Kitchn Love Letters

I Swapped This Condiment in for Ketchup — And Have Zero Regrets

published Jul 23, 2022
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Someone looking into kitchen pantry.
Credit: Sarah Crowley

When it comes to condiments, ketchup reigns supreme. It’s a go-to for fries and a must-have accompaniment to burgers and hot dogs. Now, I don’t mean to stir the proverbial pot (or do I?), but I think there’s a case to be made for another tomato-based condiment — a condiment I refer to as ketchup’s zestier cousin. Coincidentally, it’s from the makers of the only brand of ketchup that will do and, IMO, is a superior substitute in places where we typically apply the more common red stuff. Here’s why.

Credit: Amanda Marikar

What’s So Great About Heinz Chili Sauce?

A short while ago, I too would have raised an eyebrow at this assertion. Until one day, at a family gathering, my mom boldly claimed that she preferred Heinz Chili Sauce over ketchup on her hot dogs. I had never tasted the stuff and immediately thought to myself: Why had she never shared this before? Of course, I had to try it. 

Credit: Amanda Marikar

I spooned a bit of the sauce on the very end of my hot dog and took a bite. It wasn’t spicy spicy, but there was something about its subtle warming spiced flavor and sweet tang that compelled me to dab more on my hot dog. The richness and depth — I tasted allspice, cloves, and garlic — elevated and distinguished the chili sauce from ketchup. After a few more bites, I was a believer.

Credit: Amanda Marikar

A Brief History of Heinz Chili Sauce

As one of the Heinz company’s flagship products, arriving on the scene in the late 19th century not long after the debut of its smash hit, ketchup, chili sauce offered a convenient bottled version of the then-popular homemade New England condiment. At the time, it was added to “nearly everything,” including roast beef, lamb chops, cod cakes, and eggs. Eventually, old-style chili sauce fell out of fashion, eclipsed by smoother, brighter, and simpler ketchup. But Heinz Chili Sauce still surfaces in many recipes, and it’s perfectly poised for a revival.

Credit: Amanda Marikar

What’s the Best Way to Use Heinz Chili Sauce?

Guru Ina Garten uses it in her scrumptious shrimp cocktail sauce. It’s also an essential component in nostalgically delicious grape jelly cocktail meatballs, and it tastes remarkably similar to the dipping sauce served with my Aunties’ spicy Sri Lankan fish cutlets. It’s also great slathered on meatloaf, stirred into a bloody Mary, or as a dip for salty, crispy fries.

While you can make your own old-fashioned chili sauce, or seek out spicier versions for a bigger kick, the specific flavor of Heinz Chili Sauce really sings when lacquered on baby back ribs or brushed over sweet and spicy wings. In chillier months, the sauce’s spices amplify braises and add interest to stews. Heinz Chili Sauce may be the underdog in its rivalry with ketchup, but with so many uses, you might want to pick up a jar to keep in the fridge. From now on when I read a recipe that calls for ketchup, I might just reach for the chili sauce instead.

Buy: Heinz Chili Sauce, $2.89 for 12 ounces at Target

What’s your favorite store-bought condiment? Tell us in the comments below?