What is Adobo Sauce?

Niki Foster

Adobo sauce is a type of hot sauce or marinade used in Mexican and Southwestern cuisines. Adobo is a Spanish word for "sauce" or "marinade," and the dark red adobo sauce is used in many contexts in Mexican food. Its main ingredients are typically chile peppers, garlic, and vinegar, though variations are common. Tomatoes, onions, and a variety of herbs and spices often complete the recipe.

Meatballs in adobo sauce.
Meatballs in adobo sauce.

Adobo sauce may be used as a condiment or as a marinade. One popular recipe involves using chipotles in adobo sauce. This dish, using smoked jalapeño peppers can be found canned in the Hispanic foods section of many grocery stores, but it is easy to make at home. Chipotles in adobo sauce make an excellent side dish for nearly any Mexican or Southwestern meal, or they can be added to pasta or meat dishes, other sauces, or any other recipe that would benefit from a bit of smoky spice.

Garlic is an ingredient of adobo sauce.
Garlic is an ingredient of adobo sauce.

To make a simple version of chipotles in adobo sauce, combine seven to ten medium dried chipotle peppers with stems removed, one third cup sliced onion, five tablespoons cider vinegar, two cloves of garlic, a quarter cup of ketchup, and a quarter teaspoon of salt with three cups of water. Simmer all the ingredients over very low heat for an hour to an hour and a half. If you wish, you can puree the sauce before serving.

Cinnamon is often used to season adobo sauce.
Cinnamon is often used to season adobo sauce.

Adobo sauce is also used to marinate a variety of meats, such as chicken, pork, and beef. Meat dishes prepared in this way are called adobado and are not to be confused with the similarly named Filipino dish, adobo. To make your own chicken, beef, or pork adobado, begin with eight dried guajillo chiles and eight dried ancho chiles with the tops and seeds removed. Fry them in hot oil for about ten seconds per side, then boil them in 12 cups of water and a half cup of white vinegar. Leave them to soak in the pot overnight.

Chipotle peppers are often used in abodo sauce.
Chipotle peppers are often used in abodo sauce.

The next day, remove the chiles and discard the soaking solution. Puree the chiles in a blender with a bit of chicken or beef broth, depending on the meat you are using. Next, sauté one onion and six cloves of garlic, diced, in a large saucepan. Add the chile paste, two cups of broth, one teaspoon each or black pepper and cumin, one half teaspoon cinnamon, one quarter teaspoon salt, one tablespoon oregano, a quarter cup each of vinegar and lemon juice, three quarters of a cup orange juice, and two tablespoons tomato paste.

Adobo sauce is a Mexican marinade that often uses apple cider vinegar.
Adobo sauce is a Mexican marinade that often uses apple cider vinegar.

Cook the entire mixture for about half an hour, or until it is as thick as you would like it. You can use your homemade adobo sauce to marinate meat before cooking, cook meat in the sauce, or use it as a condiment. Feel free to experiment with flavors, such as adding a fresh jalapeño pepper to the blender mixture for added heat.

Orange juice can be added to adobo sauce.
Orange juice can be added to adobo sauce.

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Discussion Comments


Can mole sauce be used in place of adobo sauce in my recipes? Are they similar?


Can someone give me a simple recipe so that I can make adobo sauce in my own home?

The easier the preparation the better. I love the flavor of a good adobo, but I know making a strictly authentic version can be time and labor intensive. If there was an Americanized version that I could whip up that would be great.

Adobo sauce makes for one of the best BBQ sauces I have ever had. I have eaten it on pork, beef, and chicken and loved it on all three.

They sell prepackaged adobo sauce at the grocery store close to my house and it is surprisingly good. The flavor is deep and hot and it is not as salty as you would expect from a prepackaged sauce.

This really surprises me because in my experience, hot, Mexican sauces often get ruined when they are mass produced. They take away all the heat and use awful tomatoes and you are left with a pale imitation of the original.


I just moved to New England from Arizona. I now understand that it's very easy to screw up Mexican food. The adobo won't be anything like with fresh jalapenos. The smoking that the jalapenos go through give it a flavor that makes it unrecognizable from a fresh jalapeno.

The dried guajillo/anchos will create a slightly different flavor than someone familiar with the difference between the two would recognize. You will also have to prepare them differently.

My guess is you would be fine just frying them without boiling them (but perhaps add a dash of the vinegar for flavor).


If you use fresh chilies, you have an altogether different thing. This recipe is made with dried jalapeno chilies, that have their own flavor. But go ahead and try it using your chilies; it's hard to screw up Mexican food.


How do these recipes change if I use fresh chilies? I have a bunch of fresh chilies that I need to use, and this seems like a perfect method. But all the information presented here references dried ones.

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