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.
Watch my best cream cheese appetizer recipe web story here.
Why You Need to Make This Recipe
Honestly, friends, this truly is the most delicious cream cheese appetizer out there.
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.
How to Make This Cream Cheese 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:
- 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
- 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: some fermented garlic honey would be great here, but any garlic will do, even pre-minced. I often use freeze-dried, 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 squeeze 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.
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
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 Captains wafers or any sort of butter cracker.
I only had Triscuits, and they work fine to get it to your mouth, but the crunch and assertive wheatiness of them tend to fight with the sauce.
Buy some unassuming crackers to play Barbara Hershey to the red sauce’s Bette Midler, and get yourself to the kitchen to whip up a vat.
If you want to go with homemade crackers, you might like my spent grain crackers. They have good flavor on their own, but the texture and flavor won’t fight with the tang of the sauce.
Is There a Less Messy Way of Serving Red Sauce?
If you’re leery of serving a “communal appetizer” in the times of Covid, do what reader John did:
This is such a great idea that I had to share it with y’all.
Q & A
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.
Absolutely. No need to do fancy math, just multiply or divide by 2, and you’re good to go.
Honestly, the honey is part of the flavor profile, but if you can’t have honey for some reason, I would substitute liquid agave. It has a neutral flavor, so your finished sauce won’t taste the same, but if you’ve never had it before anyway, you’ll never know!
Sure. Mince up some pickled jalapenos and/or add some pepper flake to the mix. 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, really.
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?!
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What’s your favorite retro holiday appetizer that you couldn’t get enough of as a kid (or now)?
Red Sauce: The Best Sauce to Pour Over Cream Cheese
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!
- 3/4 cup ketchup
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1 Tablespoon A-1 Steak Sauce
- 1/2 medium sweet onion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 3/8 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/4 teaspoon table salt)
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 1/2 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.
- Simmer 10 minutes, then cool.
- Serve chilled over cream cheese with crackers.
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.
As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Nutrition InformationYield 16 Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 49Total Fat 0gSaturated Fat 0gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 0gCholesterol 0mgSodium 177mgCarbohydrates 13gFiber 0gSugar 12gProtein 0g
The stated nutritional information is provided as a courtesy. It is calculated through third party software and is intended as a guideline only.
Thanks for reading, friends, and I hope cream cheese and red sauce finds its way onto your holiday appetizer list this year.
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What Others Are Saying...
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)!
Jennifer Field says
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!
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!
Jennifer Field says
I’m so glad you found the time to stop in, Maggie–it is always great to hear from you! Hope you and your family have a very Merry Christmas indeed!
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
Jennifer Field says
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
Mike P says
Sounds amazing. How’s long will it keep in the fridge?
Jennifer Field says
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!
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.
Jennifer Field says
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!
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
Jennifer Field says
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!
Have you ever made this with Chili sauce vs catsup? I wonder if that would give it a lil kick too.
Jennifer Field says
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!