The Best Canned Tomatoes For Marinara Sauce, According Chefs And Italian Cooks

San Marzano, plum, whole, peeled, unpeeled ... what's the best of the best? We've got answers.

If you want to make a good homemade marinara sauce, not just any old tomatoes will do.

Because this Italian staple features a small list of ingredients, the quality of each individual element shouldn’t be compromised. This goes double for tomatoes, which serve as the sauce’s primary component. But if you’ve ever stood in front of a wall of canned tomatoes at the grocery store and wondered if there’s any difference between then, we’re here to save you some time.

This list of seven canned tomato brands — all tested and vetted by professional chefs and home cooks with Italian backgrounds — will set you up for sweet, smooth, saucy, tomatoey success.

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Cento San Marzano Peeled Tomatoes
When I sat down to write this article, I knew that I’d need to get input from one source more than any other: my grandmother Irene Curtin (née Amalfitano), who continues to make the best marinara sauce I’ve ever tasted. I texted her to ask if there’s a specific brand of tomatoes that she prefers for her marinara, and she got right back to me with a simple response: “Yes. Cento San Marzano peeled tomatoes.”

You may have noticed “San Marzano” on canned tomato labels and felt unsure about what that term actually indicates. True San Marzano tomatoes must be grown in the Agro Sarnese Nocerino region of southern Italy, and these tomatoes are famous for being “succulent, sweet and less acidic. They’re a go-to tomato for sauces [among] Italians and chefs,” said Lucas Guizo, an Italian home cook, photographer and the blogger behind Little Pans. Guizo shares my Nani’s affinity for Cento San Marzanos, which are easy to find in supermarkets throughout the U.S. and can also be purchased online at Amazon.
Redpack tomato purée
While whole tomatoes crushed by hand work nicely for a more rustic marinara sauce, a smooth marinara (which makes an excellent pizza sauce) is easier to achieve with crushed or pureed tomatoes. According to Capri Cafaro, an Italian American cookbook author and podcast host, the best tomato purée for marinara sauce is Redpack tomato purée. She says Redpack tomatoes have a clean, unseasoned flavor that makes them an ideal blank canvas for spices, oils, herbs and alliums. Cafaro likes to boost the flavor of the purée by adding “two little cans of Redpack tomato sauce to one big can of Redpack purée.”
Alta Cucina whole plum tomatoes
Alta Cucina tomatoes hail from California. But executive chef Jeff Allen of Millers All Day in Charleston, South Carolina, insists that these all-American tomatoes hold up admirably against their Italian competitors: “After testing countless other canned tomatoes, I’ve found that Alta Cucina has the superior whole peeled plum tomatoes, as they have the best natural, sweet tomato flavor.”

Stephen Bukoff, the executive chef of Grana at the Langham in Boston, agrees that Alta Cucina tomatoes are a fantastic choice for sauce-making purposes, telling us, “I swear by Alta Cucina tomatoes. Although they are not true San Marzano tomatoes from the Campania region of Italy, they are an amazing American-grown tomato that has the perfect balance of sweetness and acidity for our culinary needs.”

Alta Cucina tomatoes can be found at fine grocery stores in the United States and can also be purchased on Amazon.
Bianco DiNapoli whole peeled plum tomatoes
Bianco DiNapoli tomatoes are also grown and harvested in California, but the company takes inspiration from the growing and canning processes used in Italy, resulting in robust and flavorful U.S.-produced canned tomatoes that are perfect for marinara sauce. “Bianco DiNapoli whole peeled plum tomatoes are the absolute best-tasting. They are a unique brand co-founded by award-winning chef Chris Bianco and Rob DiNapoli,” explained Heather Kasvinsky, a home cook (taught by her Italian grandparents) and the food blogger behind The Noshtalgic Life.

Bianco DiNapoli tomatoes also get the thumbs-up from Oregon professional chef and “Top Chef” alum Sara Hauman, who said, “I will usually buy Bianco DiNapoli canned tomatoes while shopping. They have only a few traceable ingredients, which means more delicious tomato flavor. Bianco DiNapoli tomatoes are made with tomatoes grown in California, decreasing their carbon footprint with regards to product freight. It is also rare these days to see a versatile canned product made domestically using domestic-grown produce.”
Gustarosso DOP San Marzano tomatoes
Gustarosso is a popular brand of canned tomatoes in Italy, and their San Marzanos “are available on Amazon, [and they’re] by far my favorite,” said Cathy Whims, the chef/owner of Nostrana, a celebrated regional Italian restaurant in Portland, Oregon. Whims told us that Gustarosso DOP San Marzano tomatoes “have an opulent fruity flavor, fewer seeds, are not too acidic and have a deep, dark red color. Since marinara is not heavily seasoned with much more than salt, the tomato is very important! Our marinara sauce at Nostrana is simply tomato, onion and butter.”
Mutti whole peeled tomatoes
Mutti tomatoes from the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy (home to top food cities like Parma and Bologna) get major accolades from professional chefs for their bright flavor and well-preserved texture. Karen Tedesco, a home cook with Italian heritage who publishes recipes on her Family Style Food blog, loves Mutti whole peeled tomatoes because they “always look plump, red and beautiful when I open the can. They’re packed in puree, which is important. If the liquid in a can of tomatoes is watered down, the essential tomato flavor becomes diluted. The brand isn’t outrageously expensive and is readily available in grocery stores in the United States. [Also,] Mutti tomatoes are grown and packed in Italy. While they’re not certified DOP San Marzano tomatoes, I think the quality of the tomatoes is consistently excellent.”
Cirio peeled plum tomatoes
Another Italian tomato brand, Cirio, makes the canned tomatoes of choice for Paola Farina, a personal stylist and avid home cook who lives in Italy. “[Cirio] was established in 1836 in the south of Italy, [which] is the best place for tomatoes due to the Mediterranean climate. The taste [of these tomatoes] is intense and the sauce is full-bodied.” U.S. shoppers can sometimes find Cirio in grocery stores (Farina says that she spotted some cans in New York City), but they’re also sometimes available on Amazon.

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