The Best Marinara Sauce For Your Weeknight Pasta Cravings

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.

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 there lies a falsehood. Say it with me: Homemade doesn’t necessarily equal quality. How I cook (good) and how you cook (I don’t know you) are very different. I don’t want my friend Dave’s “homemade sauce” that he’s been tinkering with in his dirty kitchen where his cat hangs out. Alton Brown, who I believe is an incredible cook, gaslit all of us when he put ketchup and worcestershire in his marinara. And, statistically, not everybody’s grandmother can be a good cook. It’s just not possible, man!

And I love homemade sauce. Growing up, my family always made fresh pasta and fresh pasta sauce. I worked in Italian restaurants for over a decade. Recently, my pandemic side hustle was selling pasta dinners out of my apartment, which was very illegal and very fun. I’m also regularly on the pasta beat here in Los Angeles, writing about Italian food, so I feel like I know a thing or two about red sauce. And I’m telling you, friend, the store bought landscape is promising. Sure, some brands we shall not name still taste like a bunch of dried oregano and undercooked tomatoes. But, there’s good stuff out there, too. Sauce with zip, bang, and bite. Savory, deeply flavorful sauces that go big on flavor and save you a ton of time. 

It surprised me. I mean, so much so that I’ve been questioning my whole identity as of late. I came in skeptical, and I left a believer: Jarred marinara sauce can be good. Excuse me, I need to go stare into a mirror.

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best marinara

Best of the Best

Rao’s Homemade Marinara Sauce

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.

Credit: Sarah Demonteverde/Amazon

Rating:

10/10

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best marinara

Best That’s Not Rao’s

Mezzetta 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. 

Side note: 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.” 
Emulsifying olive oil into a red sauce is the move if you want to create a flavorful, decadent sauce. Mezzetta (and those old ladies) understand that.They also use a mix of San Marzanos 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.

Credit: Sarah Demonteverde/Walmart

Rating:

8/10

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best marinara

Best Basil

Rao’s Tomato Basil

This is the classic Rao’s marinara sauce with a heavy dose of basil, and, boy, is it lovely. What this actually reminds me of is a pomodoro sauce, which consists of two prominent flavors: tomatoes and basil. The herbiness here is utterly delightful and notably fresh. There’s no dry basil flavor, just a boldly herbaceous flavor with a savory, slightly sweet tomato sauce. There’s a bit of onion, and only a slight amount of garlic, but overall this is just a well-balanced, delicious marinara that you could use for pizza or pasta. This tastes like something your nonna jarred and stored herself.

Credit: Sarah Demonteverde/Target

Rating:

8/10

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best marinara

Best Restaurant Quality

Carbone Tomato Basil

Look, this is the most intimate of the sauces 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 feel that way. Spaghetti and meatballs, chicken parm, mozzarella sticks: Use this for any of the Italian-American hits.

I, Danny Palumbo, fought hard to include Carbone on this list. The fact is, no other sauce on this list tastes quite like Carbone. That said, it’s a little too expensive and not as readily available as the other ones here to include at the very tops. But personally, if I was going off of flavor alone, this would be up there next to Rao’s and Mezzetta. Carbone rocks.

Credit: Sarah Demonteverde/Walmart

Rating:

8/10

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best marinara

Best Onion Flavor

Cento Marinara

Cento’s sauce feels like a true, homemade marinara. The onion flavor is really strong, so if you like a pungent bite you’ll love Cento. 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.

Credit: Sarah Demonteverde/Cento

Rating:

7.5/10

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best marinara

Best Spicy

Mezzetta Spicy Marinara Sauce

The best marinara sauce is a combination of savory, sweet, salty, and aromatic, and this has all those qualities and some heat. Spicy marinara, aka arrabiata, provides all the naturally sweet, tangy, and savory flavors of a tomato sauce but with an added spicy kick of crushed red pepper. Mezzetta’s spicy marinara sauce has a blend of red pepper, black pepper, garlic, and herbs to provide a punchy, aromatic bite. This jarred marinara sauce is a natural pairing with some ground pork, but this also adds an extra layer of flavor to a sandwich or a chicken parm, too. 

Credit: Sarah Demonteverde/Instacart

Rating:

7/10

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best marinara

Best Low Sodium

The Silver Palate San Marzano Blend Marinara

Silver Palate marinara comes in hot with an excellent texture and a great balanced taste. It stands out from the pack, perhaps because they use a few key ingredients that other brands don’t. In addition to plum tomatoes, garlic, onion, and herbs, and olive oil, it’s also made with shredded carrots and pear concentrate. That means there’s an underlying, natural sweetness to this sauce that’s delightful. The consistency is super solid, too, meaning this will cling to pasta relatively easily. Silver Palate also has the lowest sodium content per serving of the bunch, coming in at 360 mg—but it’s still perfectly seasoned. Man, it’s just super solid all around. 

Credit: Sarah Demonteverde/Walmart

Rating:

7/10

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best marinara

Best Bold Flavor

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. And the flavor here is quite good.

Credit: Sarah Demonteverde/Target

Rating:

5/10

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Prego

“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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About the Author

Danny Palumbo

Danny is a comedian, cook, and food writer living in Los Angeles. He loves gas station eggs, canned sardines, and Easter candy. He also passionately believes that all the best chips come from Pennsylvania (Herr's!). If you can't understand Danny when he talks, it's because he's from Pittsburgh.

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  • I believe in Rao’s supremacy. Always have a few jars stocked in our pantry, now that Costco sells it too!

    Reply
  • Rao’s is seriously the best of the best, I know it’s pricey but if you wanna impress someone with some pasta, rao is perfecf

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  • “Pay the extra money and don’t look back.” Thank you. I will :’)

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    • I will also gladly stock up on Rao’s and then avoid looking at my bank account.

      Reply
    • If you have a Costco or Sam’s membership, they put it on “Instant Savings” fairly often and that can knock a few bucks off the price.

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  • My family just started buying Rao’s on the regular. It comes closest to our own homemade marinara, and it’s the only store-bought sauce my wife will eat. Super happy that both Sam’s Club and Costco carry Rao’s now. I hope their newfound nationwide popularity doesn’t lead to any decline in quality.

    Reply
  • Good choices, but I think our favorite that I don’t see on the list is Michael’s of Brooklyn. Really, really good.

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    • love to hear it! there are some more I want to try (we tried over 15). But I’ll add Michael’s to the list as we update.

      Reply
  • I’d also argue Michaels of Brooklyn should be added to the list. The taste is equitable to Rao’s, and the label looks like something your uncle (the cool one) would make in his home office. Adds a certain charm.

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  • If you are pressed on time, Rao’s is a literal godsend. Not only is their Marinara good, but everything else they do (as long as you enjoy the actual flavor itself) is good. You’ll save a bunch of money making your own sauce, but if pressed on time, they’re a legit substitute.

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  • I scoffed at Raos for years because of the price, but after I tried it I couldn’t go back to anything else.

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  • S10 E71 Rhett and Link ranked Prego the best sauce and I’ve been buying Prego since haha.
    Surprised it’s not on this list 😅

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    • I am 100% with you on this, way better than Rao’s!

      Reply
  • We just don’t like any jarred pasta sauce we’ve tried, including several of the above. We spend so much time doctoring it up to make it edible that we may as well just make it homemade. So that’s what we do. You can make extra and stick it in the freezer if you want something fast for another time.

    Reply
  • Should seriously try MIDS sauce, it is the best jarred sauce I’ve ever had. Hopefully this list will helped find a sub though because it’s not available out west 🙁

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  • Mezzetta is a really good sauce. In my area it’s half the price of Rao’s, so I always grab it to save a few. All their flavors area really good!

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  • I remember watching the GMM about this and I am a strong believer that if you are going to lazy and not make your own sauce, Prego is the way to go. With both taste and price in mind, it blows Rao’s out of the pot!

    Reply
  • Tantillo’s Pomodoro sauce or tomato with basil is my favorite pasta sauce but couldn’t find them lately at the market. I just found out they have a website where it can be bought so I am going to do that.

    Reply
  • I’m not sure how many frozen mozzarella stick brands there are, but could you guys do one and with the best marinara!?

    Reply
  • Hi – would just like to recommend My Dad’s Sauce.. Authentic taste, family owned & operated, quality ingredients and their story is really cool. Not everywhere yet but a lot around NJ and NY

    Reply