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Ketchup (Recipe: backyard barbecue sauce)

Barbecue sauce chicken

At any time, more than fifty bottles and jars and tubes, fancy and oh-so-ordinary, jostle against each other in my refrigerator door.

Condiments come and condiments go, but some are forever, like hot dog mustard and mayonnaise (well, this stuff), soy sauce and oyster sauce, chili paste with garlic and harissa.

And ketchup.

I'm never, ever without ketchup. Not just because it is the only acceptable adornment for a perfect burger, but because there's so much more you can do with it.

Like this.

Or this.

And, if you'd rather make food than magic or art, how about ketchup prawns, tatsoi salad with ketchup and mustard dressing, shrimp cocktail, classic meatloaf, or fancy French ketchup cookies?


Though ketchup as we know it has been around for 140 years -- thanks to the HJ Heinz Company who still makes my favorite brand -- it wasn't always red or tomato-based. In China, where it originated in the 17th Century, ketchup was a smelly, pickly, fishy-from-anchovies sauce called ket-siap. Only after it reached the New World did it meet up with tomatoes.

Did you ever wonder why all ketchup bottles used to have a long, thin neck that made it hard to extract the contents? In the days before manufacturers began to add shelf-life-enhancing ingredients, the narrow-neck bottle minimized contact with air, which could darken the sauce. Glass was an ideal container because it did not react with the acid in the tomatoes. The bottles were sealed with cork, dipped by hand into wax to prevent aeration, and topped with foil. 

If you do buy ketchup in long-neck glass or recyclable plastic bottles -- and if your ketchup is nice and thick and not too watery -- there's a trick to getting the ketchup out without sticking a knife down into the neck.

Make a fist with your left hand. With your right hand, invert the bottle on an angle, and rap the lower part of the neck down onto your left fist (on my bottle, above, I hit the 36-ounce label on the neck). This applies the correct G-force to the viscous ketchup, which causes it to flow at 0.28 miles per hour.

Any faster, and the ketchup would be rejected for sale. Heinz is picky about their ketchup, and I guess I am, too.


Backyard barbecue sauce

This spicy slather has been my go-to for so long that I can no longer remember its source, and of course it changes just a bit each time I make it. My friend Bob made this batch when he fired up his smoker last week; he used brown sugar substitute instead of the real thing, and the sauce was deee-lishus! It does have quite a kick, so if you want a milder sauce, omit the jalapeno. Makes 4-5 cups; leftover can be frozen.


1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup minced onion
1/2 cup minced green pepper
1 jalapeno pepper, ribs and seeds removed, finely minced
Pinch each of kosher salt and black pepper
2 Tbsp minced garlic
28-oz can tomato sauce
2 cups ketchup
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup prepared coffee
3/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup lemon juice (from 3-4 lemons)
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce
1/4 cup spicy brown mustard
3/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed, or sugar substitute
1 Tbsp chili powder
2 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1 chipotle pepper in adobo, chopped


Pour the oil into a large saucepan and set over medium-high heat. Toss in the onions, green peppers, and jalapeno, and give them a stir. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper and cook until soft and starting to brown. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add all remaining ingredients.

Bring to a boil, then lower the heat so the sauce simmers for 10-15 minutes, or to desired consistency.

Pour sauce into a container, cover, and chill until ready to use, or let cool slightly at room temperature and use to baste chicken as it's cooking on the grill. Do not use hot barbecue sauce on cold or uncooked food.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Split pea, sausage and preserved lemon soup
Meat-free split pea soup
Bean dip
Spicy skirt steak
Grilled tofu wraps

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The best thing about ketchup: it's so sweet!!

The recipe is too expensive, long and complicated, although I am sure it tastes wonderful. If I'm not using store bought bone sucking sauce, this recipe from a cook in South Africa is quite awesome and its main ingreient is ketchup :)

1 tsp oil
1 small onion finely chopped
1 tblspn malt vinegar
1 tblspn soft brown sugar
1/3 cup Ketchup - as you yanks like say
1 tblspn worcestershire sauce
1 tspn sweet chili sauce ( optional )
salt & pepper

cook onions in oil for about 3 minutes, add the rest of the ingredients. let simmer for about 3 minutes and hey presto the sauce is ready to use


Lydia -- I have some replica cookbook from the 1700's that make ketchup with mushrooms.

Also if you buy the Heinz's organic, there's no HFCS - all that Heinz goodness without the HFCS... It's like buying Coke at Passover... which reminds me....

Ahhhhh Ketchup...an American love affair!
I also use ketchup in "American Chop Suey" (that is one I bet you haven't thought about in a while!) meatloaf, BBQ sauce, hamburger topping and of course for FRENCH FRIES!!

I bet the "Heinz" Vs. "Hunt's" debate is probably as hotly contested as the "Cain's" Vs. "Hellman's"! (Heinz for me!)

i did not know about the reasons behind the long thin neck - makes sense. love the sound of this barbecue sauce.

I can't wait for BBQ season to come to the Northeast. Your photos have my mouth-watering for food grilled outdoors. BBQ sauce or marinade I'm ready to fire up the grill.

Hy Lydia,

I do not intend to offend anyone with this request but do you know an easy to make recipe for the Season of Lent?

Thank you!

I can never go without having ketchup in the refrigerator. I recently bought a low-sugar ketchup that tastes the same if not better to me! My parents don't like it though.

That looks like a good BBQ recipe.
Ketchup is the condiment of choice around these parts.

I have to admit I'm kind of addicted to Ketchup. I just love the tang. Especially on scrambled eggs, for some reason.

That sounds like a great recipe! I'm not a big ketchup fan. I only like it with pot roast, isn't that weird?

For a while, I stuck up my nose at the thought of ketchup, but found myself coming back. Its just one of those things that I couldn't go without either. The bbq sauce sounds like a tasty one (another fundamental sauce I need to always have handy!).

And ketchup is healthy too---I learned that from one of your earlier posts, a tidbit of information that has always stuck with me! :)

P.S. I meant to mention that this BBQ sauce sounds finger lickin' good! Definitely giving it a try---SOON!

Is that 28oz tin of tomato sauce just pulped up tomatoes? I love homemade bbq sauce, will give this one a go, it's certainly got everything I like.

Even though I know I'm supposed to keep tomato ketchup in the fridge, I can't remember ever doing so.

Love the tip about getting the sauce out of long neck bottles, quite a few times, my gentle tap was just a tad too hard, leading to a flood!

Mmmmm... a perfectly timed blog post... we hit 80 today and I'm thinking BBQ! :)

Mae, that's why it's so good on a burger!

Milton, my recipe uses a lot of ingredients that most of us keep in the pantry, and makes a much larger quantity than the one you've so kindly shared with us. I'm looking forward to trying this South African version.

Julia, I'll have to try the organic. I hope it tastes just as good as the original; no HFCS is a plus.

Carol, I haven't had American Chop Suey for years, but I used to love it when I was a kid. And for me, no debate: Hunt's will never replace Heinz in my pantry.

Meeta, the sauce is every bit as lush as it looks. Hope you will try it -- it has a bit of a kick!

Jeff, I'm lucky to have a grill outside on my covered porch, so we grill all year long. But Spring is springing -- I saw my first crocus in bloom today.

Monica, I've replied by email. (Everyone: to find recipes here, use the "Find a recipe" or "Find an ingredient" features.)

Hillary, your parents' taste buds might be like mine -- stuck in the past. I still prefer the ketchup I preferred when I was younger.

Peabody, I'm a ketchup girl all the way.

TW, I put ketchup on cheese omelets. I don't know why; I just love it.

Pam, I agree; ketchup with pot roast is delicious. But I think it's also great with meatloaf and burgers.

Mike, for a while I thought ketchup might actually be replaced by salsa, but fortunately ketchup is holding its own! Don't know what I'd do without it.

Sandie, do you remember the whole "ketchup is a vegetable" for school lunches debacle? Yes, it's healthy -- but it's no substitute for a ripe garden tomato!

Neil, yes, and you could substitute fresh chopped tomatoes too, if you prefer.

Michelle, 80? Oh, I'm not ready for that. I'm working my way up to being ready for, maybe 55 degrees....

Laurel's Kitchen: no cook make your own ketchup, without sugar, very tasty
Peg Bracken (I hate to cook books): simple BBQ sauce, my favorite; 2nd is a coffee recipe like yours from about.com
I'm ready for the viscosity ketchup test.

This might be my go to summer sauce! Thank you.

Michelle, don't mind us foody Neanderthals for whom anything more than salt and pepper becomes 'complicated' :-)

thanks for this great site

Wow! This sounds like the kind of BBQ sauce I keep hoping I'll find in a bottle somewhere, but never do. Thank you, thank you! Being copied also to my son the Grill man.

Susan, I have no idea how one would measure the speed of dripping ketchup -- but it would be fun to try! Thanks for sharing your other favorite sauces, too.

Noble Pig, it's definitely my go-to sauce!

Katrina, you can always find some in a bottle... in my fridge!

Last night I took your advice. Unmeasured quantities of ketchup, soysauce, brown sugar, vinegar, and a sprinkle of pizza seasoning equals bbq sauce. In other words, I used what was here in the temporary kitchen. I spread it on chicken legs & broiled in the oven -- tasted almost like charcoal grilled, thanks to the burned sugar surface. BIG DOWNSIDE: it burned onto the broiling pan too and I just finished scrubbing it after soaking overnight. Is that why you should always barbecue outside?

Michelle, thank you for sharing what looks to be a wonderful sauce! I can't wait to try it out. I hope you don't mind me adding my ketchup inclination, but I put ketchup on my mac and cheese. *pauses and narrows my gaze for snickers and giggles*

Just a dollop or two mixed in creates a beautiful, but subtle amalgamation of creamy, sweet twangy-ness. that's the stuff dreams are made of (:

And I agree, ketchup and meatloaf is devine.

Mae, it's definitely why I line pans with a few layers of aluminum foil (and because I hate to clean up!). Sometimes I think you should barbecue outside to spread the wonderful aroma throughout your neighborhood... anyway, next time, instead of broiling, try baking at a high temperature. That should help with the burned sugar.

Kenya, ketchup on mac and cheese sounds pretty good to me, though I haven't tried it.

Do the words 'natural flavor' in the ingredients listed on ketchup mean 'monosodium glutamate?'

My wife has her own personal chef - me!
And she loves barbecue sauces, so we will be giving this one a try real soon.

Dotty, if a product contains MSG, it must be labeled clearly.

Steven, your wife is one lucky woman!

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