Ranchero Sauce: The Mexican red sauce on huevos rancheros

ranchero sauce
Ranchero sauce is a cooked condiment made from fresh tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, garlic, and a blend of dried chili peppers and spices. It's typically served on popular dishes like huevos ranchero, enchiladas, nachos, and other Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes.

What Is Ranchero Sauce?

As a highly versatile tomato-based sauce, ranchero sauce is heavy on tomatoes and is seasoned with various aromatic herbs and spices alongside select peppers for heat. 

While the sauce has ‘universal’ ingredients that make it authentic, you can adjust the taste and heat level by swapping certain peppers and spices.

For example, you can replace jalapenos with hotter serrano peppers. Or you could use bell peppers or poblano peppers if you want a sweeter, milder sauce.

huevo ranchero sauce

What To Serve With Ranchero Sauce

Ranchero sauce goes well with a wide variety of dishes, such as:

  • Burritos
  • Chicken fajitas
  • Chile Rellenos
  • Eggs
  • Enchiladas
  • Grilled chicken or burgers
  • Huevo rancheros (the sauce is highly associated with this popular Mexican dish)
  • Nachos
  • Tacos
  • Tostadas

Ranchero sauce is also a salsa and dipping sauce when served with tortilla chips or quesadillas.

Is Ranchero Sauce The Same As Salsa?

Ranchero sauce and salsa are easily confused and can technically be used interchangeably in meal combinations. But they have striking differences. 

Although salsa is served raw or cooked, the raw version is more typical. Ranchero sauce is a cooked condiment that’s usually served warm.

Salsa is typically chunkier than ranchero sauce. The latter has a smoother texture, though you can skip the blending part and leave it chunky to act as salsa. This versatility gives ranchero sauce an edge over salsa, in many people’s opinion.

Chile Rellenos ranchero sauce

What Is The Difference Between Ranchero Sauce And Enchilada Sauce?

Enchilada sauce and ranchero sauce are often used interchangeably in dish combinations, though they are entirely different. 

Ranchero sauce is tomato-based and uses fresh onion, garlic, cilantro, and sometimes chipotle peppers. While enchilada sauce uses canned tomato sauce, that’s where the similarities end. The star in enchilada sauce is dried chilis, either chili powders or reconstituted and pureed dried chilis, like ancho chile, guajillo, or chile de arbol.

Ranchero sauce is thicker because it has lots of tomatoes and fresh vegetables. Enchilada sauce has a thinner, pourable consistency.

Are Fresh Tomatoes Or Canned Tomatoes Better For Ranchero Sauce?

Your homemade ranchero sauce will taste better if you use fresh tomatoes rather than canned ones. 

The exception is if fresh tomatoes are out of season. Choose a high-quality, whole, canned tomato in the winter months to mimic fresh tomatoes as closely as possible.

Some recipes call for a light charring of the tomatoes or canned fire-roasted tomatoes to give your ranchero sauce a sweet, subtle smoky flavor that balances well with the hot peppers’ earthy flavor.

Fresh tomatoes will give your ranchero sauce a lighter flavor, especially if you use Italian Roma tomatoes or ones that have been left to ripen fully on the vine. These will balance the acidity and sweetness and boost the sauce’s moisture content as you cook it.

How To Make Ranchero Sauce

As mentioned, ranchero sauce is highly customizable for peppers, chili powders, herbs, and spices.

Most ranchero sauce ingredients are available in supermarkets, grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and online outlets.

Alternatively, you may have grown some ingredients in your home garden!

The key ingredients for a delicious sauce include:

  • Diced tomatoes (fresh or canned, depending on availability and preference)
  • Fresh garlic cloves
  • Chopped onions (yellow or white onion)
  • Hot peppers and chili powders (jalapenos, serranos, guajillo, anchos, cayenne, chipotle powder, chipotle peppers in adobo sauce)
  • Olive oil
  • Chicken broth (for thinning the sauce without diluting the flavor)
  • Spices and herbs (cumin, freshly squeezed lime juice, Mexican oregano, paprika, fresh cilantro, parsley)

The amount of each ingredient will depend on your preference. There are countless recipes online. Start with a basic one and customize it to your taste!

The basic instructions for making ranchero sauce are:

  • Sauté the diced onions and peppers in olive oil in a pan pre-heated on medium-high heat. Sauté for about five minutes.
  • Add the chopped fresh garlic and stir lightly. Cook for about one minute.
  • Add the chicken broth, tomatoes, and fresh cilantro. Stir the items thoroughly.
  • Add the spices and herbs.
  • Let the mixture boil before reducing the heat and simmering it for 20-25 minutes to thicken and develop the flavors.
  • Remove the cooked sauce from the heat and add the freshly squeezed lime juice.
  • Use a food processor, stick blender, or immersion blender to blend the hot sauce to a pourable consistency. Blending also helps incorporate the flavors more evenly. (You can leave the sauce unblended if you want it chunky like salsa).
  • Use the sauce as is or store leftover sauce in a covered mason jar in the fridge for later use.

Recommended Recipes For Ranchero Sauce

Different ranchero sauce recipes will feature a mix of peppers and seasonings in different amounts.

The choice of the type and amounts of seasonings, vegetables, and peppers will depend on preference, availability of ingredients, and the number of sauce servings desired.

Here are two easy ranchero sauce recipes that require less than 1.5 hours from prepping to ready for consumption.


Peppers have become the meeting point for three of Alex's greatest passions—gardening, cooking and writing. He is happiest watching small plants grow big and heavy with produce, and he can't wait to harvest self-grown fresh produce for his kitchen. When he is not taking care of his pepper plants, you'll find him busy cooking and sampling different peppers as he seeks the next hotter pepper.

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