I Tried 24 Rao's Sauces (Including the 6 Brand New Ones) and the Winner Tastes 100% Homemade

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As someone who has spent their entire life trying to snag a resy at impossible-to-get-into Rao’s to no avail, I’ve come to accept the fact that the closest I’ll come to trying the famous Italian restaurant’s recipes is by buying a bottle of Rao’s sauce.

In case you’re not familiar, Rao’s is a 10-table, one-room shrine to pasta and red sauce favorites in East Harlem, known as “the joint” by its regulars. There are no reservations, only table assignments and unless you know someone who has one—or you were invited by the owner Frank Pellegrino Sr. or his son, the current co-owner, Frank Jr.—you have zero chance of getting in.

It’s exclusive, tiny and loved by celebrities, including marquee names like Al Pacino, Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jay Z, Celine Dion and Martha Stewart, plus Rat Pack legends like Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr.

When Did Rao’s Start Selling Their Sauce?

Rao’s is on another level in every way but has always been known for its food first and foremost—dishes like seafood salad, lemon chicken and those famous Rao’s meatballs smothered in homemade tomato sauce. So, in 1992, Frank Pellegrino Sr. had the brilliant idea to bottle their sauces and thus, Rao’s Homemade was born.

In August 2023, Campbell’s bought Sovos Brands, the company that makes Rao’s sauces, for about $2.7 billion and fans were instantly up in arms and feared the worst was about to happen to their beloved sauce. 

Related: Rao’s Fans Sound Off About Potential Changes to Their Beloved Pasta Sauce

What’s So Special About Rao’s Sauce?

Rao’s sauce was an immediate hit and became one of the best-selling sauce companies worldwide. That might have had a little something to do with their sauce process: slowly simmered, small batched, made with straight-out-of-Italy ingredients like hand-picked, naturally ripened tomatoes and only the best olive oil.

When I was tasting my way through the sauces I kept the Campbell’s change in mind (though it’s unclear if the soup giant has taken over production just yet). To be honest, it would be hard for me to discern a true difference unless I could taste a jar of older sauce next to a jar of newer sauce, but I found that I enjoyed some of the sauces and wasn’t a fan of others. After tasting my way through the line I would still buy my favorites, regardless of who is making the sauce. 

Related: The Secret Ingredient for Making Jarred Pasta Sauce Taste Like It Came From an Italian Restaurant

How Did We Test The Rao’s Sauces?

raos sauces ranked

Rao’s Sauces Ranked

Kelli Acciardo

People (myself included) love these sauces so much despite their $8-a-bottle price tag. And also because of their long list of no’s: no tomato blends, no paste, no starch, no fillers, no colors and no added sugar, making them one of the best carb-conscious options on the market. 

Although the brand has branched out to create soups, frozen pizzas, pasta, pesto and limited reserve condiments, it’s still the sauces that do it for us, so that’s what we focused on for this test. 

How did we do it? Over the course of about a month, we sampled our way through the line. I tried about three-quarters of the options with my chef-husband, Luke, and the rest were put to the test at a big pasta party with my friends. At the end of all of those tastings we had a list of 24 Rao’s sauces ranked from worst to best, including their newest sauces that hit shelves last week.

Buon appetito!

24 Rao’s Sauces, Ranked Worst to Best

24. Tomato Herb

raos homemade tomato herb sauce

Rao’s Homemade Tomato Herb Sauce

Rao's

While my friends and I had high hopes for this one at a recent pasta party, it didn’t quite hit right. The general consensus was that it was overly herby. My husband, who happens to be a chef, remarked that the texture was perfectly fine (lots of juicy tomato chunks), but it tasted “too zesty,” similar to the jarred pasta sauces our moms used to buy when we were younger. Dried oregano and basil seem to be the main characters here but if you appreciate a superbly herby sauce, you’re better off buying their classic marinara and adding fresh herbs.

Related: Feel Good Foodie’s Cottage Cheese Pasta Recipe With Rao’s

23. Mushroom & Bell Pepper Sauce

raos homemade mushroom bell pepper sauce

Rao’s Homemade Mushroom & Bell Pepper Sauce

Rao's

Let’s start by saying pepper fans might be more into this one than those of us who were opposed or non-partial taste testers. Rao’s mushroom-bell pepper sauce was heavy on the peppers and lighter on the mushrooms, which tasted more like canned mushrooms rather than fresh, plumped-up caps. Knowing that it’s one of their more popular vegetarian sauces, we went in with open minds but we think you could skip this sauce in favor of some of Rao’s more complex, delicious offerings.

22. Roasted Garlic

raos homemade roasted garlic sauce

Rao’s Homemade Roasted Garlic Sauce

Rao's

In a word: intense. You have to be a die-hard garlic girl to get down with this sauce and if you are, then by all means, dive in with gusto! After one bite the word I heard the most from my crew was simply “no” or “too overwhelming.” The garlic seemed more raw than roasted and truth be told, it needed more salt. For a winning roasted garlic tomato sauce we could have roasted our own garlic then mixed it into a garlic-free sauce for a total winner.

21. Sundried Tomato Pesto

raos homemade sun dried tomato pesto

Rao’s Sundried Tomato Pesto

Rao's

Since Rao’s considers their pestos to be sauces and has two, we ranked those, too. The sundried tomato was a bit too salty, however. Salty to the point where you can’t really eat it on its own. It definitely needs bread or pasta to cut through the salt and oil. Along with sundried tomatoes, there’s tomato pulp in this one, pine nuts of course and a lot of parm, adding to the salty state of affairs. If you save it for a dip with a toasted baguette or to slather on a panini, it might become one of your go-to condiments. 

20. Italian Sausage and Mushroom

raos homemade italian sausage and mushroom sauce

Rao’s Homemade Italian Sausage and Mushroom Sauce

Rao's

The group was divided on this sausage and mushroom sauce. Something about the flavor felt a bit too acidic for some and the sausage seemed spongey like it had been breaking down in a jar for too long. Still, a few others appreciated the fact that the fennel-flecked sausage was well-seasoned and not tough. If you’re in the mood for a meat and veggie-packed sauce, give this one a whirl, but be prepared to supplement it with more sausage or meat of your own if you’re trying to feed the whole fam.

19. Basil Pesto

raos homemade basil pesto

Rao’s Homemade Basil Pesto

Rao's

I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty picky when it comes to pesto and always opt for the verdant green, just blitzed tubs of the herby sauce from the fresh foods case at the grocery store instead of the jarred stuff. When it comes to pesto, color is one of the most important factors to me, and the greener it is, the better it is in my mind. Bottled pesto tends to be a bit darker, and although Rao’s had a perfectly fine nutty, cheesy, herbaceous taste, I saved it to mix into a chicken salad with lemon and mayo rather than slathering it on warm bread with burrata—my favorite fresh pesto move. 

18. Sensitive Marinara Sauce

raos sensitive marinara sauce

Rao’s Sensitive Marinara Sauce

Rao's

Obviously, Rao’s sensitive marinara is lacking in the flavor department—that’s the whole point. Void of garlic and onion, it’s beyond mild and tastes like tomato soup or Campbell’s SpaghettiOs. As a non-garlic girly, I appreciate Rao’s for including a garlic-free sauce in their portfolio because whether or not you have an allium allergy or just don’t jive with garlic, it’s still a solid sauce that can serve as a clean slate for the seasonings of your choice. With a pat of butter on warm noodles, a sprinkle of cheese and a few spoonfuls of this sauce mixed in, it tasted like childhood and honestly made me want another bowl. 

17. Roasted Red Pepper

raos homemade roasted red pepper sauce

Rao’s Homemade Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Rao's

Roasted red pepper is one of those flavors you either love—or don’t. Hummus, sauce, soup…the options are endless when it comes to recipes made with sweet, roasted red peppers, but most can take it or leave it, which is exactly how we summed up their new sauce. It felt like it should be saved for a side sauce over grilled chicken or fish, instead of something to toss with pasta although a cold pasta salad with it could be just perfect. 

16. Bacon Alfredo

raos homemade bacon alfredo sauce

Rao’s Homemade Bacon Alfredo Sauce

Rao's

This might be Rao’s buzziest launch yet. Bacon alfredo is already doing the most as far as loaded sauces go and although it had the potential to be so so good—I mean, look at it!—we were a little underwhelmed TBH. It seemed a little goopy and the bacon was giving more bacon bits than freshly crisped-up bacon. It’s not awful by any means but some of the other alfredo options were stronger.

15. Margherita Pizza

raos homemade margherita pizza sauce

Rao’s Homemade Margherita Pizza Sauce

Rao's

Compared to some of Rao’s other pizza sauces, this one seems to have less olive oil and is a little chunkier. Although it touts basil and oregano as the main herbs involved, we didn’t pick up on a lot of basil. It’s there but doesn’t have a strong presence. There are definitely better pizza sauces in the lineup (more on that later).

14. Alfredo Arrabbiata

raos homemade alfredo arrabbiata sauce

Rao’s Homemade Alfredo Arrabbiata Sauce

Rao's

Another Rao’s newbie, this one hit the spot. It was a little thicker and while it didn’t have the super complex cheese flavor our favorite alfredo had, it did have great background heat. “I would like to dip a pretzel in this,” said my husband after one taste.

13. Roasted Garlic Pizza

raos homemade roasted garlic pizza sauce

Rao’s Homemade Roasted Garlic Pizza Sauce

Rao's

Roasted garlic might have been *a bit* aggressive for pasta, but for pizza, it makes total sense. Maybe it’s the fact that they’ve perfected their newest pizza sauce or that we smeared a thin layer over crust instead of using it on noodles…whatever the case, this pizza sauce slaps. Use it as the base for a veggie-forward pie, which is what we used it for, or a garlicky margherita.

12. Roasted Garlic Alfredo

raos homemade roasted garlic alfredo sauce

Rao’s Homemade Roasted Garlic Alfredo Sauce

Rao's

Meet the sauce that can turn alfredo haters into allies. “I could eat this one with a spoon right out of the jar,” said my best friend, who later shared she’s not a lover of creamy sauces but this one made her change her mind. I have to agree. This option had a delicate creaminess and was smooth with just the right amount of garlic. Although we used a box of dried pasta for the test, I would 100% buy this one again to serve with fresh lobster ravioli or tortellini.

11. Marinara

raos homemade marinara pasta sauce

Rao’s Homemade Marinara Pasta Sauce

Rao's

I didn’t even have to bring this one to the pasta party because a) I buy it frequently and b) haven’t been disappointed yet. I love Rao’s marinara. Sometimes as is; sometimes with veggies, meat, added herbs and other seasonings tossed in. It’s a solid sauce through and through—one I hope they never mess with because why ruin a good thing? They pride themselves on the fact that it’s cooked in small batches with high-quality ingredients (think: sweet Italian tomatoes, olive oil, onions, fresh basil and garlic) and honestly, you can tell.

10. Alfredo

raos creamy alfredo sauce

Rao’s Creamy Alfredo Sauce

Rao's

Upon first glance, Rao’s OG alfredo looks thick and spoiler: it is. While the creamy, cheesy consistency is spot on for an alfredo, and it has an A+ ratio of rich Parmesan and Romano cheeses, along with cream and butter, I had to thin it out a few ladles of pasta water just to get my chicken broccoli alfredo pasta to glaze properly. I also tossed in some red pepper flakes for heat and color, since it was reading a little too alabaster for me. After that, it was near perfect and doing just fine in the salt department. If you love alfredo and don’t feel like making it yourself, Rao’s is hands down one of the best.

Related: How To Make Homemade Alfredo Sauce

9. Four Cheese Alfredo

raos homemade four cheese alfredo sauce

Rao’s Homemade Four Cheese Alfredo Sauce

Rao's

Four Cheese Alfredo is another one of Rao’s just-dropped jars, which my husband and I agreed was even better than the original. “It has a nice nice drip,” he said as I watched him conduct the first step of his taste test. “Meaning it coats the back of the spoon nicely; it’s not too thick not too thin.” After tossing this one with pasta, I was all in, too. Between the nutty cheese flavor and the perfect consistency, 4-cheese (which would be Parmesan, Romano, Asiago and Fontina) really won me over.

8. Caramelized Onion

raos caramelized onion sauce

Rao’s Homemade Caramelized Onion Sauce

Rao's

Although I was skeptical of this one at first, I ended up being pleasantly surprised. For those times when you need caramelized onions for a recipe or the base of a bolognese, but don’t have any onions on hand, this sauce is a lifesaver. Reducing onions low and slow to a dark brown caramelized state takes patience, which is something you don’t always have when you’re hangry. This sauce is packed with heaps of caramelized onion bits that taste sweet and robust paired with the tomatoes without being overly cloying. 

7. Fire Grilled Vegetable

raos homemade fire grilled vegetable sauce

Rao’s Homemade Fire Grilled Vegetable Sauce

Rao's

Another new release, Fire Grilled Vegetable, is one of the hardest sauces to find in stores but worth picking up if you spy it—or grabbing a jar online. Grilled veggies like red onions and a medley of colorful peppers give this sauce an earthy, smoky flavor that’s perfectly seasoned with oregano, garlic, basil and slow-simmered Italian tomatoes. I’m going on record that this one is the sleeper hit of their newest batch of sauces. 

6. Four Cheese

raos homemade four cheese sauce

Rao’s Homemade Four Cheese Sauce

Rao's

If you like your red sauce cheesy, but not spicy, grab a jar of Rao’s Four Cheese on your next grocery store run. Everyone loved this one, calling it just “the right amount of thick” and “crazy good” thanks to four different kinds of Italian cheeses: Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, Asiago and Grana Padano. Another bonus? It’s not made with onions or garlic so if that’s not your thing, you’re in the clear. 

5. Pizza

raos homemade pizza sauce

Rao’s Homemade Pizza Sauce

Rao's

A Rao’s classic. This one didn’t taste as cooked as some of the other sauces and there was a nice acidity to it as well as flecks of olive oil too. With a perfect sheen, great consistency and spot-on seasoning, their pizza sauce checked all the boxes a pizza sauce should and made the flatbread we put it on instantly better.

4. Spicy Arrabbiata

raos spicy arrabbiata sauce

Rao’s Spicy Arrabbiata Sauce

Rao's

10/10 no notes! This kicked-up sauce was a total winner. My chef-husband even loved it, saying it was one of the best plates of pasta I’d ever made him and all I did was pour their spicy arrabbiata sauce over spaghetti without doctoring it up. “It’s not too sweet, with a nice spice and I like that the tomatoes aren’t overly caramelized,” he told me in the middle of devouring a second helping. 

3. Vodka

raos homemade vodka sauce

Rao’s Homemade Vodka Sauce

Rao's Homemade Vodka Sauce

Often imitated never duplicated, Rao’s is an OG in the vodka sauce category, simply because they nail it. When it comes to jarred vodka sauce, it tends to outperform its peers and is usually ranked the highest in blind taste tests by chefs (which my husband can vouch for because he’s brought theirs home when he hasn’t had the time to make his own). Consistency is key here. It’s creamy cheesy and pairs well with everything from pasta and pizza to chicken. Rao’s vodka sauce can do no wrong in my eyes. But I’m not the only one who thinks so. The sauce has 2,000+ positive reviews on Amazon, so the internet concurs. 

2. Bolognese

raos homemade bolognese sauce

Rao’s Homemade Bolognese Sauce

Rao's

Although bottled bolognese can be polarizing—it’s too meaty for some; not meaty enough for others—Rao’s version was met with a resounding “so good!” from the group, followed by comments like “love the flavor and texture of this one” and “bolognese was the bomb.” This hearty ragu usually consists of beef, veal or pork (or a mixture of all three) but Rao’s employs a medley of beef, pork, pancetta and vegetables that taste like Nonna’s been hard at work on it all day. 

1. Vodka Arrbiata

raos homemade spicy vodka arrabbiata sauce

Rao’s Homemade Spicy Vodka Sauce

Rao's

If vodka and arrabbiata had a love child, this sauce would literally be it. My initial thoughts were: creamy but not too thick; coats well; that decadent orange-red hue is even better up close; it doesn’t need anything else as far as spices go. It’s jar-to-table perfect with those chunky bits of tomatoes Rao’s sauces are known for. 

Because I wanted to amp up the texture just a tad, I sautéed some pancetta (everything is better with pancetta in my opinion), threw in some minced shallots and once that was nice and caramelized, in went the sauce. The result was a bowl of pasta that rivaled Gigi Hadid’s spicy vodka pasta recipe in my mind, but it took almost no effort to execute. With Italian tomatoes, a blend of parm and pecorino cheeses, a splash of vodka and lots of crushed red pepper, this one tasted 100% homemade (with love) IMO, earning it the highly coveted #1 spot.

Next: The 10 Best-Tasting High-Protein Pastas Ranked



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