Homemade Chili Sauce Beats Anything in a Bottle

Chili Sauce Recipe

After I made hamburgers for lunch I realized we were low on ketchup. Since my husband is a ketchup nut (he considers it a vegetable) I gave the last of the ketchup to him, and put chili sauce on my hamburger. The two bottles were side-by-size on the table. “What’s the difference between chili sauce and ketchup?” I asked.

This question aroused my husband’s curiosity. He read the labels and concluded, “Seasoning. The seasonings are different, but the manufacturers don’t list them.” Both condiments contained tomato concentrate and high fructose corn syrup. The ketchup contained onion and garlic powder, whereas the chili sauce contained dehydrated onions. At the end, each label had the words “natural flavors.”

What did the words mean? This question led me to one of my favorite cookbooks, one I inherited from my mother-in-law after she died, The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book by Frannie Merritt Farmer, first published in 1896. My mother-in-law’s cookbook was published in 1936 and, interestingly, the recipes for chili sauce and ketchup are on the same page.

In fact, this cookbook contains two recipes for chili sauce, one with more seasoning and the other with onions and red pepper. These are historic, made-from-scratch recipes; no cheating with tomato sauce or paste. Fresh peeled and sliced tomatoes are the first ingredient. Contrary to what you might think, there are no hot chili peppers or chili powder in chili sauce. Some modern-day cookbooks, however, have added hot chili peppers to spice up the recipe.

Our ancestors made their own chili sauce and ketchup and these savory sauces simmered on the stove for hours. The Cooks.com website has posted instructions for making your own condiments. According to the article, “Substitutes,” you can make quick versions of chili sauce and ketchup.

For chili sauce, combine 1 cup tomato sauce, half a cup of brown sugar, 2 tablespoons vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, a dash of cloves, dash of allspice, and dash of cayenne pepper. To make substitute ketchup combine 1 cup of tomato sauce, 1/2 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons vinegar, and a pinch of cloves.

I wanted to make Fannie Merritt Farmer’s chili sauce, but the tomatoes in Minnesota grocery stores are very different from summer tomatoes. Winter tomatoes are pale and almost tasteless, so I didn’t make the sauce. However, I did up date the historic recipe. Instead of light brown sugar, I recommend dark brown. For vinegar use what you have on hand — white, cider, or rice vinegar. I would use rice vinegar because it is always on my pantry shelf.

Homemade Chili Sauce


  • 12 medium-sized tomatoes
  • 4 medium yellow onions (chopped)
  • 2 sweet red peppers (chopped)
  • 2 Tbsp (salt (or reduced sodium salt))
  • 1 Tbsp. celery seed
  • 1/4 c. dark brown sugar
  • 2 c. rice vinegar


Plunge the tomatoes in boiling water for 1-2 minutes. Cool briefly and remove the skins. Cut the peeled tomatoes into 1/2-inch slices. Transfer to large kettle. Add onion, red pepper, salt, celery seed, brown sugar, and vinegar. Cover and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat for three hours. Or line a slow cooker with a cooking bag, transfer mixture to the cooker, set on low, and cook for 5 hours. Ladle into jars and refrigerate. The chili sauce will keep in the refrigerator for weeks.

The Author:

Harriet Hodgson has been a freelancer for 36+ years and is the author of 33 books and hundreds of print/Internet articles. Her latest books are “Happy Again! Your New and Meaningful Life After Loss,” “Seed Time: Growing from Life’s Disappointments, Losses, and Sorrows,” and “Help! I’m Raising My Grandkids.”

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