Texans love Whataburger, the regional burger chain with the retro orange iconography. But the true diehards really go nuts for the restaurant’s house-brand ketchup.
Rather than rely on an outside manufacturer, the company makes its own sauces, and the Whataburger Fancy Ketchup has developed something of a cult following. It’s spawned a fan Facebook page, home chefs try to recreate the secret recipe, and there’s even a conspiracy theory around the packet batch numbers.
So what makes the condiment so special, and is it really worth the hype?
It’s not entirely clear when the ketchup debuted (Whataburger itself was born in 1950), but there are some notable moments in the condiment’s life.
For starters, the chain started offering the ketchup in little 1-ounce tubs (adorable!) in 1985, making it easier for dunking. Whataburger Spicy Ketchup debuted as a limited-batch offering in 2012 and was so popular that it was added to the regular menu in 2013. The company then teamed up with H-E-B in 2013 to sell bottles of the regular and spicy ketchup at H-E-B and Central Market stores. You can also purchase the bottles online at Wataburger’s Whatastore, and in grocery stores in 18 U.S. states as of this year.
Most recently, the company released a Spicy Ketchup Limited Batch #2—a spicier version of the original Spicy Ketchup, only available at select restaurants for a limited time.
I was able to try both the original Fancy Ketchup and the Spicy Limited Batch #2. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t realize the latter is a rarity that could have banked me some decent spending cash—it’s currently being sold on Ebay for $19.99 a tub. Find me crying with the guy who sold his 10% stake in Apple for $800.
Now, as a born-and-bred Pittsburgher (a yinzer), I have a hard time even recognizing any ketchup outside of Heinz. I found the original Whataburger Fancy Ketchup to be just fine—not out-of-this-world great, and certainly nothing I’d immortalize on a charm bracelet. It was maybe a little sweeter and a bit thicker (good!), but otherwise not terribly notable.
And the rare, limited-edition spicy ketchup? Also fine. I have to question just how dull the original spicy version is, because this one certainly wouldn’t set off any fire alarms. If anything, it was reminiscent of BBQ sauce, which, considering the pride around Texas BBQ, isn’t a bad thing.
What makes either ketchup great isn’t the taste: It’s the presentation. First, the branding is so iconic that it makes its way onto spoof T-shirts on Etsy and may have even inspired Beto O’Rouke’s campaign logo. And a little tub instead of a packet? That’s the move! None of us enjoys finding a free, clean surface on which to smear our sauces.
But without a doubt, the best part of the ketchup is that it’s offered up as though you’re at a fancy dinner party. When you dine in at a Whataburger restaurant, you place your order at the counter and take a seat. The food is then brought to your table by an employee, at which time they also present you with a little plastic tray filled with the ketchups, a few other sauces, and a pile of napkins. It’s startlingly genteel for a fast-food joint, really underscoring the “fancy” in the condiment’s name.
The ketchup alone is really unremarkable, but it’s the taste of Southern hospitality that’ll getcha.