Cooking with Ketchup: It’s More Than a Condiment

Your favorite topper for burgers and dogs can be more useful than you think in the kitchen. Here are 5 ways we use it.

Published Feb. 6, 2023.

Many of us are more brand-loyal than we would prefer. Personally, if I sit down in a diner and they have anything other than Heinz ketchup on the table, I roll my eyes and mentally cross the place off my revisit list: judged.

But ketchup has another life outside of its status as an iconic condiment. It can be a surprisingly useful ingredient in many types of recipes.

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Which makes perfect sense: Ketchup is salty, sweet, and lightly acidic, and it carries plenty of umami thanks to its tomato base. Here are five possibly surprising ways you can use ketchup as an ingredient. 

Taste Test

The Best Ketchup

Is familiar better than newfangled? We tried eight products to find out.
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Use Ketchup in Tacos

Our recipe for Shrimp Tacos is a riff on tacos gobernador, shrimp and cheese tacos that are popular along Mexico’s west coast. These tacos are, in a word, incredible. (And if you want a few more words, they’re also cheesy, crispy, fresh-tasting, and some of the tastiest tacos we’ve ever gotten our hands on.)

We use a few tablespoons of ketchup in these tacos as the base of the salsa we cook the shrimp in. Its concentrated seasoning power works like a charm, adding flavor and depth without tasting like ketchup in the finished tacos. 


Shrimp Tacos

These melty, crispy, shrimp-and-salsa-filled bundles might be the best tacos you’ve never had. (Yet.)
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Use Ketchup in Fried Rice

Most fried rice recipes work the same way: You get some vegetables going in your wok or pan, then some egg, then the rice, and then you toss in some sauce and you’re done—delicious. In our recipe for Simple Pork Fried Rice, that sauce is based on oyster sauce, sherry, soy sauce, and . . . ketchup (just 1 tablespoon). Even the small amount of ketchup adds a pop of umami and well-rounded seasoning that helps this easy weeknight dish sing. 


Simple Pork Fried Rice

We set out to make pork fried rice with plenty of meaty flavor.
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Use Ketchup in Coleslaw

If you think adding ketchup to coleslaw sounds odd, you may not want to mention it among citizens of Kentucky and the Carolinas. Those states have slaws—both a bit spicy—that feature a good bit of ketchup in the dressing (and no mayonnaise). The ketchup adds sweetness, depth, and spark, as well as a unique red hue, to both. 


Kentucky Red Slaw

You know you’re at a real Kentucky barbecue when the coleslaw is red.
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Use Ketchup in Marinades

One of ketchup’s virtues is that it is a little sweet; most versions contain sugar, honey, or corn syrup. And it’s that sugar that makes it a valuable ingredient in marinades for grilled or broiled meats where you want good browning but a relatively short cooking time, such as our Grilled London Broil. The ketchup contributes all the seasoning you’d expect it to, with the added function of its sugar helping to encourage efficient browning. 


Grilled London Broil

If recipes produce a nice char on the outside, they typically produce overcooked gray bands of meat on the inside. We wanted to do better.
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Use Ketchup in Stews

Squirting a stream of ketchup into your stew starts to seem logical when you consider that many stews feature a knob of tomato paste for color, body, and depth. Ketchup delivers all of that, plus salt, sugar, and acid. Our recipe for Jamaican Oxtail calls for the braising liquid to be fortified with ¼ cup of ketchup at the end of cooking, both to season and help thicken it. Again, you don’t taste the ketchup itself, but rather it adds depth and just the right amount of seasoning. 


Jamaican Oxtail

My grandmother’s oxtail is more than a meal; it’s the connection between us and to our history.
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