averett / Rao’s
- Carbone Tomato Basil
This is the most intimate sauce on this list. It tastes slow cooked, like the tomatoes have been simmering all day in a pot on nonna’s stove. When tomatoes cook for a long time, some of the carbohydrates caramelize and release savory, “brown” flavors that taste almost like meat. That’s what’s going on with Carbone. There is a tasty smokiness to this sauce that you’ll keep coming back to. It feels meaty without meat; the umami factor here is strong. Plus, the tomatoes aren’t too acidic, which is a problem with most jarred marinara. Carbone touts that they cook their sauce in small batches, and boy, does it taste like it. Spaghetti and meatballs, chicken parm, mozzarella sticks—this is the best jarred marinara sauce for any of the Italian-American hits.
Credit: Liv Averett / Whole Foods
- Michaels of Brooklyn Marinara Sauce
If you’re the type of person who always doubles (or triples) the number of garlic cloves a recipe calls for, this is the sauce for you. A lot of Sporked readers seem to think this is the best marinara sauce, so we gave it a shot. It’s no Rao’s, but it does have a raw garlic flavor we liked. Rao’s is restaurant quality, but this is really, really good home-cook quality. Not for nothing, this sauce also happens to be pretty low fat with 2 grams per serving, versus 7 or 8 you’ll find in a lot of these other sauces. —Gwynedd Stuart
- Mezetta Napa Valley Homemade Marinara
Mezzetta is a textured, chunky sauce with plenty of bite. Open the jar and you’ll notice a glossy sheen on top from the olive oil, which is deliciously fatty. Emulsifying olive oil into a red sauce is the move if you want to create a flavorful, decadent sauce. There’s a red sauce joint in my hometown of New Castle, Pennsylvania. It’s called Ladies of the Dukes and I love it. I asked a friend who used to work there what made their red sauce so good and he said, “Those old ladies dump a ton of olive oil in there.” So does Mezzetta.The brand also uses a mix of San Marzano and California plum tomatoes to achieve a thick, aromatic, brightly acidic bite that you can count on. It’s got a slightly higher sugar, sodium, and fat content than Rao’s—but, in my opinion, that’s a good thing. Plus, it’s certified vegan and keto. This is closer than you might think to Rao’s and much cheaper. —Danny Palumbo
Credit: Liv Averett / Walmart
- Rao’s Limited Edition Reserve Cardoncelli Marinara
I am a mushroom person who is married to someone who can’t stomach the things. This makes my life hard, but I like my husband a bunch, so we get by. He happened to be out of town when I brought this mushroomy marinara home and I housed the entire jar by myself. (It’s kind of like my tame version of having an affair.) This sauce has a deep, savory flavor and so much umami from the mushrooms. Plus, chunks of cardoncelli mushrooms give it a nice consistency and a little chew. Weirdly, this sauce is almost creamy. This is one of the best marinara sauces you can buy if you’re a mushroom lover. The next time my husband goes out of town, I’m getting a jar of this, a bag of frozen cheese tortellini, and treating myself. —Gwynedd Stuart
Credit: Liv Averett / Raos.com
- Rao’s Marinara
Rao’s is still the best marinara on the market thanks to its quality ingredients and lack of preservatives. Tomato, olive oil, garlic, basil, onion, and oregano—that’s all you need for a quality sauce. The olive oil gives it a nice, healthy sheen and a savory, mouth-smacking quality. I also appreciate that the herbs are fresh, so you don’t get that dry, leafy, herb flavor (lookin’ at you, brand I shall not name). There’s no added sugar (pasta sauce never needs added sugar), and it’s just an overall lovely, consistent, flavorful pasta sauce. There’s also something delightful about fresh oregano in any marinara. Most people opt for basil only, but oregano is the type of herb that our grandma’s cooked with. Its subtle earthiness contributes flavor without getting in the way. This is homemade marinara in a jar. Pay the extra money and don’t look back. —Danny Palumbo
Credit: Liv Averett / Target
Best for Truffle Lovers
Best of the Best
Other products we tried: Rao’s Limited Reserve Balsamic, Rao’s Reserve Calabrian Chile, Buitoni Marinara Sauce, Whole Foods Rustic Marinara, Trader Joe’s Marinara, Trader Joe’s Tomato Basil, Bertolli Traditional Marinara, Great Value Marinara, Prego Marinara, Barilla Marinara, Victoria Marinara, Newman’s Own Marinara, Silver Palate Marinara, Organico Bello Marinara Sauce, Yo Mama’s Original Marinara
Rhett & Link’s Pick
“Prego, you have done it once again,” exclaimed Link at the end of this blind pasta sauce taste test. “Not a sponsor, we just sucked them right through a tube and decided what’s best. That’s how it works,” added Rhett. The boys are esteemed flavor scientists, ya’ll. Prego won their taste test with its herby, tomato-forwardness. Heck, it beat out Emeril!
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