Recipe: Cast-Iron Salsa

Turn your skillet into a Mexican comal, aka griddle, by slowly charring onions, garlic, and peppers in a dry skillet. We like to use this traditional dry char technique because it coaxes sweet, earthy flavors from the vegetables and gives them just a hint of smokiness.

Photo: Hector Sanchez

Because your taco night deserves an upgrade.

As Cinco de Mayo approaches, many a Southerner will steer their Publix buggy toward the salsa section only to find themselves standing in aisle 10 confronted with a wall of choices. Some will simply grab a certain jar out of habit, others will contemplate ingredient lists on labels, even more will think it an excuse to purchase a new brand, only to have it disappoint, in a group setting no less.  

This is why we have taken it upon ourselves to create a semi-official guide to salsa shopping. While nothing beats homemade, we won’t ignore the practicality of the jarred kind, which is why we’ve curated a selection of salsas that won’t scream “afterthought” on your table. Here are our current top five salsa brands in no particular order. 

Frontera Salsa Mexicana: When we need some help kickstarting dinner, we’re super fans of Tex-Mex master Rick Bayless’ line, which includes a mind-saving enchilada sauce mix and a chili starter that will keep you from buying another one of those sawdust packets. His Salsa Mexicana combines roasted tomatoes, garlic, cilantro, and jalapenos for a subtle smoky flavor that belies its simple ingredients.

  • Pace Medium Chunky: Whether you’re shopping at a beachside bodega or need a crowd-pleasing option, Pace offers the chunky texture you expect from boutique brands at an I-need-to-feed-64-people-at-this-family-reunion-price point, which is why it wins our pick for best mass market salsa.

  • Green Mountain Gringo Mild Salsa: A universal favorite of salsa lovers around the South, this brand’s bright and zingy mild version, with tomatillos, pasilla peppers, smoky cumin won’t disappoint heat-seekers.

  • Blackberry Patch Orange Salsa: Fruit salsas are notoriously hit-or-miss often with confusing flavor profiles, but this Southern-made version from Thomasville, Georgia has a clear, assertive taste with orange juice and finely chopped pits of bitter-sweet orange peel. It makes fish tacos come alive.

  • Herdez Salsa Verde: True salsa lovers don’t forget to put out a verde (green) option for an herbaceous counterpoint to traditional the traditional red. We always pick up a jar of this brand when we’re at our favorite tienda or international grocery store.