What Is Cocktail Sauce? And How Is It Different from Ketchup?

I love those old-school shrimp cocktail appetizers at steakhouses. Those things are classics for a reason, baby! And the key to a great shrimp cocktail? Great cocktail sauce. But what exactly is cocktail sauce? And what makes it different from ketchup? Let’s get cracking. 

What is cocktail sauce? 

Cocktail sauce is a classic seafood condiment. It’s often paired with shrimp to make shrimp cocktail, but can be a dip or dressing for nearly any kind of seafood. Before it was synonymous with shrimp cocktail, it was (and still is) a favorite pairing for raw oysters. Cocktail sauce is perfect with cold seafood, but also a great dipper for hot fried things. Even non seafood items like fried mushrooms taste great with the stuff. 

But what is in cocktail sauce? 

Cocktail sauce is usually made of a combination of ketchup, horseradish, worcestershire sauce, and lemon juice. You can get fancy and add some black pepper, salt, Tabasco, and even chili sauce to the mix, or you can go super basic and just throw a bunch of horseradish into some ketchup. 

How do you make cocktail sauce? 

Throw down half a cup of ketchup, then two tablespoons of horseradish. Then add worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, and anything else to taste. Cocktail sauce doesn’t care. It’s the utilitarian sauce that’s just there to get some delicious funk into your seafood meal.

best cocktail sauce

Best Cocktail Sauce

Looking for the best cocktail sauce? We tasted a bunch of the top brands on the market to find the best cocktail sauce for your next seafood feast.

Is cocktail sauce gluten free? 

There are some bottled cocktail sauces available to buy in stores. If made the traditional way, they should be gluten free, but always check the label and know your own sensitivity. Some cocktail sauces may add malt vinegar which is not gluten friendly. If you’re making cocktail sauce at home, just check those ingredient labels and you should be good to go for a gluten free dipping experience. Make sure your ketchup is gluten free and double check how that horseradish is prepared. Lee & Perrins, the most popular brand of worcestershire sauce, is gluten free. 

Does cocktail sauce go bad?

Eventually cocktail sauce does go bad. If you get one of those premade cocktail sauces, they should stay good for about six months in your fridge after they’re opened. The homemade stuff should last one to two weeks in the fridge. I usually make a bathtub full then bathe in it while I eat 1,200 shrimp and a dozen oysters. I do not save the leftover sauce after I leave the tub.

About the Author

Will Morgan

Will Morgan, a freelance contributor to Sporked, is an L.A. based writer, actor, and sketch comedy guy. Originally from Houston, TX, he strongly believes in the superiority of breakfast tacos to breakfast burritos. Will traveled the world as one of those people that did yoyo shows at elementary school assemblies, always making a point to find local and regional foods to explore in whatever place he was, even in rinky-dink towns like Tilsonberg, ON. Will spends his birthdays at Benihana’s. Let him know if can make it.

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