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10 Best Substitutes for Rotel (Advice From a 50+ Year Cook)

This article will explore in-depth the best substitutes one can use when in need of a classic Texan Rotel tomato sauce. It will also examine some common questions about Rotel, what it is, and potential alternatives.

The best substitutes for Rotel are canned tomatoes and green chilies, tomato puree, lemon pickle, or salsa. Standard Rotel is tomatoes ripened along vines and blended with green chilies to give your recipe an extra Texan kick of flavor, so substituting it is easy.

Please read on to learn more about each replacement and how to use them.

A can of rotel

1. Canned Tomatoes and Green Chiles (Homemade Rotel)

Since Rotel only consists of two main ingredients, it’s actually quite simple to make your own homemade Rotel using canned tomatoes and green chilies! The ingredients you’ll need are the following. 

  • 12 cups (2400 g) of diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup (200 g) of onion
  • 3 hot peppers, diced
  • 1-2 teaspoons of lime juice
  • Oregano, coriander, salt, and pepper to taste
  • Water, if necessary

Once you have all of your ingredients, there are only a few steps you need to follow to make your own homemade Rotel.

  1. Add tomatoes to a pot. If you’re using canned tomatoes, put them into a large pot on the stove. If you’re using fresh tomatoes, peel, core, and quarter them before adding them to the pot. 
  2. Prepare chiles and add them to the pot. The next step is to wash your green peppers, stem them, remove the seeds, and dice them up. You can also use a blender if necessary. The seeds add spice to the Rotel, so removing them will reduce how spicy your final product is. Once your peppers are diced, add them to the boiling pot with the diced tomatoes.
  3. Add the lime juice. The lime juice will add much-needed acidity and balance out the kick of the peppers. 
  4. Add spices and final ingredients to the pot. Before you begin boiling, add your spices to the tomato and chile mix. This includes salt, pepper, coriander, and oregano if you use those spices. The salt will draw out moisture from your tomatoes, giving your homemade Rotel much-needed liquidity. Give the mixture a gentle stir to combine.
  5. Splash in some water. Add a splash of water if your mixture is chunkier than you’d like it to be. Remember that the additional liquid will dilute the spices, so you may have to add more to balance the flavors. Taste as you go, and add in more seasonings as necessary. 
  6. Bring to a boil and simmer for ten minutes. Bring your mixture to a low boil and then reduce the heat. Allow the mixture to simmer for ten minutes before bottling it.
  7. Bottle or jar your Rotel. The very last step to making your Rotel is to bottle it up and freeze it or put it into the fridge. Use a ladle scoop Rotel from the pot into a Tupperware or mason jar. Freeze or refrigerate any Rotel that you aren’t using immediately.  

2. Tomato Puree

A bowl of tomato puree

Tomato puree is another potential alternative to Rotel tomatoes. Using a tomato puree is perfectly acceptable if you don’t have Rotel tomatoes or chile to make your own. 

Tomato puree is best used in soups because of its pure, smooth texture. It would also taste great in stews, chilis, and lasagna because of its strong tomato flavor. However, tomato puree has none of the same spices that Rotel has, so you’ll likely need to add some spices or diced hot peppers to the puree to give it that spicy kick.

Related 18 Versatile Substitutes for Tomatoes in a Recipe.

3. Salsa


You can use salsa as a Rotel substitute if needed. Salsa is made using crushed or chopped tomatoes, onions, green chiles, and sometimes avocado, along with other spices. While salsa and Rotel don’t taste exactly the same, they both have the same base ingredients of tomato and green chile, making this an adequate alternative if you don’t have Rotel available.

4. Lemon Pickle

You heard it right– lemon pickle is an excellent substitute for Rotel if you’re all out of that delicious tomato-chile sauce. Lemon pickle refers to preserved lemons in water combined with lemon juice and spices. Lemon pickle with harissa spices offers a similar taste to that of the tomatoes and green chiles in Rotel, making it a great alternative.

5. Enchilada Sauce

Enchilada sauce is a tasty mixture that can be used in place of Rotel if needed, but it may not provide the same taste you want with the tomato and chile mixture. The most similar ingredients between the two are tomato (paste in enchilada sauce) and spices like oregano. 

The additional ingredients in enchilada sauce include oil, vegetable broth, cumin, cinnamon, chili pepper, flour, garlic, and apple cider vinegar. As you can see, enchilada sauce has many more ingredients than Rotel.

6. Canned Green Peppers

You can use canned green chiles and some tomatoes in your kitchen to substitute for Rotel. There are multiple kinds of green peppers, and they all have varying spice levels. 

Habanero peppers are the standard chiles used in Rotel and add a significant– but not overwhelming– spice to the sauce. If you don’t like to sweat, try Serrano or Anaheim peppers, which are significantly less hot than the Habanero pepper. 

7. Fresh Green Peppers 

Similarly, you can also use fresh green peppers to make or add to Rotel. You can use bell peppers, Anaheim peppers, jalapeños, Serrano peppers, or habaneros to make Rotel; these peppers all have varying levels of heat, with bell peppers being the mildest and habaneros the spiciest. 

Regardless of whatever green pepper you use, ensure that you pull the stem off cleanly, wash the peppers, and dice them up to use them in Rotel. 

8. Fresh Tomatoes

A hole tomato and a sliced tomato side by side

Needless to say, canned tomatoes aren’t the only kinds of tomatoes that you can use for this saucy concoction. Just like canned and fresh peppers, Rotel can use both canned and fresh tomatoes– Roma, cherry, or plum are common varieties. 

Like green peppers, though, real tomatoes won’t make Rotel alone. You’ll need to add some additional flavors– consider the ingredients mentioned above– to get the taste you’re looking for.

Related The 10 Best Substitutes for Crushed Tomatoes in a Recipe.

9. Tomato or Pizza Sauce

Tomato or pizza sauces are both acceptable to use to make Rotel. You can think of using these sauces in the same way that I suggested you use tomato paste above. The only major difference is that tomato sauce and pizza sauce are significantly thinner than tomato paste (with pizza sauce being slightly thicker than tomato sauce). 

10. Marinara Sauce

Homemade Marinara or Pizza Sauce

Finally, you can use Marinara sauce to make Rotel; it has a very similar consistency and taste to the original, with slightly less spice. For this purpose, you’ll have to add some peppers and herbs to give it an even closer taste. Marinara uses tomatoes, onions, garlic cloves, oregano, chili flakes, and oil to make a classic pasta sauce. 

This sauce has a smoother texture than Rotel, but it’s not relatively as smooth as pizza sauce. Therefore the consistency matches that of Rotel fairly well.

What Is Rotel Made Of?

Rotel is made of vine-ripened tomatoes and green chilies. They are mixed and canned and provide an earthy, spicy flavor that can be used in many different recipes. The mixture might also include some salt and lime juice.

The main ingredients in Rotel, aside from tomatoes and green chiles, include the following. 

  • Water
  • Salt
  • Calcium chloride
  • Natural flavor
  • Citric acid
  • Cilantro

These ingredients are chopped, combined, and boiled to make traditional Texan Rotel. 

How To Make Rotel Substitute

To make a Rotel substitute, you must combine diced tomatoes, a chopped onion, and chopped green chiles into a container. After you’ve mixed them all up, you can season them with salt and pepper and stick the container in the fridge. Yum!

If you want your Rotel to taste as similar to the canned Rotel as possible, you can also roughly chop up some coriander/cilantro to mix in. Some may also choose to add a drop or two of lemon juice to mimic the acidity of the citric acid.

Related The 7 Most Suitable Substitutes for Mexican Stewed Tomatoes.

Can I Substitute Salsa for Rotel?

Yes, you can substitute salsa for Rotel. Since salsa and Rotel are made of the same base ingredients (tomatoes and green chiles), salsa is a great alternative to Rotel. However, Salsa has a few more ingredients than Rotel, so that is something to keep in mind when using salsa instead of Rotel.

Can You Substitute Diced Tomatoes for Rotel?

You can undoubtedly use diced tomatoes when making your own homemade Rotel. However, if you’re only using diced tomatoes without green chile peppers, you’re not making Rotel– you’re just adding diced tomatoes to your recipe. 

So, if you want to make the best Rotel, make sure to add hot peppers to the mix. Dice up your peppers before adding them in, and taste test. You may need to add more acidity using lemon juice or vinegar to balance out the sweetness of your tomatoes and the spiciness of your peppers. 

What Goes Well With Rotel? 

There are lots of things that are excellent with Rotel. It can be used as an ingredient in main dish recipes or as a dip for various sides. Some delicious side dishes with Rotel are pretzel twists, nacho chips, garlic bread, french fries, and even roasted sausages. 

Rotel is also a general ingredient in bigger recipes, so it has a vast library of meals to improve! For example, 1 cup (250 g) of Rotel can make Mexican Lasagna, and Jambalaya uses 1.5 cups (375 g)! 

What Does Rotel Taste Like? 

Rotel tastes primarily like tomatoes with a spicy kick to it. The spice comes from the green chile peppers. You may also notice hints of citrus and cilantro. Tomatoes, peppers, cilantro, citric acid, and spices combine to create this mouth-watering taste!

Once you try it, you’ll be hooked on this delicious and versatile ingredient. You’ll always want to have it on hand in your kitchen pantry.

What Can Rotel Be Used For?

Rotel originates from Elsa, Texas, and is a staple in many southern kitchens, while queso is a delicious dip that includes melted cheese and Rotel.

Rotel can be used to make a variety of different meals. It pairs well with meals that originate from Central and South America– consider fajitas, Spanish rice, or tacos. It offers a smooth, spicy, and slightly sweet flavor to any meal you add it to!

Rotel can be used for lots more than those dishes, though. Chili, casseroles, soup, dips, and lasagna are a few other examples of what Rotel can be used for. It makes various dips like Queso dip, Pimiento dip, and delicious salsa.