We Tasted And Ranked 11 Store-Bought Cocktail Sauces

array of cocktail sauce bottles
array of cocktail sauce bottles - Wendy Hector/Daily Meal

Cocktail sauce is a classic condiment that every seafood lover should be familiar with. Originally served with oysters, it's now most closely associated with shrimp. The shrimp cocktail is one of the simplest and tastiest finger foods to serve at parties, but with only two elements -- shrimp and sauce -- both need to be top notch in order for the dish to work. Choosing the best sauce can be a challenge, but luckily, we've taken away some of the guesswork by ranking 11 different cocktail sauces for you.

At its core, cocktail sauce is a mix of ketchup and horseradish. Most also include an acidic element, like vinegar, lemon juice, or both. Hot sauce and Worcestershire sauce often make an appearance, along with herbs and spices like onion, garlic, paprika, and pepper. The perfect cocktail sauce should be sweet and hot, savory and tangy, and able to bring out the freshness of the seafood it graces without overwhelming it.

As a lifelong shellfish lover -- especially shrimp -- I've enjoyed a wide range of cocktail sauces through the years, but have never come across a hands-down favorite. I selected 11 sauces to try side-by-side; they're from a variety of stores and have a wide range of price points and styles. Each sauce was ranked against the rest -- read on to see how they stacked up.

Read more: 16 Tips To Make Your Shrimp Taste So Much Better

11. McCormick Extra Hot

McCormick cocktail sauce and shrimp
McCormick cocktail sauce and shrimp - Wendy Hector/Daily Meal

Of all the sauces collected for this tasting experiment, this bottle of McCormick is the only one that expresses itself as hot right on the label (Extra Hot, to be precise). I'm not really a heat freak, but I do enjoy a nice spicy kick, so I was excited to see what this sauce had to offer. Unfortunately, it didn't deliver much.

The texture is slick, gelatinous, and gloopy, not dissimilar to commercial ketchup -- not really a dealbreaker, but not particularly pleasant, either. Like commercial ketchup, it has a lot of sweetness, and a quick look at the label explains why: High fructose corn syrup is the second listed ingredient, right after tomato paste.

As for the advertised extra heat, it definitely has a bit of a burn, but that fire doesn't build much and dissipates quickly. I found myself loading more and more globs of sauce onto my shrimp, hoping to feel that kick, but sadly it never materialized. And unfortunately, there's not a ton of other flavor to make up for that lack. It also lies right in the middle of this list as far as price is concerned, so it's not a particularly great value. Thus, McCormick's Extra Hot Seafood Cocktail Sauce takes the last place on this list.

10. Louisiana Fish Fry

Louisana cocktail sauce
Louisana cocktail sauce - Wendy Hector/Daily Meal

As a big fan of every treasured culinary delight that Louisiana has brought into this world, I had high hopes for this sauce. You'll never see me turn down a New Orleans muffaletta, po' boy, or beignet (or 12). So I'm very sad to report that Louisiana Fish Fry cocktail sauce fell short of my lofty expectations. Like McCormick, this sauce also lists high fructose corn syrup as its second ingredient, and the first one is water -- not exactly the two things you'd expect from any food that's meant to be packed with flavor.

There's not much more than a hint of horseradish here, and certainly not enough spice to offset the very sweet, almost cloying nature of the sauce. The tomato has a deep, stewed quality that brings some nice rich flavor but it comes off more like a ketchup, without enough of the horseradish or acidity to fight through that sweet, viscous corn syrup-based flavor and texture. Fans of industrial ketchup will enjoy it, but it seems more suited for fries and burgers than seafood.

9. Heinz

Heinz cocktail sauce and shrimp
Heinz cocktail sauce and shrimp - Wendy Hector/Daily Meal

As soon as I opened this bottle of Heinz cocktail sauce, the smell of horseradish burst out of the bottle and took over my senses. If you've ever grated fresh horseradish root, you'll know the reaction I'm talking about. My nose tingled and my mouth watered, and I hadn't even tasted it yet. As a horseradish fan, I took this as a promising sign.

The texture is almost exactly like Heinz ketchup, which makes sense as the brand is likely using its own product as the base. A quick glance at the ingredients list for both products shows that's almost certainly the case: Both share tomato concentrate, high fructose corn syrup, distilled vinegar, corn syrup, salt, spice, and onion powder. The cocktail sauce has the additions of horseradish and other spices and flavorings, but the base of the sauce is unmistakably Heinz ketchup.

Each bite of the sauce starts with mouth-coating sweetness, followed by intense horseradish heat and a smack of black pepper. I was excited that my shrimp were finally getting the spicy punch of flavor they deserved. But after the sweetness fades, which happens fairly quickly, there's not much flavor besides the horseradish burn. I'd almost rather just put pure horseradish on my seafood and save myself the calories and sodium, because that's the only flavor you're going to remember from this sauce experience.

8. Schlotterbeck & Foss

Schlotterbeck & Foss cocktail sauce
Schlotterbeck & Foss cocktail sauce - Wendy Hector/Daily Meal

Schlotterbeck & Foss is a food producer that's been in business since 1866. High quality is the focus for all of the brand's products, including its cocktail sauce. S&F uses organic and non-GMO ingredients that are carefully and thoughtfully sourced, and you can tell instantly that this is a natural and well-crafted sauce, from its fresh aroma to its rustic, homemade texture. The ingredients are simple -- cane sugar is used here, rather than high fructose corn syrup -- and the only one of the 10 ingredients that isn't a home pantry staple is xanthum gum. This sauce gets top marks for quality.

The question is, does this quality translate to flavor? Horseradish is listed as the top ingredient, but the intensity is lacking. The tomato flavor is fresh, rather than roasted or stewed, which gives it a uniquely bright and juicy character compared to the rest of the sauces on this list. But overall, the sauce is rather muted. Tasting it on its own, I really enjoyed it, but once I tried it with shrimp, the flavors of the sauce were very subtle and got a bit lost. When I think shrimp cocktail, I think intensity and spice, and this mellow sauce doesn't quite live up to that benchmark, despite its obvious high quality.

7. Primal Kitchen

Primal Kitchen cocktail sauce
Primal Kitchen cocktail sauce - Wendy Hector/Daily Meal

Primal Kitchen's cocktail sauce is a great choice for those trying to avoid sugar. There's zero added sugar here of any kind, making it keto, paleo, and Whole 30-friendly. It's also lower in calories than the other sauces, in some cases by more than half. But it's not just for people on a special diet -- it's a tasty sauce in its own right, with a very unique flavor profile.

Without the sweet element, the sauce leans heavily in the savory direction. It's delicious, but doesn't necessarily read as a cocktail sauce, with the horseradish coming across as a subtle background note. There's a ton of tang that comes from a combination of vinegars -- apple cider, balsamic, and white balsamic -- but there's no citrus. I found myself reaching for lemon.

The herbs and spices have a lot of intensity, particularly the onion, which almost takes over, but matches really nicely with the roasted tomato flavor. Primal Kitchen is definitely not a sauce to shy away from, but don't expect it to deliver a classic cocktail sauce experience. It's also the most expensive sauce on this list.

6. Vince's

Vince's cocktail sauce
Vince's cocktail sauce - Wendy Hector/Daily Meal

I thoroughly enjoyed the spicy, hot, fresh, and tangy flavor profile of Vince's seafood cocktail sauce, as well as the light and smooth consistency. Mustard seed and horseradish provide a strong pungent bite, and there's a kick of red pepper that heats things up. The sauce's zesty, fresh tang acts like a spritz of lemon on shrimp, bringing out the crustacean's natural sweetness and brightening its mild flavor.

The finish on this sauce is harsh, which kept me from enthusiastically going back for more after I enjoyed the first several bites. I couldn't quite put my finger on what made it less than pleasant. I scoured the ingredient list and was disappointed to see a lot of additives, artificial flavors, high fructose corn syrup, and food dyes. It's a solid, tasty, and affordable sauce, but there are others with similar or better flavors that are made with higher quality ingredients.

5. O Organics

O Organics cocktail sauce and shrimp
O Organics cocktail sauce and shrimp - Wendy Hector/Daily Meal

The O Organics cocktail sauce has the longest ingredient list of any sauce in this ranking. Typically, a treatise-length label like that would give me pause, but upon a closer look, almost all of the ingredients are organic flavorings, not preservatives or problematic additives. There's so much going on here, trying to pick apart individual aromas and flavors almost feels like analyzing a fine wine. Aside from the prominent tomato and horseradish, there's a lot of tang and zing, from multiple types of vinegar, lemon, ginger, and tamarind (a sweet and sour fruit that happens to be McCormick's 2024 flavor of the year). There's a savory backdrop of umami, likely coming from tamari, Worcestershire sauce, and shiitake mushrooms, as well as dried onion and garlic. A melange of spices and a hint of smoke round out the sauce.

When you dip a shrimp in it and pop it into your mouth, though, what mainly comes across is the zingy tartness and peppery spice. The horseradish almost takes a backseat to the other flavors, which is somewhat disappointing. But if you like a flavorful, complex sauce, and don't care too much about heat, it's a good choice. It's also a great value, coming in at a lower price than any of the other organic sauces, and even cheaper than Heinz and McCormick.

4. Portlandia

Portlandia cocktail sauce
Portlandia cocktail sauce - Wendy Hector/Daily Meal

The first thing that came to mind when I opened the jar of Portlandia cocktail sauce was cioppino, an Italian-American tomato and seafood stew. The intense aroma smelled pleasantly toasty and roasted, like a long-cooked soup or Sunday gravy bubbling on the stove. The depth and dimension promised by the scents follow through on the flavor of the sauce itself, which is full of satisfying complexity.

Organic tamarind, lemon, and white vinegar provide a tangy punch that complements the rich tomato flavor. Horseradish and jalapeno add a bit of heat, but it's pretty subtle. Mustard and celery seed make the herb and spice profile lean to the fresh and zesty side, which works well with the tanginess. The tomato is really the star of this sauce, and everything else is playing backup.

The price of this sauce is on the higher side, but you get your money's worth with the size -- it's the largest bottle by far, with 17 ounces of sauce compared to the 12 or fewer ounces of the rest. So while you'll pay more up front, it'll last you a long while, and it's a great size for large parties.

3. Suzie's

Suzie's cocktail sauce
Suzie's cocktail sauce - Wendy Hector/Daily Meal

Suzie's cocktail sauce has the bronze medal spot here, but when it comes to heat, it gets top marks over every other brand. This sauce finally gave me the spicy kick I'd been hoping for, with its combination of organic horseradish and cayenne pepper. After trying so many mellow and mild sauces, and some that rely purely on horseradish to bring the heat, the fiery flavor profile of Suzie's was a welcome surprise. It's got a pleasant, tingly spiciness that lingers but doesn't overpower the shrimp or your palate.

The sweet element of cocktail sauce is calibrated exactly right with Suzie's, as a foil for the spiciness. Instead of the sauce coming across as cloying or sugary, the sweetness serves to mellow out the peppery heat so you can comfortably go back in for another bite. It's a little bit pricier than many of the other sauces, but definitely worth a few extra bucks if you're looking for a cocktail sauce with some chile heat. The convenient squeeze bottle is another mark in the plus column.

2. Red Duck

Red Duck cocktail sauce
Red Duck cocktail sauce - Wendy Hector/Daily Meal

It was tough not giving the top prize to Red Duck, which takes the No. 2 spot by the tiniest of slivers. This is a fantastic cocktail sauce from top to bottom. It's made from organic ingredients, including cane sugar as the sweetening agent. The consistency is just right for dipping, with a little bit of chunky texture but mostly smooth. It's flavorful and nicely balanced. The horseradish is present, but the most prominent flavors here come from the spices.

The ingredient list names a few of them: dried onion and garlic, sea and celery salt, black pepper. But the spice that jumps out the most, both in taste and aroma, is paprika. Now, as a lover of both Spanish and Hungarian cuisines, I am a die-hard fan of the spice. I always keep at least three or four different types of paprika on my spice rack, so this smoky, savory, very paprika-forward flavor profile was tailor-made for my taste buds. It might not be for everyone, though.

Among all of the pricier cocktail sauces on this list, Red Duck was the one that felt worth every dollar. If I wanted to impress people with a gourmet sauce, I'd splurge on this one without hesitation.

1. Waterfront Bistro

Waterfront Bistro cocktail sauce
Waterfront Bistro cocktail sauce - Wendy Hector/Daily Meal

The supremacy of Waterfront Bistro's cocktail sauce over the other brands took me by surprise. It's the least expensive bottle of all of these selections, and one of the least flashy in terms of packaging. It doesn't contain high fructose corn syrup, which is a plus, but otherwise the ingredients aren't particularly notable. There are no exotic spices or unexpected flavors. It's a very straightforward product.

That said, I ate more of this sauce than any of the others. I kept going back for more. It's perfectly balanced between sweetness, tang, salt, and heat, adding the perfect dimensions of flavor to each bite. The tomato and lemon elements are super bright, bringing a zesty freshness to the shrimp. The horseradish is prominent while still in balance with the other flavors. The texture isn't too thin or too thick. This sauce is meant to enhance the seafood it's served with, rather than overpower it, and it does the job beautifully.

With every other sauce, I found there was something I would add to make it perfect -- more horseradish, maybe some salt, a squeeze of lemon. With Waterfront Bistro, the thought never occurred to me. It's a simple, textbook cocktail sauce that's easy on your wallet, and easy to love.

How We Chose The Best Cocktail Sauce

array of cocktail sauces and lemon
array of cocktail sauces and lemon - Wendy Hector/Daily Meal

In selecting the cocktail sauces to include in this ranking, I aimed to try a range of products at different price points to best assess value. I also wanted to include sauces that can be found at both budget and high-end grocery stores, from both nationally known brands and some smaller, artisanal producers. I tasted each sauce on its own to get an initial impression and create a loose ranking. Then I followed up by dipping simply poached shrimp, seasoned only with salt, into each sauce to get my final flavor and balance assessments. I also took into account the items' value -- which sauces had the most bang for the buck -- as well as the quality of ingredients.

Read the original article on The Daily Meal