8 Rao's Homemade Jarred Pasta Sauces, Ranked

Jars of Rao's homemade sauce
Jars of Rao's homemade sauce - Judy Moreno / Tasting Table

It's all about the sauce. Pasta, pizza, life — you name it. After all, the sauce is what gives a bowl of rigatoni its edge. Rao's Homemade is one of the most reputable and high-ranking pasta brands out there because of its flavor, consistency, and tantalizing aroma. It all started at the Rao family's New York Italian restaurant, which began bottling and selling its sauces directly to consumers. Now, you can find Rao's in many grocery stores, and it's quickly become a go-to brand for authentic Italian sauce. But which Rao's sauces are the best?

I tasted some of Rao's most popular jarred sauces and, after careful consideration, ranked them from worst to best. To do so, I heated each sauce and tried it both plain and on whole wheat penne pasta, all back to back, for the clearest possible comparison. I judged the sauces based on their taste, texture, freshness, and whether or not I would buy each one again. This list may just lead you to purchase one of these key components for your next go-to dinner.

Some recommendations are based on first-hand impressions of promotional materials and products provided by the manufacturer.

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8. Pizza Sauce

Rao's Homemade pizza sauce
Rao's Homemade pizza sauce - Judy Moreno / Tasting Table

I don't have to sit here and tell you that pizza is good, whether it's frozen, takeout, or artisan. Arguably, though, the best type of pizza is homemade. Even if you pride yourself on your pizza-making skills, a jar of store-bought pizza sauce allows you to focus your efforts on making the dough or preparing your toppings.

Pizza sauce is basically bejeweled marinara sauce. It has more of every spice and seasoning, it's sweeter and saltier than marinara, but it's not usually the type of sauce that you want covering your bowl of penne because it's just too rich. Rao's variety has all the makings of a good pizza sauce. It has the lovely, breezy flavor of Mediterranean oregano and some sweet basil notes, which give it a playful yet mellow profile. Honestly, if I had this on hand, I'd be making pizza at home a lot more often.

This sauce is ranked last, however, simply because it's not as jaw-dropping as the others I tried, and its potential has a lower ceiling. It's still pizza sauce, even if it's the best kind I've had from a jar. Pizza sauce has a smaller margin of error than, say, a standard marinara or a vodka sauce, which has to do the legwork of taking a plate of pasta from plain to restaurant-worthy.

7. Vodka Sauce

Rao's Homemade vodka sauce
Rao's Homemade vodka sauce - Judy Moreno / Tasting Table

Vodka sauce, which is now a pasta staple, has surged in popularity in the last few years. While its origins are contested, its delicious flavor is not. It's a great sauce that doesn't deviate too far from marinara but has enough of a twist to act as a fun alternative. Vodka sauce, of course, uses liquor to both brighten and sharpen the tomatoes, onions, and herbs. For balance, it also usually features a splash of cream. Rao's version of the sauce, however, contains no cream, which accentuates the brisk, slightly severe taste of alcohol.

While I really enjoyed this sauce, it wasn't as great as the others. It had a clear flavor that was different from the heavier red sauces I tried, but that meant it came off a bit harsh and metallic. It's also a thinner sauce with a somewhat watery consistency, which meant it was lighter on the flavor. Overall, if you already know you like vodka sauce, this is a good one; if you're looking for the best-tasting and most versatile Rao's sauce, however, I would recommend one of the options with a deeper flavor and more substantial texture.

6. Vodka Arrabbiata Sauce

Rao's Homemade vodka arrabbiata sauce
Rao's Homemade vodka arrabbiata sauce - Judy Moreno / Tasting Table

Rao's offers both vodka and arrabbiata sauce, as well as a hybrid between the two. Vodka is the secret ingredient for making a light sauce, which is important for this recipe. This sauce also adds brightness in the form of red pepper.

Both the regular vodka sauce and the spicy arrabbiata version had some of the same issues. Like the vodka sauce, this version also has a slightly acerbic, metallic taste stemming from the liquor. Even though the red peppers' heat disguises this taste a bit, the heat also doubles down on the sauce's sharp, abrasive qualities. Its sourness was also off-putting and knocked it down a few pegs in the ranking.

As for this sauce's spot on the list, I preferred the regular arrabbiata sauce because it had the authenticity and homeyness of marinara, plus some playfulness and heat. The vodka in this sauce is what pushed it down on the list — maybe it was just too much at once.

5. Roasted Garlic Alfredo Sauce

Rao's Homemade roasted garlic Alfredo sauce
Rao's Homemade roasted garlic Alfredo sauce - Judy Moreno / Tasting Table

If you ask serious sauce lovers for their take on Alfredo, you'll hear a lot of differing opinions. It's a favorite for some, while purists may claim that it's not really "authentic." No matter what camp you're in, though, you should probably try Rao's before you set your opinion in stone. This isn't the Alfredo you get at Olive Garden or with your microwave meal — it's the Alfredo that will ruin all other Alfredos for you forever.

Rao's sauce recipe includes cream, butter, Parmesan, milk, egg yolk, salt, pepper, roasted garlic, and not much else. It's full of the good stuff. Normally, I would never seek out a typical bland, heavy Alfredo sauce, but I would go out of my way to grab a plate of pasta drenched in this velvety, creamy, cheesy concoction. I believe it can please children and pasta-sauce purists alike; it's deeply comforting but still accentuates the lively flavors of pepper and Parmesan (and the roasted garlic, of course — this sauce's not-so-secret weapon).

Like Rao's pizza sauce, though, this Alfredo sauce is at a ranking disadvantage. By nature, Alfredo is just a less interesting, less complex sauce than its tomato-based counterparts (even with the roasted garlic), so I couldn't rank it ahead of the brand's more authentic Italian sauces.

4. Arrabbiata Sauce

Rao's Homemade arrabbiata sauce
Rao's Homemade arrabbiata sauce - Judy Moreno / Tasting Table

The Italian word "arrabbiata" translates to "angry," a nod to its namesake sauce's bold color and the iconic spicy flavor provided by the recipe's red pepper flakes. Beneath that red pepper, though, this is pretty much your classic Italian tomato sauce. It's not the biggest diversion from the classic marinara sauce, but it certainly elevates the intensity.

The ingredient list on Rao's arrabbiata jar is exactly the same as that on the marinara jar, save for the addition of crushed red pepper. The label even notes that this is simply "spicy marinara." You'll like this sauce if you enjoy marinara but want more heat. I'll discuss the pros and cons of Rao's marinara a bit later in this ranking, but — spoiler alert — I loved it. That's why this arrabbiata ranks highly; it has a really solid foundation in that classic, delicious marinara. The difference is all in the red pepper. I tend to prefer regular marinara simply because it's easier to taste the components and layers of flavor without spice dulling or distracting from them, which is what keeps this great sauce out of the top three.

3. Caramelized Onion Tomato Sauce

Rao's Homemade caramelized onion sauce
Rao's Homemade caramelized onion sauce - Judy Moreno / Tasting Table

This was the Rao's flavor that most intrigued me. I've had many, many versions of classic Italian sauces, but none of them ever promised to highlight caramelized onions. This addition is usually seen on sandwiches, roast beef, or maybe even an upscale omelet. I've always enjoyed eating onions in this form, but I've never pictured them in tomato sauce.

As evidenced by its high ranking, this caramelized onion tomato sauce ended up being one of the high points of my taste test. The caramelized onions added an elegant, subtle sweetness to the sauce that tasted natural. Likewise, the texture was elevated and extra silky. This sauce could be an excellent alternative for those who add extra sugar to their tomato sauce.

This item ranked higher than other flavors because it didn't have an astringent, aggressive onion flavor — just savory undertones. It's tomato sauce with an edge. I would love to have this in my pantry at all times.

Caramelized onions are an intensely flavorful addition to so many meals, and as Rao's proves, they can be a secret weapon that upgrades a dinner staple to new heights. (Also, if you want to learn how to cook your own caramelized onions, don't worry — it's not as intimidating as it seems.)

2. Marinara Sauce

Rao's Homemade marinara sauce
Rao's Homemade marinara sauce - Judy Moreno / Tasting Table

Marinara sauce is the stuff of legend. For those lucky enough to have been raised on it, the scent of sautéed onions, garlic, and tomatoes brings you home. Even if you didn't have it every week for Sunday dinner, it's hard to deny that a simple order of spaghetti with red sauce from a nice Italian restaurant is comfort food to the max. Rao's marinara, in particular, is almost as good as any carefully cooked homemade sauce or restaurant order.

Marinara can taste boring when it's done badly and may come off as just ... red. Tomatoes don't always have a ton of flavor, as I'm sure everyone knows from the watery, sad grocery store tomatoes you have to get when they're out of season. Since Rao's uses quality produce (and quality ingredients in general), though, this sauce is bursting with just-picked, sun-ripened flavor. This is why I ranked it so highly, even if it didn't "wow" me enough to reach the top spot. I'm picky and judgmental about marinara sauce — I really am — but I loved this one. Rao's is for purists.

1. Bolognese Sauce

Rao's Homemade bolognese sauce
Rao's Homemade bolognese sauce - Judy Moreno / Tasting Table

Bolognese sauce makes a lot of changes to regular marinara. The base contains carrots and celery, along with the standard onion, garlic, and tomatoes. The addition of ground beef also sets it apart from other sauces. Rao's even takes it a step further with crumbled pancetta, which provides a rich saltiness and even deeper flavor.

Let's get one thing straight: It's really, really hard to find a good jarred bolognese sauce. Most of them taste a little stale and very muddled. All that complex flavor and slow simmering is reduced to an indiscriminate melee. But not Rao's. I could taste the classic vegetable mirepoix, the meats' savory and smoky undertones, and even the lovely herb blend that enlivens a potentially stolid sauce. It just tasted so fresh!

This sauce had to take the top spot. I'm impressed by the brand's ability to pack subtle tasting notes and a truly homestyle flavor into a jar of bolognese. If you ask me, even an Italian grandmother would have a hard time complaining.


Jars of Rao's Homemade sauce
Jars of Rao's Homemade sauce - Judy Moreno / Tasting Table

For this review, Rao's was generous enough to send me a selection of sauces directly from the brand. The products in this roundup are some of the more easily accessible sauces, so this list doesn't represent Rao's entire range. The brand also offers products like a "Sensitive Marinara" sauce (made without onions or garlic) and a margherita pizza sauce.

As for my judging method, I slowly heated each of these sauces and taste-tested them straight off the spoon. A good sauce should be delicious without any pasta, and I wanted to get each product's full effect. I was looking for full-bodied, homestyle sauces with rich, authentic flavor, as though they had already been simmering away for hours in my kitchen. Also, to be ranked highly, each sauce had to deliver what it promised on the label; if it said "spicy," it should be spicy. Last but not least, each sauce had to taste delicious enough to warrant the high price point relative to more generic, store-brand sauces.

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