Best Cheap Salsa
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We Tried 12 Popular Salsas — And These Are the Best

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Best Cheap Salsa
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A Chip's Best Friend

Salsa has become as American as apple pie, dethroning ketchup as top condiment for the first time way back in 1991. That's led to a dizzying array of jarred salsa to pick from store shelves, at all heat levels and with all kinds of ingredients from fruit to nuts. We lined up a dozen popular and inexpensive tomato- or tomatillo-based salsas that you can find at many big box stores like Costco, Trader Joe's, and Kroger and tasted them side-by-side with tortilla chips. Here is the winner, the runners up, and the ones that you can skip, ranked from worst to best.


Prices and availability are subject to change.


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Mrs. Renfro's Roasted Salsa
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12. Mrs. Renfro's Roasted Salsa

$3.99 from Amazon

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Have you ever wanted to inhale a campfire while eating chips and salsa? Then this Mrs. Renfro's jar is for you. Salsas made with roasted vegetables are usually fantastic, since roasting brings out their sweetness and adds a layer of subtle flavor. But this one just tastes like someone dumped in a whole bottle of liquid smoke. Smoke is the first thing you smell when you open the jar, and it lingers in the aftertaste. When you read the label it makes sense: The only roasted vegetables are red peppers, so all the smokiness comes from mesquite smoke flavor. 

Trader Joe's Homestyle Salsa Especial Medium
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11. Trader Joe's Homestyle Salsa Especial Medium

$2.99 from Trader Joe's


This Salsa Especial from Trader Joe's requires refrigeration, which is always a good sign for salsa. Indeed, it was one of the freshest tasting of the bunch, with great consistency and texture that resembled restaurant salsa, plus a noticeable heat, something which most brands lack completely. But it was also laden with dried oregano for some reason, which dominated the entire dip, making it taste more like pizza or pasta sauce than salsa. Who wants to eat cold spaghetti sauce on a tortilla chip? Might make a good English muffin pizza sauce in a pinch, though.


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On The Border Chunky Salsa Medium
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10. On The Border Chunky Salsa Medium

$2.98 from Walmart

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This is a party salsa. It's got the ideal wide mouth jar that's perfect for dipping without a bowl, and it's got large chunks of green peppers that make it seem more substantial than it really is — perfect for counteracting beer. It's pretty bland and largely forgettable though, which somehow also fits the party atmosphere where it likely props up better foods that take center stage.


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Chi-Chi's Thick and Chunky Salsa
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9. Chi-Chi's Thick and Chunky Medium

$3.19 from Amazon

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Yes, Chi-Chi's still exists, but only in supermarket brand form. This salsa may inspire nostalgia, but it doesn't taste nearly as good as what they used to serve in the restaurants. If you're a thick and chunky salsa person, this one might be for you. But you'll have to get past the heavy, dense tomato paste flavor and a texture that makes it feel a little like wallpaper paste. Onions also play a starring role, with no chile flavor to speak of.


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Pace Picante Sauce Medium
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8. Pace Picante Sauce Medium

$2.29 from Target

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This salsa — sorry, picante sauce — probably tastes like childhood to a lot of people, including me. I used to eat it every day after school, but switched to more "sophisticated" salsas in my teens. I was expecting to hate it this time around, but I didn't. It's still got that distinctive cooked tomato flavor that's stewed with onions and what seems like the mildest of peppers. Dehydrated onions and dehydrated garlic give it a processed-but-not-unpleasant background flavor that's the opposite of fresh. You won't make friends if you bring this to a party, but you certainly won't be kicked out either. 

La Preferida Salsa Taquera
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7. La Preferida Salsa Taquera

$4.18 from Walmart

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If your number one goal in a salsa is heat level, then this La Preferida Salsa Taquera is for you. It's by far the hottest of the bunch and will add a real kick to your tacos. Chiles de arbol, tiny dried Mexican peppers, give it its heat, but the first ingredient is water, unfortunately. That means that while it's hot, it's also lacking flavor. The texture is smooth and thick, though, which coats chips very well, and this will adhere to basically anything you pour it on or dip into it.

Frontera Guajillo Salsa
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6. Frontera Guajillo Salsa

$4.19 from Kroger

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This Frontera Guajillo Salsa is one I used to keep in my fridge occasionally, but in the years since I last bought it, the product has gone downhill. Instead of the bright, fresh color and flavor from the dried guajillo chiles, this salsa was watery and didn't cling to a chip at all. The roasted garlic and tomatillos did give it a wonderful background flavor — without the liquid smoke — but it was missing the pop that fruity, bright red guajillo chiles normally lend. It would make a good ingredient in a dish where roasted garlic was appreciated, though.

Herdez Salsa Verde Mild
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5. Herdez Salsa Verde Mild

$2.29 from Target

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Salsa verde is made from tomatillos instead of tomatoes, giving it its green hue. This is a popular jarred salsa verde, but you can find versions — including Herdez's roasted version — that are much better for chip dipping. While pleasantly tart and tangy from the tomatillos, it's also thin and tastes as if it has been watered-down. It's a good option to use as an ingredient in other recipes, though, where other flavors build on top of it.

Trader Joe's Salsa Autentica
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4. Trader Joe's Salsa Autentica

$1.99 from Trader Joe's


Trader Joe's has a pretty big selection of canned salsa, and this Autentica is the cheapest at only $2. If you enjoy tomato-heavy salsas like Pace, this is a good choice for branching out a little. It's in the same style as those salsas, but it's got a better balance of flavors. It's a little tangy, a little sweet, and it's got more heat than other medium-level salsas. The ingredient list is short and includes yellow chili pepper for something a bit different. It clings to chips and it's a familiar but refined crowd pleaser.


Related: The Best Snacks at Trader Joe's

Desert Pepper Salsa Del Rio
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3. Runner-Up: Desert Pepper Salsa Del Rio

$4.98 from Walmart

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Desert Pepper Salsa Del Rio is a standout green tomatillo salsa that takes a runner-up spot. The first ingredient is green chiles, and those mild, lightly roasted chiles give the salsa its predominant flavor. Cumin is also redolent, which may be a turnoff to some people, but it makes this salsa a standout. It's thick and chunky with a good tartness from the tomatillos. If you somehow couldn't just finish the jar off with chips, it'd be great as-is over huevos rancheros or on top of queso. 

Garden Fresh Gourmet Organic Jack's Cantina Salsa
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2. Runner Up: Garden Fresh Gourmet Organic Jack's Cantina Salsa

$6.79 from Costco

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Though our second runner-up is more expensive than the others, it's from Costco, so you're getting 48 ounces of organic Jack's Cantina salsa. It's a refrigerated salsa, and tastes the most fresh of the group, by far. Cilantro fans — and haters — take note, because it's the only one in which you can actually taste or see cilantro. It's supremely chunky, but with crushed tomatoes and vegetables instead of perfect little cubes, so it feels more homemade. It's the closest to what you'd get on the table at a Tex-Mex restaurant, and its freshness would be perfect for topping tostadas or cutting through all the cheese in a quesadilla. There are no preservatives though, so make sure you'll be able to go through the whole container in a couple weeks (you will).


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Mateo's Gourmet Salsa Medium
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1. Winner: Mateo's Gourmet Salsa Medium

$5.99 from Costco

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Our winner, Mateo's, is also from Costco, though it's available in smaller jars for around $4 in other stores. After tasting all these salsas, this is the one that I kept raiding the fridge for. It's kind of the Goldilocks of salsa: the texture, consistency, and flavor are all just right. It tastes the most refreshing of all the non-refrigerated salsas since it's not made with tomato paste or other stewed tomato products. There are no big, discernible chunks, but it's also not a smooth puree, so it is great for both dipping chips and spooning over enchiladas. There's a little backbone of cumin, but not too much, and red wine vinegar and lemon juice give it just the right amount of acidity. It's available at some stores in mild and hot versions, but medium had just a little bit of kick. This is my new go-to jarred salsa. 


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