The Best Substitutes For Ketchup To Use In Any Dish

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Ketchup is an everyday staple in the kitchen. This popular condiment is the perfect accompaniment to a hot burger right off the grill, poured over crispy golden fries, or even used as a solid addition to a baked meatloaf. It's sweet, tangy, and adds just the right amount of extra flavor to our favorite dishes. It also gives us the feeling of being home and enjoying our favorite comfort foods.

Whether you prefer the standard Heinz brand or something small batch and on the fancier side, ketchup still remains a go-to for many. But what happens when you find yourself reaching for the ketchup bottle and it's empty? If you forgot to pick up more at the store before your cookout, you might be worried about presenting those burgers bare. Don't worry — we have the best substitutes for ketchup to use in any dish. These alternatives should get you by in a snap.

Tomato sauce

When it comes to ketchup, we're all about that tomato flavor. So it makes sense to use tomato sauce as a replacement for the ubiquitous condiment. We know it might not sound conventional since so many of us associate tomato sauce with a marinara that goes with pasta, but hear us out. Made with vine-ripened tomatoes and spices, this slow-cooked sauce definitely gives off that similar sweet and tangy flavor we love from ketchup. 

Do you still think tomato sauce is too much like marinara? Well, the two sauces are actually quite different. The marinara sauce has more flavors of garlic and oregano while tomato sauce is robust with that tomato flavor. It's also much thicker and creamier than marinara. While marinara sauce would probably get runny the minute it was placed atop your patty, tomato sauce has more sticking power thanks to its consistency — similar to ketchup itself. 

Red pesto

Pesto is a great sauce to include in any pasta dish (we see you, Ramp Pesto Pasta) but can also be used on meat and chicken. It's pretty versatile — a lot like ketchup — but it's not something we'd typically put on our fries. That's because when we think of pesto, we're normally thinking about that traditional green sauce made with basil and parmesan cheese. However, that's not the only type of pesto out there. 

Say hello to red pesto, also known as sun-dried tomato pesto. This thick sauce can be made of sun-dried tomatoes, tomato pulp, and white wine vinegar, giving off an incredible flavor that melds both sweet and tart. It's the tomatoes included in the red pesto that really make it so different from the green, allowing for a richer taste all around. With a tomato-forward flavor and thicker consistency in texture, a red pesto is one of the best substitutes for ketchup to use in any dish. 

Taco sauce

If you're a big fan of Mexican food (and honestly, who isn't?), there's a good chance you've enjoyed taco sauce a time or two. You know what we're talking about —  that simple orange-red sauce can be used in your favorite tacos, burritos, and so many other Mexican-style dishes. Taco sauce adds just enough additional flavor, too, with a hint of spice that gives a dish an added bonus. It can be made with onions, vinegar, and spices along with — you guessed it — tomatoes. 

Since there are tomatoes in this sauce, the overall flavor is rich, sweet, and zingy. And who doesn't want that in a sauce or condiment? Perhaps you haven't yet thought about drizzling this kind of sauce over your scrambled eggs, but maybe you should. While taco sauce might not be quite as thick as ketchup, it can definitely add that flavor you're craving from ketchup when you're in a jam. 

Tomato paste

Ah, tomato paste. This super thick kitchen staple is everything when it comes to mastering your own sauce at home. The reason it works so well in sauces and soups is that it's so thick. It adds more body to a dish because it's made of strained tomatoes. And not only do you get a nice, thick texture to your dishes, but the flavor is also enhanced. The tomatoes help provide a rich and zesty flavor that brings any sauce up a notch. 

While tomato paste is typically used in classic Italian-style dishes, we think this flavorful paste can definitely be a nice alternative to ketchup when needed. After all, tomato paste is just as it sounds: tomatoes that have been skinned and cooked into a paste. And since it has that thick consistency, it will sit perfectly atop any burger, hot dog, or even a steak — that is, if you're into that. 

Tomato jam

When it comes to jam, there are a variety of different flavors to choose from. Strawberry, grape, and apricot are all pretty popular, especially when smearing them on a biscuit. But what about tomatoes? Maybe it's not the first flavor that comes to mind when you wake up with a hankering for a piece of toast, but it's definitely worth trying. It doesn't have the typical sweetness found in fruit-based jams, but thanks to its tomato base, there's a subtle hint of it. You can also thank the tomatoes in there for giving the jam a tart and tangy taste which pairs nicely with more savory items like eggs, ham, or cheese.

And since it's made with tomato, onion, and vinegar, we think it's one of the best substitutes for ketchup to use in any dish. It's made different than ketchup, as the tomatoes are roughly chopped and boiled but not strained. This helps give it that jam-like texture. It can also be a bit sourer than ketchup and oftentimes sweeter (thanks to more sugar being added in the process). Regardless, tomato jam is one to try if you're out of ketchup (or anytime for that matter). 


If you aren't familiar with tkemali, allow us to introduce you to this rich and visually vibrant sauce. Tkemali comes from the Georgian name that refers to sour plum, says Georgia About, which is fitting since this sauce is made from ripe plums. It can also be made with unripe fruit found in the springtime for when you're looking for a green Tkemali sauce, but we're focusing on the sauce that comes in that ruby red color.

It's used with similar dishes that you'd use with ketchup (such as meat and potatoes) which kind of makes it a no-brainer when it comes to finding a substitute for ketchup to use in any dish. While it may be a little sourer than say, ketchup, we think its consistency, versatilely, and well, its color, make for a dead ringer for a ketchup alternative. Plus, it has that tanginess that ketchup brings to the table.


Nothing beats a good salsa. It's made from diced tomatoes (so it's thick and chunky) and mixed with the right spices to give it a hearty and zesty flavor. But it's not only the flavor or consistency that makes salsa so great, it's also healthier than many other dips since it's rich in veggies. While many people pair salsa with tortilla chips, there are so many other ways to enjoy it — you can add it to the top of your salad in place of dressing or use it as a topping for eggs or proteins. 

The condiment is so popular, that it consistently goes head to head with ketchup as the U.S.' favorite condiment. And because salsa is so scoopable, it makes for an easy substitute over anything you'd add ketchup to — especially meat. Granted, it's not as smooth as ketchup, but with such a good tomato-based flavor, we don't think its chunkiness will derail you from enjoying it.

Barbecue sauce

Similar to ketchup, barbecue sauce is also a favorite when it comes to household condiments. It's typically made with molasses and brown sugar which gives it a nice sweetness that the vinegar and tomato help balance it all out. It's your go-to sauce when making barbecue baby back ribs in the oven but also a classic for when you're making chicken on the grill. Simply slather this sauce over some grilled proteins and your taste buds are in for a treat. 

While barbecue sauces can vary in taste, ranging from sweeter versions to others with a nice smokey hit, one thing is for sure: people love it. It's right up there with ketchup, but that's not why we think it could replace ketchup's omnipresent space in our pantries. It's all about the taste and how this sauce goes with just about everything people also love to smother with ketchup. Plus, both sauces are smooth so it makes for easy spreading. 


Sriracha is by far one of the most popular sauces of its kind. It's tangy but packed with heat, providing the right amount to kick when needed. It comes from David Tran, the man behind the well-known brand Huy Fong. He's also credited for bringing the spicy condiment to California in 1979. His mission was to make a sauce that combined both sweet and salty flavors for use in Thai dishes. Today, it's used on pretty much anything, including mayonnaise-based dips, tomato soups, or various fried foods.

Made with prik chi faa peppers, vinegar, and sugar, it has a lot of flavors and is also thicker than other hot sauces (hello, Tabasco). While it doesn't have tomatoes in it, we still think this chili sauce is one of the best substitutes for ketchup to use in any dish because it's so well-liked and incredibly versatile. It has a kick, yes, but the mix of sweet and tangy also makes it incredibly enjoyable.

Banana ketchup

Look, we like our bananas ripe and peeled or mashed and packed into something sweet and delicious (banana bread, anyone?). We don't tend to think of this fruit as something we might want to put on say, a burger, but maybe we've been looking at it all wrong. Case in point: banana ketchup. 

This sauce is a must in Filipino cuisine, providing something sweet with a touch of vinegar and just the right amount of tomato. So it's pretty much nothing like what you'd expect from a banana, which is why we're so taken with it. Its red-orange color is strikingly similar to a Thai sweet chili sauce, but it can still definitely be used as a ketchup alternative (and not just because it has a similar name). Everything from the taste to the versatility makes this a winner when it comes to accentuating your favorite foods — especially fried chicken.

Steak sauce

Steak sauce has had an interesting reputation over the years. One might argue that it's not needed on a prime piece of steak, while others simply believe it's a blessing to their food — especially if the steak is lacking its own juicy flavor. Whatever your take on this sauce, you can't deny it can add a bit more to a dish ... kind of like ketchup. In 1948, the popular brand A1 was marketed toward men and advertised as the sauce to put on steak. But steak sauce goes back way before A1 came onto the scene. Case in point: King George IV's private chef gave it to him for a wide range of dishes which even included lobster. 

Made with tomato puree and crushed oranges, steak sauce boasts a delightfully sweet and tangy taste all around, so it works with a lot of different items (and not just meat). Because of its ingredients, taste, and smooth consistency, it's a great alternative to ketchup. 


You may have heard of harissa or read it off a menu at a restaurant, but perhaps you're not exactly sure what it is. Harissa is a bright red chili paste with both North African and Middle Eastern roots. Typically made with ingredients that include red chilis and a variety of different spices (looking at you, cumin and coriander), there is definitely some heat here but nothing that'll have your eyes watering. 

Similar to many other condiments and sauces on our list, harissa is extremely versatile in terms of what it can be used with. Use it as a topping on everything from lamb to chicken, or experiment by adding it to other dishes and kitchen staples, including homemade hummus. If you're looking for a ketchup alternative that can be added to a wide range of food and provide a little extra spice, harissa might be your best bet. 

Sambal oelek

Sambal oelek is a traditional Indonesian paste that is made from chilis. Som like some of the others on this list, this baby is packing some heat. Huy Fong, the brand that brought us our beloved Sriracha, has also whipped up their own version of this paste, adding some vinegar to the mix. Since it's a paste, it's thicker than other condiments and makes for a great topping. But fair warning: a little of this spicy goodness goes a very long way. 

We'll admit, sambal oelek has a serious kick that is not at all like ketchup. Plus, its consistency is much thicker. However, it has all the right flavors to get the job done right. Plus, the ingredients are simple — it's made with only salt and vinegar — which allows the true flavor of the chilis to really shine. Just imagine how this paste can elevate those everyday fries. 

Make your own

Okay, we get it. Nothing can truly replace the taste of ketchup. We appreciate the love for the condiment and understand that when you want it, you have to have it. But if it's not in your kitchen and you can't get it fast enough, there is another way of satisfying your craving: Make your own!

It may sound like a lot of work, but making your own ketchup doesn't have to be. Plus, you can brag that you made everyone's favorite condiment all on your own. Maria Hines, from the former Seattle restaurant Tilth, made her own ketchup using No. 2 heirloom tomatoes that are pureed to perfection. However, you don't need to go out and get tomatoes if you don't have them on hand. Homemade ketchup only takes some tomato paste, sugar, apple cider vinegar, and a little salt to get the job done. Besides, making your own is probably the best option when it comes to substituting ketchup for use in any dish.