I’ll slather my burgers in mustard in a heartbeat, and if I’m eating a chicken finger basket, I’ll happily dip everything in sight in gravy. But when someone asks if I’d like ketchup with my meal, the answer is always no. I don’t touch the stuff. With one exception: Whataburger Spicy Ketchup.
Long the stuff of Texas folklore, and available only during limited time promotions, Texas’s favorite fast food burger chain finally made spicy ketchup a permanent menu item in 2013, and even better, started selling it by the bottle at local grocery stores. If it’s not available at your nearest H-E-B or Walmart though, you can also order a bottle from Amazon.
Where I find regular ketchup to have a cloying sweetness that overpowers the satisfying saltiness of a good french fry, Whataburger spicy ketchup compliments it with a jalapeño-induced kick. It’s not hot sauce by any means; it’s still identifiably a member of the ketchup family, though it’s certainly the black sheep, punk rock son of the family who nonetheless has a good heart under all those tattoos.
To draw a comparison to a fast food item you might be more familiar with, I find it to be a lot like a Chick-Fil-A spicy chicken sandwich; spicy enough to be a more interesting culinary experience than the original sandwich, but not so spicy that you can’t tell what it’s remixing. The heat lingers on your tongue from bite to bite, but never in an unpleasant, “I need a glass of milk” sort of way, even as you shovel fry after fry down your throat.
Reading the ingredient list, the only addition Whataburger Spicy Ketchup makes to Whataburger’s standard “Fancy Ketchup” is “Red Jalapeño Pepper Puree.” But as hot peppers go, jalapeños are fairly mild, so you can still taste the tomato, and a subtle sweetness still comes through after the initial spicy kick subsides. Most importantly, it never overpowers what you put it on. French fries still taste like french fries. Chicken tenders still taste like chicken tenders. They just engage new parts of your palate.
Whataburger’s spicy ketchup is far from the only spicy ketchup you can buy, and I’ll be the first to admit that some Texas nostalgia colors my adoration here. Notably, Heinz offers both a jalapeño and a tabasco-infused ketchup, and Chicago-based 78 makes their own version with no high fructose corn syrup. And obviously, stirring your favorite hot sauce into the ketchup of your choice is always a winning move.
But none of these condiments have spawned their own merchandise, or inspired a Senate campaign logo, or been given away by the case in a McDonalds Szechuan sauce-style contest. Part of that is surely Texas’s well-noted penchant for glorifying anything that the state can claim as its own, but you can’t manufacture all of this love. No, Whataburger Spicy Ketchup is a true fast food achievement, and it’s worth importing to your kitchen, if only to try it once.