Here’s the thing: I love to cook, but I’m not a self-saboteur. I have dreams of prancing around my kitchen with a wooden spoon in hand while French jazz music serenades me in the background. I throw a medley of herbs (which I grew in my fire escape garden, naturally) into a simmering pot, haphazardly adding various creams and condiments until I have the perfect homemade sauce. Fictional me says things like “You must try my velouté!” and “This sun-dried tomato pesto really takes me back to that trattoria in Tuscany.” Fictional me may also be Julia Child.
Such indulgent activities would make my life hard in the real world, where I have a small kitchen that contains equally small cabinets, with limited storage space for all these hypothetical ingredients. I also unfortunately don’t have endless time for culinary experimentation or a budget that allows for buying artisanal mustards and hard-to-find spices on a regular basis. What I do have is an ardent devotion to Trader Joe’s—more specifically, its arsenal of multipurpose, affordable products. Chief among these is the supermarket’s collection of sauces.
These handy sauces work for a multitude of dishes; plus, it’s far more space-friendly to have one hero product rather than several smaller ingredients all stashed in one cupboard. And given that my favorite sauces are all under $3, they’re money-savers, time-savers, and space-savers all rolled into one. In other words: These Trader Joe’s sauces are my culinary holy grails, and I’m sharing them here in the hopes of helping others take their weeknight meals to the next level. Ready your shopping lists.
Pesto alla Genovese, $2.49
One of the best jarred basil pestos out there; this simple sauce is a refrigerator staple. Trader Joe’s sources its pesto from right outside Milan, and as a result it has all the fresh flavors you’d find in the homemade version—except for the fact that it includes two types of cheese, which, if you’re not a pesto traditionalist, you’ll be delighted to discover.
Try it out: Pesto calls for carbs, and this is best served with pasta as a simple, ready-in-10-minutes dinner. It’s also great as a substitute for tomato sauce on homemade pizzas: Top with fresh mozzarella and arugula for a treat on your next movie night in.
This is my all-time favorite Trader Joe’s product, and if I had any poetic inclinations whatsoever, I would write sonnets about it. TJ’s soyaki sauce is part soy sauce, part teriyaki. The bottle is big enough to last a while, so you won’t be constantly restocking; just be sure to shake well to disperse the sesame seeds evenly.
Try it out: The sauce was made to revolutionize stir-fries: With ginger, soy, and sesame in the mix, it has all the flavors you want. Make your stir-fries the night before in bulk to bring to work the next day, with a little jar of this sauce toted along for some extra seasoning.
Alternatively, try soyaki as a dipping sauce. It’s great for gyoza and even spring rolls; keep a bit on hand to pour out as an easy casual appetizer.
Aioli Garlic Mustard Sauce, $2.49
Upon discovering this sauce at the Trader Joe’s sample station, where it was being served as a dipping sauce for sweet potato fries by an angel in a Hawaiian shirt, I immediately bought two jars. This sauce is a dressed-up mustard, with a hint of sweetness and a slight spicy kick. It will replace the regular variety in your condiment cupboard as you bring it into steady rotation for weeknight meals.
Try it out: While the aioli garlic mustard sauce was made for upgrading sandwiches, I like it best as an easy marinade for chicken: Keep the meat overnight in the fridge so it absorbs all the flavors, before taking to the grill (or, if you live in an apartment, the skillet) for a foolproof dinner.
Green Dragon Hot Sauce, $2.99
I am not alone in my admiration for this product: In a recent podcast episode, Trader Joe’s employees named the spicy sauce as an all-time favorite. If you find yourself pouring hot sauce on almost all your meals, you need to try this; it’s super-versatile and a great way to literally spice up any dish. It’s also not too hot, which is great if you’re like me and have a low heat tolerance.
Try it out: This little bottle will be making regular appearances at your brunch table. Use it on scrambled eggs and breakfast burritos: Mix in diced tomatoes, sharp Cheddar, and bell peppers with the hot sauce for a hearty start to your day.
See more Trader Joe’s products we love:
The Best Trader Joe’s Products You’ve Never Heard Of
Everyone’s Obsessed With Trader Joe’s Cauliflower Gnocchi
The 9 Things We Always Buy at Trader Joe’s