Classic Cocktail Sauce

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  • How do you make your favorite cocktail sauce? Just ketchup and horseradish? Maybe even just ketchup and hot sauce? Chances are if you are here, you’re also looking to take it up a notch. Good news is that it is one of our easy recipes.

    angle of homemade cocktail sauce surrounded by shrimp

    You might also be one of those people that never really thought about, just got the grocery store version. The best cocktail sauce is about to come your way!

    Cocktail Sauce Recipe

    Classic Cocktail Sauce is more than just ketchup and horseradish. For many, the perfect blend has a few more ingredients to form a balanced sauce worthy of complementing the best seafood.

    Also read on for why this can be transformed into a cocktail sauce without horseradish! 

    But the cocktail sauce you get at (some) restaurants tastes different. It has a little more ump. Pizzazz. Your homemade Cocktail Sauce can also be this good with your own special customizations or start with our award winning recipe.

    shrimp dipping into homemade cocktail sauce

    Where Does It Come From?

    Cocktail sauce was invented by famed British chef and TV personality, Fanny Cradock, and originally made to serve with a prawn cocktail. The name, therefore, was the “sauce of the cocktail”.

    And what we know today as the famous Shrimp Cocktail, deemed the ultimate of fancy appetizers and hor dourves. I think I might go back to referring to it as a Prawn Cocktail. It sounds so much more sophisticated. 

    What Makes This One Different?

    My recipe includes the basic building blocks for any cocktail sauce, although some cooks prefer to use a chili sauce in lieu of or in addition to ketchup. We use a few more items to amplify the overall flavor. Then we suggest letting it sit. Yep- let that bowl of goodness marry into beautiful flavors.

    After you get your basic sauce perfected, then you can start getting crazy with other concoctions, like my Balsamic Cocktail Sauce that I serve with Balsamic Steamed Shrimp.

    So What

    Ingredients for Cocktail Sauce

    The list is small, but mighty.

    • Ketchup- Commercial ketchup is often sweetened. You can also make your own or buy an unsweetened version. I honestly like the sweet and spicy flavor combo, so I use good old Heinz. Some folks also want to use tomato paste, but it is often too thick and too tomato-y.
    • Prepared Horseradish- Horseradish is actually root, similar to wasabi, but is fibrous and tends to dry our very fast. To prevent, this, it is placed in a brine, usually vinegar based, to preserve it. You’ll find that different brands also have different pungencies and brine recipes, so test them out or taste test the one you are using and add more or less depending on how spicy you like it. My husband would use more horseradish than ketchup if it was up to him! If you can find fresh horseradish, more power to you, but it is challenging to work with.
    • Fresh Lemon Juice– Fresh citrus is always packs more natural flavor. Bottled is slightly muted. If you are craving that fresh lemony flavor, also opt to add a few grates of lemon zest to the mix.
    • Worcestershire Sauce– The most mispronounced ingredient in the English language is also the one that gives this sauce a bold and heady flavor.
    • Hot sauce- I use Franks for a spicy kick, but take it up a notch with Ghost Pepper Hot Sauce or omit it for a milder version.
    • Fine Sea Salt- If you follow us, you know we like to coarse salt, but for this recipe it won’t have time to dissolve and integrate, leaving you with salty crunchies. Fine sea salt works best, opposed to an iodized table salt which can leave a metallic aftertaste.
    • Black Pepper– Make sure it is a fine grind so you don’t get peppery crunchies. Freshly ground will be the best for peppery flavors. White pepper can also be used, but will be a tad milder.

    Mix all of the ingredient together in a small bowl, cover and allow to chill and marry for at least an hour. Stir again and serve!

    You can make it your own cocktail sauce with other variations. We’d love to hear some in the comments section.

    overhead of plate of shrimp with cocktail sauce

    Cocktail Sauce without Horseradish

    Yes, it can be done, but you will also be missing one of the key elements. If you still want a spicy sauce, double or even triple the hot sauce.

    If you just want a seafood sauce that offers a nice complement to shrimp, keep it the same just without horseradish.

    hand holding up a shrimp with cocktail sauce

    What To Use Cocktail Sauce On

    Since its invention,cocktail sauce has since been added as a staple to many seafood dishes beyond just shrimp cocktail- some even call it shrimp cocktail sauce. Really it can be used on any of your favorite seafood.

    Fried fish, fish sticks, oysters and clams, fried and steamed shrimp, sometimes even crab cakes steamed and fried crabs.

    I even like mine with hush puppies, but don’t tell anyone, that is sooo taboo. I’m not a huge fan of Tartar Sauce, although I’ve been told I make a good one, so anything that usually pairs with tartar gets cocktail sauce! 

    You can even use it to build Bloody Mary’s! Pair it with some vodka, tomato juice and a lemon wedge and you’ve got a slamming cocktail.

    If ketchup is the ultimate condiment, then this sauce is its close cousin. Maybe even a sibling. 

    angle of homemade cocktail sauce, lemons and steamed shrimp

    Storage & Make Ahead

    This sauce is actually better when you make it ahead of time. The trouble is that it gets a little gummy. Allow it to come to come to temperature for 15-20 minutes and give it a good stir before serving.

    It will stay fresh in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

    Can you freeze cocktail sauce? You can freeze cocktail sauce, but it I’ve very rarely heard of it being done. If you do, freeze it in small batches in sandwich bags or even an ice cube tray so you can just defrost a little bit for dipping when needed. 

    Classic Cocktail Sauce is more than just ketchup and horseradish. Come see how to make a spectacular, restaurant quality sauce in just 5 minutes! #cocktailsauce

    More classic sauce recipes:

    Creamy Horseradish Sauce
    horseradish cream sauce with chives
    Creamy Horseradish Sauce comes together in less than 5 minutes with a sour cream base, tangy horseradish, this is a winner that will rival any steak sauce!
    Remoulade for Crab Cakes
    spoon with remoulade sauce on it
    Get ready to try your new favorite sauce! This EASY Remoulade for Crab Cakes will take your seafood game to the next level.
    Mushroom Sauce for Steak
    bowl of mushroom sauce
    Homemade steak sauces don't get any better than this Mushroom Sauce! Not only does it taste great on steak, but you can add it to many other things, too!

    Classic Cocktail Sauce is more than just ketchup and horseradish. Come see how to make a spectacular, restaurant quality sauce in just 5 minutes! #cocktailsauce


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    Classic Cocktail Sauce with shrimp and lemon
    Print Recipe
    4.57 from 65 votes

    Best Cocktail Sauce

    Classic Cocktail Sauce is more than just ketchup and horseradish. Come see how to make a spectacular, restaurant quality sauce in just 5 minutes!
    Prep Time5 mins
    Total Time5 mins
    Course: Condiment
    Cuisine: American
    Keyword: cocktail sauce
    Servings: 1 cup
    Calories: 293kcal
    Author: Jessica Formicola



    • Combine the ketchup, horseradish, lemon juice, Worcestershire, hot sauce, salt and pepper.
    • Stir well. Sauce can be served immediately or chill for 1 hour for best results.
    • If you've tried this recipe, come back and let us know how it was in the comments or ratings.



    Calories: 293kcal | Carbohydrates: 69g | Protein: 3g | Sodium: 3093mg | Potassium: 928mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 55g | Vitamin A: 1230IU | Vitamin C: 24.6mg | Calcium: 57mg | Iron: 1.9mg

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