Canned Tomatoes & Chilies {a Rotel Copycat Recipe}

Rotel Canned-Tomatoes-Chilies

We use a lot of tomato products at our house – soups, stews, salsas, casseroles…well, the list could go on for awhile. For years I’ve preserved our homegrown tomatoes in frozen tomato sauce, canned salsa and pizza sauce, and of course, Addictive Tomato Chutney.

But the search for a good, safe, canned tomato-and-chilies product (also known by the brand name of Rotel) has surprisingly taken awhile. Most recipes I found online included things like onions (um, then isn’t it just salsa?), or more disturbingly, sugar – sometimes as much as 1-1/2 cups!

However, a quick look at the ingredient list on a can of Rotel shows no sugar, just:

  • tomatoes
  • chilies
  • salt
  • spices
  • citric acid


OK, basically tomatoes and chilies – I should be able to do that. But since chilies are a low-acid ingredient and tomatoes are right on the edge of being safe for water-bath canning (with the addition of citric acid or lemon juice), I needed to find a tested recipe that I could feel good about canning and storing.

What I found was the Minnesota Method for canning a tomato mixture. It is very clear that the ratio of tomatoes to low-acid ingredients has been tested as is and can’t be increased, but that it is safe for water bath canning.

However, I didn’t want celery or onions – just chilies, so in adapting the recipe I omitted the 1-1/2 cups chopped celery and onions and increased the chilies by only 1/2 cup, so the total ratio of low-acid ingredients to the 12 cups of tomatoes went down from 2 cups to 1 cup.

All this is to assure you that although I did technically increase the amount of chilies, I decreased the total low-acid ingredients overall, so this is actually a better, safer ratio than the original recipe.

rotel-canned-tomatoes-chiliesSome notes to the recipe:

  • I think the flavor is really good as I made it, but the dry spices are totally adaptable, so adjust to your tastes.
  • I added 1 jalapeno in my 1 cup of chilies to make ours a bit spicier, but all mild peppers like anaheim or ancho is probably more like the store-bought product.
  • I found that even though quartered tomatoes seemed too big for a Rotel-type product, they cooked down so much in the 10 minutes that when I tried it with chopped tomatoes, it came out more like a chunky sauce, so I’m recommending simply quartering the tomatoes.
  • I’ve been using only citric acid in tomatoes for the last few years as most bottled lemon juice is full of preservatives and the Rotel ingredient list uses it as well. However, you can use lemon juice if that is what you have.

Canned Tomatoes & Chilies {a Rotel Copycat Recipe}
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Make (and can for shelf stability if you want) a Rotel copycat recipe at home using fresh ingredients - it really is like the real thing!
Recipe type: Canning & Preserving
Yield: 6-7 pints
  • 12 c. cored, peeled, and quartered tomatoes
  • 1 c. finely chopped chili peppers (anaheim, ancho, or other mild pepper - add in a jalapeno for spice, if desired)
  • 1 TB. canning salt
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 tsp. dry oregano
  • ½ tsp. coriander
  • citric acid to add to jars: ¼ tsp. for each pint (1/2 tsp. for quarts) OR 1 TB.
  • bottled
  • lemon juice for pints (2 TB. for quarts)
  • Notes:
  • Click here to see how I easily peel tomatoes.
  • Click here for a tutorial on water-bath canning.
  1. Wash, core, peel and quarter tomatoes. Add to a large stockpot.
  2. Wash, stem, and seed chilies (leaving seeds increases spiciness). Finely chop (or cut into large pieces and finely chop in a food processor).
  3. Add chilies, salt, pepper, oregano, and coriander to tomatoes in stockpot, bring to a low boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
  4. While tomato mixture is simmering, prepare canner, jars and lids (here's a tutorial for water-bath canning).
  5. To clean, hot, pint canning jars, add ¼ tsp. citric acid or 1 TB. lemon juice (if using quart jars, add ½ tsp. citric acid or 2 TB. lemon juice).
  6. Ladle the tomato-chili mixture into each jar, leaving ½-inch headspace. Remove bubbles with a spatula, wipe rims, and attach lids.
  7. Add jars to canner, cover, bring to a boil and process 40 minutes for pints (50 minutes for quarts), adjusting heat as needed to maintain a soft boil.
  8. Remove jars from canner to a towel-lined counter and let cool 12 to 24 hours. Remove rings for storage and check lids to be sure they've sealed (gently pull up with your fingers). Refrigerate any that didn't seal.

Do you use Rotel-type tomatoes? What are some of your favorite recipes that use them?



  1. Cheryl says

    Have you checked out Minute Maid frozen lemon juice? It’s made from lemon juice concentrate from Argentina, no preservatives.

    • Jami says

      I did look into it, but it doesn’t (or didn’t a few years ago) that it was a certain acidity so I wasn’t sure about it for canning. I feel better with the CA and it doesn’t add liquid. Good idea, though, for those that don’t want to use CA.

  2. Dee says

    Can you run you recipe by the county or state home extension program in Oregon? And of course pressure canning would be another choice.

    • Jami says

      I probably could, but the original recipe was developed by an extension program and I’m well within their parameters, so I’m comfortable with the recipe as it is written. Pressure canning would be another option, though I’ve read that you still need citric acid or lemon juice, even when pressure canning.

  3. Shannon says

    One of my favorite recipes of all time, and also the easiest: Put chicken pieces ( I usually use legs ) in the crock pot. Top with rotel, a diced onion, salt and pepper, and a generous glug (2-3 T) of red wine vinegar. Cook on low for 8 hours or so. Before serving, drain the liquid from the crock pot and use it to cook rice. Serve the chicken and tomatoes over the rice. YUM!

    • Jami says

      I use it in any recipe that calls for canned tomatoes, but that I’d like spicier. Soups, stews and such. Like Rhonda H., I’ve sometimes used it to make salsa in winter if we’ve run out of our home canned stuff. And of course, the famous “queso dip” of a can of rotel with velveeta cheese (uck). But it’s easy to make a cheese sauce and add the rotel for a real food version – I’m sure Google could help you find a real food recipe for it. :)

  4. Becky says

    Really basic side dish – can of Rotel tomatoes w/ chilis and a canned of drained rinsed black beans, heated on the stove or in the microwave. Great flavor – very yummy!

    • Jami says

      I used what I had that was needing to be used – ha! That said, it was a combination of paste and slicing tomatoes. The Minnesota recipe doesn’t specify one type of tomato, just that they aren’t overripe or from dying plants. So use what types you’d like. :)

  5. says

    yum. I usually just use our homemade salsa, but the flavor is different.

    I have a crazy questions about your first picture. Can you tell me how you got the transparent background for your text or point me to a tutorial? Thanks

    • Jami says

      That’s not crazy, Angi! It’s a good question – I actually have photoshop and I do all my photo graphics with it, but it’s a program we purchased. I know there are free online photo editing sites like Picmonkey (where I do collages), but I haven’t looked into how much they offer.

      The background for the letters is created by putting a box and filling it with a color and then dropping the opacity down to what you’d like. Then I write my title.

      Wish I could be more help, I just do the minimum to get by, unfortunately! :)

  6. Autumn says

    I every time spent my half an hour to read this blog’s articles or reviews everyday along with a mug of coffee.

  7. Mike says

    In the recipe I’m assuming that the 1/2 tsp. of coriander is ground coriander?

    Also, as far as citric acid is concerned, if it can;t be found in a regular grocery, try a health food store or a grocery such as Whole Foods.

    I’m going to make a couple of batches of this today (We can’t get Rotel up here).

    • says

      Yes, although coriander is the seeds of cilantro and in the US (at least where I live) it is always ground – can you get coriander seeds where you live?

  8. leah says

    Is “fruit-fresh” the same thing as citric acid? I have some of that. Also, my friend told me she was told by an extension home economist that you can buy vitamin c pills and crush them up or dissolve them in place of citric acid-have you heard of this? Thanks for the recipe-I got on to look for your salsa recipe which I used and loved last year but never printed, and I was going to go searching for a rotel recipe, but here it was! my lucky day!

    • says

      No, Leah, fruit fresh is not pure citric acid, though it’s one of the ingredients:
      Ingredients:Dextrose, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Citric Acid, Silicon Dioxide (Anti-Caking).
      You need pure citric acid (which I buy in the canning section) or bottled lemon juice. Vitamin C is not citric acid, it’s ascorbic acid and is used to preserve color, not for acidity, so that wouldn’t work. If you have a hard time finding CA, just use the lemon juice. :)

  9. says

    I am originally from Texas but now live in Central America. Rotel is a rare find in these parts, so this recipe is gonna be part of my recipe history.
    My fav use for Rotel outside of chip and dip stuff, is to use it in a meatloaf.
    Drain water, add egg, bread crumbs, more onion and chili sauce instead of ketchup. cook meatloaf as usual and i make ranch dressing mashed potatos for a side. My friends love my southwestern meal

    • says

      That’s a fantastic idea, cd – I bet it would make great meatballs, too, in a fun spicy sauce. Mmm, my wheels are turning now – thanks!

  10. Nichole says

    I can’t wait to make this! I just carried in about 20 tomatoes from the garden and I think the grocery store still has some Hatch chiles. I’m a Texas girl living in South Dakota, and we buy Rotel by the case at Sam’s. One of our favorite meals I call Cabbage Skillet: brown 1 lb. hamburger with onion, salt & pepper. Add 2 cans of drained Rotel and a small head of cabbage sliced in ribbons. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally until cabbage is tender. Serve over rice. We like to add a slice of American cheese, too. Easy, healthy, and filling!

    • says

      Oh, my goodness, Nichole, that dish sounds wonderful, just like an ‘unstuffed cabbage’ type meal with spice. :) I’m going to try it! Sure hope you enjoy the homemade version, too!

    • says

      All the safety experts say that you can’t be sure of the acidity level of fresh lemons, so you need to use bottled lemon juice. Most of which has preservatives, so I really prefer not to if I can help it. Problem is I like the flavor of lemons & limes more than vinegar in these applications, so I’ve been spending a bit more for organic bottled juices to bypass the preservative issue. Hope that makes sense, Chris!

  11. emmie says

    It would have been helpful to have some weight measurements. For instance, I’m not sure you mean one cup of peppers that you then chop finely or if you chop them all and then measure out one cup. It’s hard to know how many peppers to even start with, as well as not knowing if you mean a cup of finely chopped or a cup of chunks that you then finely chop. I hope I’m making sense!

    • says

      Sorry, Emmie, I don’t have a scale in my kitchen (other than a vintage general one I use for pound measurements). I did specify finely chopped peppers, though I understand it’s hard to know how much if you’re buying peppers. Err on the side of more and whip up a batch of fresh salsa if you have leftover peppers.

      And in all recipes if it states “1 cup finely chopped peppers” it means to chop and then measure the chopped peppers, otherwise it would state “1 cup peppers, finely chopped.” See the difference? This is how almost all American recipes are written. Hope this is helpful to you!


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