Cooking sometimes seems like an exact science but mistakes and add-ins can sometimes turn out quite tasty.

In the past few weeks I’ve made homemade hot dog sauce for two different events. At the end of August I made some for the annual church picnic.

I followed the recipe although some of the ingredients are not quite the same nowadays. The recipe calls for 3/4 bottle of ketchup. Many people may say so what’s so hard about that. Well, consider the recipe was from the 1950s and think what a bottle of ketchup looked like – specifically its size. Now try to match that to the bottles of ketchup found on grocery store shelves today.

It also calls for half of a small jar of mustard. Small jar? How does that measure up against the small, squeezable, plastic containers yellow mustard comes in today? As you can see there is some adjustment needed for these two ingredients. I still remember what the ketchup bottles and yellow mustard jars looked like in the 60s and that is what I go by when eyeing the amount of ketchup or mustard goes in. Anyone making this recipe who has not seen those containers may find that their sauce tastes a little different from what I make. Because of eyeballing the measurements, even my hotdog sauce will change a little from one time to the next.

While I made a double batch for the church picnic, I only made a single batch for a family picnic this past Sunday. I still had two large sweet onions, ketchup, mustard and chili powder at home. All I need was the ground beef and the tomato sauce. A quick stop at the grocery store after church service supplied those ingredients so I was all ready to make hotdog sauce Sunday upon returning home.

Dad had luckily put the two onions in the refrigerator, still in one of those produce section plastic bags, which meant I didn’t have as much of a problem with them as I normally would. Chilling them – I’ve read putting them in the freezer for 10-15 minutes before using them works as well – cuts down on the watery eyes. Onions actually give off syn-propanethial-S-oxide (now there’s a mouthful), which is a chemical irritant. It acts as a stimulant on the lachrymal glands in the eyes, causing them to water.

Pulling the onions from the refrigerator (where they had been for several days and so were well chilled) I peeled the outer covering off and cutting off both ends then cut the onions into quarters and put them into the food processor to be chopped up from fine to medium. I don’t like to use large or thick chunks of onions in hotdog sauce.

I had already put the ground beef and a little water in a large saucepan. The water helps to break up the beef into small pieces, which is better for hotdog sauce. A little salt and the onions are added and cooked on medium heat until the onions are translucent. Then the rest of the ingredients are added.

It is the rest of the ingredients that fouled me up.

I opened the two small cans of tomato sauce. While usually I would use low salt whenever I could, I decided to use original Hunt’s tomato sauce figuring it would the sauce that was available “back in the day.” When at the grocery store I grabbed two cans, next to the low-salt labeled ones thinking that the label on them read original.

As I finished pouring the second of the two cans into my onions and meat mixture I happened to glance at the can. My eyes went to the label on the can and expecting to see “original” I could almost not comprehend the words I saw – “basil, oregano and garlic.” I was making hotdog sauce not an Italian dish!

Dad pulled some regular sauce out of the cupboard and suggested adding it might cover over the taste of the “new” ingredients but adding more tomato sauce meant cooking the hotdog sauce longer so that it would thicken. Since that wasn’t the answer, the only solution I could see was adding some of the leftover sauce from the first event to this new batch. By the time the sauce was ready for the picnic it tasted quite good. It still tasted as it should but there was some underlying hints of something different – basil, oregano and garlic – that just added to the flavor.

Sometimes mistakes can turn out not just edible but downright yummy.


1 1/2 pounds hamburger

3 cups chopped onions (I usually chop mine fairly fine)

3 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoons chili powder

1/2 small jar mustard

3/4 bottle ketchup

2 small cans Hunt’s (tomato) Sauce

Put the hamburger in a large sauce pan and add in a small amount of water. Work the hamburger with your hands to loosen the meat. The water makes this an easy task. I start with a small amount of water and keep adding a little at a time until I can get the meat all loosen up so there are no chunks. Do not drain off water.

Add the salt and the chopped onions and cook over medium heat until the onions are done (translucent and soft).

Add the chili powder, mustard, ketchup, Hunt’s sauce and stir to combine. Cook slowly until the sauce thickens. This sauce will reduce and get thicker as it cooks. I usually put it down to medium-low on my electric stove and stir it occasionally.

Once it starts cooking down, taste it to see if it is what you want. You can add more ketchup, mustard or chili powder to suit your taste.

Note: As it cooks down the flavors will all come together. This sauce can also be frozen for use later as well.

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