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This taco sauce recipe comes together quickly and has amazing flavor! It’s like your favorite jarred version…but better.

Taco sauce
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Looking for a killer sauce that takes no time at all? Try this easy Taco Sauce recipe! Why make it homemade when you can easily buy it from the store? Two things: it tastes amazing (yep!) and you know exactly what’s in it. No preservatives or weird ingredients, here! Here we’ll show you how to make a killer taco sauce that takes just 5 minutes to simmer on the stove. It’s our favorite for throwing together quick dinners, like our black bean tacos or refried bean tacos.

What you need for homemade taco sauce

Taco sauce, aka “salsa taquera” in Spanish, is a blended red sauce made of tomatoes and peppers used on tacos. Versions of it are served at Mexican taquerias, and the Americanized version stars at Taco Bell and in Tex Mex food: so it’s a Mexican-inspired food that spans cuisines. It’s tangy, a little spicy, and utterly delicious.

Homemade taco sauce is simple to whip up with mostly pantry ingredients. The only thing you might not have on hand is canned tomato sauce, depending on what you keep on hand. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Canned tomato sauce: this is a puree of unseasoned tomatoes: not marinara sauce, spaghetti sauce, or tomato paste! Look for the words “tomato sauce” labeled on the can.
  • White vinegar
  • Hot sauce, like Cholula
  • Sugar
  • Spices: garlic powder, onion powder and cumin
  • Salt
  • Cornstarch, for thickening
Taco sauce recipe

Tips for making taco sauce…in 5 minutes!

There’s really nothing to making taco sauce: simply add the ingredients and heat for just 5 minutes. Here are a few notes on the process:

  • Make sure to use low heat. It’s important not to overheat the sauce: otherwise it will become gummy and too thick.
  • Remove from heat and stir in more vinegar. After you’ve simmered your sauce, you’ll stir in a little more vinegar at the end. Why? This maximizes the tangy, bright flavor.
  • Refrigerate: it thickens as it cools. The sauce will thicken up after you refrigerate it to the texture of what you’d expect from the store-bought version.

Customize the heat to taste

This taco sauce recipe uses Mexican hot sauce to bring in some heat and chili pepper flavor. Our favorite hot sauce is Cholula, the popular brand of Mexican hot sauce. You can customize the recipe to your needs: the recipe below provides a range from mild to medium. Of course, you can leave it out if you like!

Does this taco sauce hold up to store bought?

We taste tested this homemade taco sauce against a bottle of Ortega brand, and it had a very similar flavor! In fact, we liked it a little better. The ingredients we used here helped it to come together into an intensely tangy, lightly spicy red sauce.

In some of our tests with tomato paste, it came out too gummy or intensely tomato-y. Tomato sauce is the way to to! Remember that cans of tomato sauce are labeled with those words: it’s not the same as marinara or spaghetti sauce.

Taco sauce

Smoky variation: add adobo sauce

Want to vary this taco sauce? You can make a deliciously smoky version using adobo sauce! Canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce are easy to find at most grocery stores near the Mexican products. The can includes chipotle chiles: smoked and dried jalapeños that are rehydrated and canned, and adobo sauce, a purée of tomato, vinegar, garlic, and other spices.

All you do is use a spoon to remove adobo sauce from the can: you don’t even have to use the chili peppers! You can substitute this for the hot sauce, and it adds a smoky, savory flair that’s undeniably delicious. Freeze the can and use it for more adobo sauce recipes, like tortilla soup, chipotle ranch dressing or chipotle sauce.

Taco sauce storage info

How long does homemade taco sauce last? You can store for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator. It can likely last longer: just try it at your own risk! The flavor stays beautifully tangy and spicy over the storage time.

Refried bean tacos

Best tacos for serving

Of course, this sauce pairs with any tacos. But here are a few taco recipes where it’s the absolute perfect match:

This taco sauce recipe is…

Vegetarian, vegan, plant-based, dairy-free and gluten-free.

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Taco sauce

Easy Taco Sauce (Best Flavor!)

5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star

4.3 from 6 reviews

  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 2 minutes
  • Cook Time: 16 minutes
  • Total Time: 18 minutes
  • Yield: ¾ cups 1x


This taco sauce recipe comes together quickly and has amazing flavor! It’s like your favorite jarred version…but better.


  • ½ cup tomato sauce (small batch; or double for 1 ½ cups sauce!)*
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 1 (mild) to 2 (medium) teaspoons hot sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch


  1. In a medium saucepan, whisk together tomato sauce, water, 2 tablespoons white vinegar, hot sauce, sugar, salt, garlic powder, onion powder and cumin. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low or medium low. Simmer where the sauce is steadily bubbling for 15 minutes. 
  2. After 15 minutes, stir the cornstarch into 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl until dissolved. Add the cornstarch slurry to the taco sauce and cook for an additional 1 minute, stirring constantly, until the sauce becomes thick and glossy. Remove from the heat and stir in the additional 1 teaspoon vinegar. Store refrigerated; it will thicken even more as it cools.


*Tomato sauce is not marinara sauce, spaghetti sauce, or tomato paste; look for the label “tomato sauce” on the can. 

  • Category: Sauce
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Mexican inpsired
  • Diet: Vegan

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Hi, we’re Alex and Sonja Overhiser, married cookbook authors, food bloggers, and recipe developers. We founded A Couple Cooks to share fresh, seasonal recipes and the joy of cooking! Our recipes are made by two real people and work every time.

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  1. Serenity J says:

    OMG! I used brown sugar put a bay leave in while it simmered….BOOM! Learning to use the resources I have on hand and trying to eat cleaner…No more Old El you know the rest… Excellent drizzle on blackened flounder taco’s

  2. Ann Kent says:

    Delicious! I omitted the sugar, used adobo sauce instead of Cholula, per someone’s comments, and a fancy white vinegar instead of regular, as that’s what I had. Adding some of the vinegar at the end did add wonderful brightness. I doubled it. We liked it so much that we’re having tacos a second time this week and freezing the rest. Yum.

  3. Natalie Tremaine, President says:

    Loved making your Taco Sauce. It is a winner

  4. Rachel H says:

    The sauce was excellent! I don’t cook often, and it was still very quick and easy. It was a perfect medium spicy for me too, using cholula.
    I don’t much care for cumin, so when I made it a second time, I used Harissa instead. Gave me a super spicy delicious sauce! Try at your own risk, it was definitely waaay past medium, but so good.

  5. Gail says:

    Your sauce is so good. I had to use tomato paste, tomato sauce is very difficult to find here. But I just added more water. I also added fresh ground coriander. I just do that with any Mexican food recipe. It’s so good and freezes really well.

  6. Jessica Jenn says:

    I am super interested in trying this but I cannot have corn, so I was wondering if you think it would work using tapioca starch or arrowroot powder in place of the cornstarch?

    1. Alex Overhiser says:

      That should work! You may need just a tad more arrowroot to get your desired consistency.

    2. Denise Lyons says:

      Hi Jessica,
      I never use cornstarch. I substitute Bob’s Red Mill Potato Starch 1:1 in all my recipes and it always comes out perfect.

  7. Dee Ottolini says:

    If your husband LOVES it and it turned out great when you FOLLOWED the recipe, why would you give it one star when YOU CHANGED the recipe and didnt like it??

    Ive made this sauce and its perfect; very tasty quick and easy! FIVE STARS !

    1. Alex Overhiser says:

      So glad you enjoyed it!

  8. Joyce Siegel says:

    My husband loves taco sauce and uses it frequently. Unfortunately he uses a lot more than a “serving size” portion and the store bought brands are full of salt, sugar and other unwanted chemicals. I was so happy when I made this recipe and he loved it! It turned out great the first time I made it. The second and third times I came out runny in spite of adding extra corn starch. The one thing I did different wasI substituted a teaspoon of applesauce for the sugar as I try not to use refined sugar. Would that make a difference? Any suggestions?
    Thank you for your great recipes. I use several of them for my go tos.

    1. Sonja Overhiser says:

      Yes it sounds like the applesauce may be the culprit! You can omit the sugar next time: it should still taste good (possibly even tangier and spicier, which hopefully is ok!).