I am about to share with you what is literally the best sauce to pour over cream cheese.

This retro appetizer we grew up knowing as red sauce (full name: cream cheese and red sauce) is an easy-to-make sweet and sour sauce that is sheer perfection when poured over a block of cream cheese and then spread onto your favorite crackers.

Fans of retro appetizers, you might also want to set up your appetizer table with a port wine cheese ball or another of our favorites growing up, poppy seed ham and cheese sliders.
For browsing for holiday entertaining, check out this round up for New Year’s Eve parties.

Here are all of my appetizer recipes in one place.

A squre of cream cheese on a plate with red sauce poured over the top of it.

Watch my best cream cheese appetizer recipe web story here.

The Best Sauce for Cream Cheese, At a Glance

✔️Skill Level: Beginner
✔️Skills: Chopping onions, simmering
✔️Type: Appetizer Sauce
✔️Number of Ingredients: 10
✔️Prep Time: 10 minutes
✔️Cook Time: 10 minutes
✔️Yield: about 1 1/2 cups (12 oz) of sauce

Jump Straight to the Recipe

Why You Need to Make This Recipe

Honestly, friends, this truly is the most delicious cream cheese appetizer out there.

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Make this recipe because it’s easy to make, it relies almost entirely on pantry and refrigerator staple ingredients, and it is the tangiest and most mouthwatering sauce to pour over a block of cream cheese, period.

This is a recipe that some mom in our neighborhood must’ve gotten from a magazine in the 1970s, and for decades, it isn’t a party in that neighborhood unless there’s red sauce! (But mom’s cheese olive puffs come in a close second.)

It is ketchup-based.

It’s sweet and sour and one of the tangiest sauces ever.

It’s unapologetically neon red, just a tiny bit spicy and so very moreish that there is rarely any left once I get started.

In fact, once you make this, I dare you to only eat one cracker spread with it and say “I’m done.” I dare you.

If you do make it, I have a favor to ask:

When you do make this recipe, it will help me and other readers if you:
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A jar of red sauce with a lemon to one side, the silver pan it was cooked in in the background along with a pepper mill, ketchup, honey, and A1 sauce.

How to Make This Appetizer Sauce

Ingredients and Substitutions

As I said, it’s made up of staples. And while they sound pretty unlikely, trust me.

This sauce is delicious.

Here’s what you’ll need:

A collage of ingredients for making red sauce for cream cheese: vinegar, ketchup, honey, mustard, salt, pepper, onion, garlic, A1 sauce, and lemon juice.
  • Ketchup: I grew up with Heinz, and it’s still my favorite, so that’s what I recommend. But any tomato ketchup will work here
  • Honey: A mild honey works best. The ketchup and honey are the two main ingredients, and that combo brings the sweet and tangy. The rest of the ingredients bring the magic!
  • A1 Steak Sauce: There is something about A1 that gets me right in the salivary glands. It’s a little sweet, spicy, and tangy all by itself. I keep a bottle on hand specifically to make red sauce. If you don’t like A1 Sauce, the closest substitution I can think of is tamarind sauce
  • chopped onion: Sweet or yellow onion will work. You need about 1/2 cup. I generally don’t measure, so it kind of depends on how much you like onion. And it does add little “chunks” to the sauce, so if you like smooth sauces, consider pureeing it after you make it
  • minced garlic: Any garlic will do, even pre-minced. I often use freeze-dried or granulated garlic, and more than the recipe strictly calls for
  • salt: A generous, heavy pinch. Or measure out 3/8 teaspoon kosher salt. Use a bit less if you’re using fine table salt
  • black pepper: Freshly ground is my preference. The recipe calls for 1/4 teaspoon, but if you love that black peppery bite, use more.
  • vinegar: I like apple cider vinegar here, but any vinegar will do. Stay away from balsamic–it’s too sweet, I think. Go with red wine vinegar or white vinegar if you don’t have ACV
  • yellow mustard: It’s weird, but plain yellow mustard is best in this recipe. Standard hot dog mustard. I’ve made it with Dijon before, but even though there’s only 1 1/2 teaspoons of mustard in the recipe, I could tell the difference and prefer plain yellow mustard
  • lemon juice: I always use freshly squeezed lemon juice, but you could use bottled in a pinch and nothing bad would happen.


I know it sounds like a crazy list of ingredients.

All it takes is simmering all these ingredients together for 10 minutes to make the best sweet and sour, hard to stop eating, most delicious sauce ever to be poured over a (very lucky) block of cream cheese.

The only real work here is chopping up the onion. Otherwise, much like chili cheese dip, this is an easy dump and stir recipe.

Put everything in a pan, bring it to a boil, and then reduce heat, simmer for 10 minutes stirring occasionally, then remove from the heat.

The end.

I wish I could explain to you how much I love this stuff. I know it sounds kind of odd what with the ketchup and A-1 and mustard and all, but man is it good!

How To Serve Cream Cheese and Red Sauce

An extreme closeup of a round cracker topped with cream cheese and tangy red sauce on a wooden surface.

For a party, you’re supposed to pour red sauce on a block of cream cheese so it cascades down the sides.

The best crackers to eat with it are ones that have a fairly neutral flavor like Ritz or Captain’s wafers or any sort of butter cracker.

Try my homemade Ritz crackers. You will be super happy!

Is There a Less Messy Way of Serving Red Sauce?

If you’re leery of serving a “communal appetizer” in the times of Covid, or just in general, do what reader John did:

With company this might get a bit messy. I bought pastry shells in the store, baked according to pkg, put softened cream cheese in cup and dolloped each with red sauce. Works well at busy party and they go quickly.

Reader John

This is such a great idea that I had to share it with y’all.

Q & A

How long will this sauce keep in the fridge?

Even though it’s based on almost all shelf-stable ingredients, once cooked, I wouldn’t keep it for longer than about a week in the fridge. It won’t last that long, I promise.

Can I double (or half) the recipe?

Absolutely. No need to do fancy math, just multiply or divide by 2, and you’re good to go.

Can I make it spicier?

Sure. Mince up some pickled jalapenos and/or add some pepper flake to the mix. I also had a reader add about a tablespoon of hot sauce, so feel free to do that as well. Use as much or as little as you like to get the amount of heat that works for you.

More Tasty Stuff to Spread on or Pour Over Cream Cheese

Cream cheese makes the perfect canvas for almost anything you’d like to put on top of it.

It works with sweet ingredients like fresh fruit or mixed berry jam or cranberry orange jam.

It works well with savory ingredients like slices of cured meats, bacon jam, tomato jam, and plum chutney.

I can even eat cream cheese just plain on crackers, but with so many options, including the ridiculously addictive red sauce, why would I?!


If you have questions about this post or recipe, don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can leave a comment on the post and I will get back to you within about 24 hours.

If your question is more urgent, please shoot me an email, and I will respond within 4 hours, unless I’m asleep.

A closeup of a rectangular cracker topped with cream cheese and red sauce.
5 golden stars for rating recipes
A squre of cream cheese on a plate with red sauce poured over the top of it.

Red Sauce: The Best Sauce to Pour Over Cream Cheese

Jennifer Field
This sweet, tangy red sauce is seriously the best sauce ever to happen to cream cheese.
Make it, pour it over a block of cream cheese, and devour. Enjoy!
This recipe easily doubles, so make a ton if you want!
4.49 from 29 votes
Tried this recipe?Please give it a star rating!
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Course Appetizers
Cuisine American
Servings 2 cups
Calories 49 kcal


  • ¾ cup ketchup
  • ½ cup honey
  • 1 Tablespoon A-1 Steak Sauce
  • ½ medium sweet onion chopped
  • 1 clove garlic minced. Sub 1/2-1 teaspoon of granulated garlic if you don't have fresh garlic
  • teaspoon kosher salt or 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons prepared yellow mustard
  • 2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice


  • Put all the ingredients in a saucepan. Stir over medium heat until it comes to a boil.
  • Reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes, then cool.
  • Serve chilled over cream cheese with crackers.

Did You Make Any Changes?


You can play with this recipe if you want, changing up proportions or trying it with Dijon mustard, but I implore you to try it exactly as written. I am telling you; it is perfect.
You can easily double this recipe, and you will not regret it.
Nutritional Information is based on a serving size of approximately 2 tablespoons. Expect to eat much more than that. The nutritionals only reflect the calories in the red sauce and not in the crackers or cream cheese.


Serving: 2TablespoonsCalories: 49kcalCarbohydrates: 13gSodium: 177mgSugar: 12g
Keyword appetizer, red sauce, sauce to pour over cream cheese
Did you make this recipe?Please tell us what you loved!

Thanks for reading, friends, and I hope cream cheese and red sauce finds its way onto your holiday appetizer list this year.

Take care, and have a lovely day.

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  1. Hi there! This is going to sound crazy but as I read this recipe it reminded me of something my Mom made when I was growing up. Before she passed I asked her for the recipe but she told me she didn’t really have one, she just threw the stuff together. My brother’s & I have tried to come up with the exact measurements but haven’t gotten it down yet. I’m going to try this to see if it is it! I do know though, she put a smidgen of brown sugar in hers.
    Here’s the crazy part–she would slice hot dogs in half and fry them and bologna then pour the sauce over them & cook together for just a bit, served it with either mashed potatoes or rice and we put the sauce over that too. See…..told you it sounded crazy! She always laughed because she told us it was the meal she made when we were broke because it was cheap but when we were older and would go home to visit we’d always ask for that meal But my brothers and I absolutely loved it! Thanks for the memories here

    1. Hi, Allison! Wow, I have *never* heard of the hotdog/bologna/mashed potato thing. It’s so interested what moms come up with when they’re trying to stretch a dollar! Thank you for sharing your memory of that dish. I guess I can sorta see it, like dogs cooked in a sweet bbq sauce. Come to think of it, this could be great for simmering meatballs in for a party appetizer!

    1. You could, yes. If you have tamarind sauce that might be a better substitute, but Worcestershire should work. Hold off adding salt until after you add it though since Worcestershire is pretty salty. Enjoy!

    1. I have not, but a little kick never hurt anyone! I’m not sure exactly what you think of when you say “chili sauce.” If you mean something like Sriracha, I’d consider adding some in addition to the rest of the ingredients. The sweetness-tang if the recipe is pretty balanced to my palate, and replacing the ketchup 1:1 would likely throw off that balance and make it very spicy. If you’re talking Heinz chili sauce, yes, go for it, subbing for most or all of the ketchup, depending on how much kick you want. Enjoy!

  2. Hello, I’ve just seen this recipe on Pinterest and would like to make it. Could I do a hot water bath to preserve and make more or pressure can it. Hope you can get this message soon. Would like to make for gifts. THANKYOU Sylvia

    1. Hi, Sylvia! This would definitely make a great gift. However, I am not a canner, so I cannot say for certain you can safely can this. I know safety has a lot to do with both pH and sugar content, and as written, I do not know that this recipe meets those safety requirements. I would make it shortly before gifting and tell people to use it within a couple of weeks. Hope this helps. Happy Holidays!

  3. My mom makes Jalapeno Jelly and that is so good on cream cheese on crackers! I will have to try this sauce some time. It sounds like a good addition to cream cheese and crackers.

    1. Ooh, yes, I love any kind of pepper jelly on cream cheese! I bet jalapeño jelly is fantastic! I do hope you give this crazy recipe a try, Elaine. It sounds weird, but it is really, really good!

    1. It is my favorite. With all the Pantry staples in it, it has a pretty long shelf life, but to be really safe, I’d eat it within a week or so. Good question. I will add it to the post, because others probably want to know as well. I hope you enjoy it!

  4. I make this every party I have, exact same recipe! It was my Mom’s recipe and now my kids are hooked on it too! We always used triscuits

    1. Oh my goodness Nora, you are the first person I’ve found who didn’t grow up in my neighborhood who even knows what this is! Do you have any idea where the recipe came from? The best, right?! We shall have to agree to disagree on the right cracker for it though! lol

  5. Just reading this post filled me with nostalgia for a dish I’ve never even tasted — but suspect I would adore. It sounds so divinely retro, like it needs to have a big fat cheese ball perched right alongside it on the table. With saltines!

    Pausing to take a breath during the holiday cook-a-thon, and had to drop in to wish you and all your Beloveds the very merriest of holidays, Jenni. Cheers!


  6. Holy Moly the red sauce!! I remember it and the Christmas party so well – – it was all that and more! I may have to make some this year for old time’s sake (and because it’s so darn good)!

    1. Right, Nadine?! That stuff is dangerously good. But nostalgic calories don’t count. I may have just made that up, but I think it’s probably true! lol I will see you on Wednesday! Can’t wait!

      1. Considering that the number 1 ingredient *is* ketchup, I’m not really sure what you were expecting? I find that the addition of the honey and lemon juice moderate the “ketchupiness,” and I love it, but everyone has different tastes. I’m glad you gave it a try, Carole!

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