I personally taste-tested a variety of Rotel substitutes to find the best one for every occasion. Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry swap, or want a substitute that fits your diet, I’ve got the answers.
The easiest and quickest substitute for Rotel is a regular can of diced tomatoes. If you have anything spicy to hand, you can mix that in to mimic the heat of Rotel. You can also use picante sauce or salsa. And if you want to skip the tomatoes, use roasted red pepper mixed with green chili.
I made small batches of this Rotel cheese dip to put several different Rotel substitutes to the test.
Rotel is a popular brand of canned tomatoes mixed with green chiles. Whether you’re whipping up a batch of queso, chili, or any other dish that calls for a bit of spice, Rotel is the go-to for many cooks. However, if you find yourself without a can of this spicy blend, don’t worry. There are several excellent substitutes that can fill in and keep your dishes flavorful.
Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:
|Regular canned tomatoes||Easy and quick||9/10|
|Homemade Rotel||Can freeze or can to increase shelf life||10/10|
|Picante sauce||Wetter and more seasoned||8/10|
|Salsa||Wetter and more seasoned||8/10|
|Roasted red peppers and chili||Tomato free||8/10|
Regular Canned Tomatoes
The most straightforward substitute for Rotel is regular canned tomatoes. While they lack the heat and distinctive flavor of the green chilies found in Rotel, they will provide all the tomato flavor you could want and they have the same texture. And you probably already have some in your kitchen, so you won’t need to make a trip to the grocery store.
Rotel uses diced tomatoes, so these are best if you have them. Whole canned tomatoes are also fine because you can dice them up yourself before adding them to your dish.
If you have anything spicy in your cupboard, you can add this to the tomatoes to help mimic the heat of the missing green chiles.
How to substitute: Use one can of regular diced tomatoes in place of one can of Rotel, adding something spicy if you have it.
If you’re in a creative mood and have some time on your hands, making homemade Rotel means you can customize the final mixture to your liking.
Most homemade recipes (like this one) are also set up so you can preserve the final product by canning. If you don’t have all the necessary equipment for canning, you can also freeze your Rotel to prolong its shelf life.
The two main ingredients are (unsurprisingly) tomatoes and green chiles. Any kind of tomatoes will work, but Roma-style tomatoes are best because they hold their shape better. You can use any kind of green chili you want based on how much spice you like.
Once you have the ingredients, the process is as simple as simmering the tomatoes to infuse them with the flavors of the chiles and any other herbs and spices you’ve added.
How to substitute: Replace Rotel in a 1:1 ratio with your homemade version.
Picante (which means “spicy” in Spanish) sauce is a zesty, chunky sauce that’s often used in Tex-Mex cuisine. Like Rotel, it’s tomato-based with chili peppers, but it also contains onions, garlic, vinegar, and seasonings like cilantro. Its consistency and flavor profile make it a good substitute for Rotel, especially in recipes where you want a bit more complexity.
But if your dish is already heavily seasoned, you might want to dial it back a bit so the added flavors of picante don’t over-flavor the dish.
Pro tip: Picante is a sauce, so it’s more liquidy than Rotel. I recommend draining some of the extra liquid before adding it to your recipe. Or reduce how much of another liquid you use (like stock).
How to substitute: Replace Rotel in a 1:1 ratio with picante sauce, draining the extra liquid if needed.
Picante, the previous substitute, is actually a type of salsa. But you can also use other types of tomato salsa instead of Rotel. The watchouts when you’re swapping Rotel for salsa are very similar to the watchouts for using picante sauce.
You need to be aware of the additional flavors in the salsa like lime juice or garlic, and you may need to adjust how much liquid you add to your recipe because salsa tends to be more saucy than Rotel.
How to substitute: Replace Rotel in a 1:1 ratio with salsa, draining the extra liquid if needed.
Roasted Red Peppers And Chili
If you’re looking for a tomato-free option, swap the tomatoes for roasted red peppers, which have a similar level of sweetness and also a smokiness that adds depth. I pureed some with a bit of water to create a ‘sauce’ and then diced the rest. I also added a splash of lemon juice to mimic the acidity of tomatoes.
Mix in some green chiles and a pinch of salt, and you have a very decent Rotel replacement.
If you find the peppers are slightly too bitter, you can also add some sugar to balance this out. And if you want to infuse the heat from the chili into the sauce, simmer the mixture over low heat for 10-15 minutes
How to substitute: Replace Rotel in a 1:1 ratio with your red pepper Rotel mixture.
Substitute To Avoid – Lemon Pickle
I saw a few websites suggesting you use lemon pickle as a substitute for Rotel, but I would definitely not recommend this.
Lemon pickle has a very strong and distinct flavor that’s nothing like Rotel. It’s tangy and sour mixed with the potent flavor of the pickling spices. The intensity of the falvor will quickly overpower any dish you use it in, especially if you use it in the quantities of Rotel.
Best Rotel Substitutes + 1 To Avoid
- 1 portion Regular canned tomatoes
- 1 portion Homemade rotel
- 1 portion Picante sauce
- 1 portion Salsa
- 1 portion Roasted red pepper + chili
- Cook your meal according to the recipe.
- Add your chosen rotel substitutes at the appropriate cooking time.
- Mix until thoroughly combined and continue with the recipe.