I’ve personally tried and tested a range of different chili sauce substitutes to find the best one.
Whatever your reason for avoiding chili sauce is and whatever dish you’re cooking.
Here’s the quick answer.
The best chili sauce substitutes are a homemade version, sriracha, or a ketchup and chili powder mixture. You can also try spicy tomato sauce, chili garlic sauce, or Thai sweet chili sauce. For more flavorsome options, try gochujang, harissa, or sambal oelek. Chili flakes will work in a pinch.
Ready? Let’s jump right in.
I made my favorite grape jelly meatballs to test all the chili sauce substitutes I could find.
Chili sauce is a tomato-based condiment similar to the classic ketchup (and it’s also sold by Heinz) It has a thick consistency and a sweet-tangy flavor with a mild spicy kick.
I was looking for something that would jazz up my meatballs in a similar way.
Here’s what I tested and the verdicts:
|Homemade chili sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||10/10|
|Sriracha||Replace with 1/2 the amount||9/10|
|Hot sauce||Replace to taste (start with a few drops)||8/10|
|Ketchup + cayenne||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||9/10|
|Spicy tomato sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||9/10|
|Chili garlic sauce||Replace with 1/2 the amount||8/10|
|Thai sweet chili sauce||Replace with 1/2 the amount||8/10|
Common uses for chili sauce and the best substitutes
Here are some popular ways to use chili sauce and the best substitutes for those situations:
- As a condiment/dipping sauce and vinaigrettes – homemade chili sauce, hot sauce, Thai sweet chili sauce
- For sauces, stews, and braises – homemade chili sauce, spicy tomato sauce, chili garlic sauce
- For cocktails – homemade chili sauce, hot sauce
Homemade chili sauce
Homemade chili sauce was the best substitute I tried and it’s a breeze to make.
My go-to recipe is this one from Ann Fulton, because all of the ingredients are pantry staples and it only take 10 minutes to make.
Simply toss everything in a pot, let it simmer, then blend it into a smooth texture. Easy peasy!
And the best part? You can tweak the recipe to satisfy your sweet or spicy cravings.
Pro tip: I always make a big batch because the sauce will last up to 3 months in the fridge or 6 months in the freezer.
How to substitute: replace chili sauce in a 1:1 ratio with homemade chili sauce.
Your trusty bottle of hot sauce can save the day if you don’t have chili sauce.
Hot sauce is a lot spicer than chili sauce, so you’ll only need a few drops. If your dish relies on the volume from the chili sauce, replace it with a simple tomato sauce.
Tabasco is a popular choice, but you’ll need to add a pinch of sugar to mellow out the vinegary kick.
For a more exiting option, why not try a Mexican hot sauce like Cholula.
How to substitute: replace chili sauce with a few drops of hot sauce mixed with tomato sauce if needed.
Sriracha sauce is here to show you it’s more than just a pretty squeeze bottle.
Sriracha is spicier than chili sauce and it’s a lot more garlicky, but it has the same sweetness that keeps the heat from becoming too much.
Despite its Asian roots, sriracha is just as versatile as chili sauce. You can slather it on pretty much anything you want or use it as a base for sauces and marinades.
And it’s so popular you might already have a bottle in your cupboard!
How to substitute: replace chili sauce with 1/2 the amount of sriracha and add more to taste.
Ketchup + chili powder
Ketchup is another convenient substitute for chili sauce.
It already has those sweet-acidic notes, but you need something to bring the spice. Mixing in some chili powder to taste is an easy fix. I also like adding a splash of orange juice (trust me, it’s delicious).
Or you can shake a few drops of hot sauce into the ketchup if you don’t want to play around with ground spices.
Psst… I had to add some vinegar to my meatballs to balance the sweetness of the ketchup.
How to substitute: replace chili sauce in a 1:1 ratio with ketchup + chili powder
Spicy tomato sauce
Spicy tomato sauce is a fabulous substitute for chili sauce that not only brings the heat but does so with extra flavor.
Generally spicy tomato sauces will also contain other herbs and aromatics like Italian seasoning or garlic.
You can grab a jar from your local grocery store, or you can make it from scratch if you have canned tomatoes on hand. Check out the easy recipe here.
Pro-tip: think your tomato sauce isn’t hot enough? Add chili powder or red pepper flakes to amp the heat up.
How to substitute: replace chili sauce in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio with spicy tomato sauce.
Chili garlic sauce
Chili garlic sauce is a delightful middle ground for those who find regular Tabasco too fiery and chili sauce too tame.
It leans more savory than chili sauce, so I added a dash of sugar to mimic the sweetness you get with chili sauce.
Popular brands that sell this condiment are Huy Fong and Lee Kum Kee… I’m a Huy Fong fan!
How to substitute: replace the chili sauce in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio with chili garlic sauce.
Thai sweet chili sauce
Thai sweet chili sauce is a bit of a departure from the traditional chili sauce, but it’s better than nothing!
As you can guess by the name, this sauce is pretty sweet. So you don’t want to go overboard and use too much. And if there’s any sugar in your recipe, skip it.
Psst… want to kick things up a notch? Just add a pinch of red pepper flakes or a dash of your favorite hot sauce.
How to substitute: replace chili sauce with 1/2 the amount of sweet chili sauce and add more to taste.
The options I listed above are my top alternatives to chili sauce, but they’re not the only options.
Here are some more decent substitutes that’ll get the job done:
- Sambal oelek – this packs more heat than chili sauce and has a tangier flavor. But you can tweak it with sugar to sweeten it up. It also has a thicker, chunkier consistency which will give your dish a rustic feel.
- Harissa – this is a great option if you want something spicier and more complex. Harissa has a smoky, earthy flavor with a hint of citrus that’ll perk up your dish. It generally comes in paste form, so you will need to mix it with tomato sauce. Or mayo if you’re using it as a condiment.
- Red pepper flakes/chili powder – this are a last-resort substitute that’ll add heat to your dish but no flavor, sweetness, or sauce!
Substitute to avoid – Black bean sauce
Black bean sauce was mentioned a few times as a good substitute for chili sauce when i was researching. But when I tested it in my grape jelly meatballs, I found its salty, pungent taste strayed too far from the sweet-tangy notes of chili sauce.
This option also has a dark color (darker than barbecue sauce) that will significantly alter your dish’s appearance.
Chili Sauce Substitute Recipe
- 1 can tomato sauce 8 ounces
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 tbsp vinegar
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp chili powder
- 1/8 tsp cinnamon
- pinch all spice
- tabasco to taste
- Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl until fully blended.
- Transfer to a jar and store in the fridge. For best results let the sauce rest for at leat 4 hours.