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Bill’s Hamburger Relish

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By Bill Dwyer

Like many people, I gradually outgrew my liking for ketchup as the condiment of choice for hamburgers. Over the the years I tried various commercial products without much satisfaction until I discovered Willie’s Chili Style Sauce, or Willie’s Chili for short. Willie’s Chili was a product of the Strub’s pickle factory in Brantford, Ontario, until the small Canadian company folded a couple of years ago. For me anyway, Willie’s Chili was the perfect condiment not only for hamburgers, but also as a replacement for ketchup in other sandwiches.

I’ve been trying to replicate the taste of Willie’s Chili since we moved to Costa Rica, where it’s not available. The following recipe represents the closest approximation I’ve been able to come up with so far. Besides tasting pretty darn good, it has the advantage of being fairly simple to make.


  • 3 red bell peppers, seeds and ribs removed
  • 2 medium-sized onions
  • 1/2 cucumber, seeds and soft flesh removed
  • 1 tsp chipotle pepper
  • 2 tbsp coarse salt
  • 12 ice cubes
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp whole mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp celery seeds
  • 2 tbsp commercial or home-made barbecue sauce


  1. Mince (i.e., chop very finely) the peppers, onions, cucumber, and chipotle pepper. I use a food processor for this, but a sharp knife and patience will also do the job.
  2. Place the minced vegetables in a large bowl and sprinkle them with coarse salt. Stir. Cover with ice cubes and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, rinse the vegetables with cold water to dissolve and wash away the salt. Place the vegetables in a fine sieve or a thin clean cloth and press to remove as much liquid as possible. The purpose of this process is to extract liquid from the vegetables so they can absorb as much as possible of the spiced pickling liquid in the next step.
  3. Combine the vinegar, sugar, mustard seeds, and celery seeds in a stainless steel or enameled kettle. Add the minced vegetables, and bring to a full rolling boil. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Cool to room temperature.
  4. Place the pickled vegetables into a fine sieve or thin cloth and press over a bowl to remove the liquid from the vegetables, while reserving the liquid for future use.
  5. Place the pickled relish in a sealable container. Stir in the barbecue sauce. Seal the container and refrigerate. You should have about a half-liter of relish.
  6. Pour the pickling liquid into a sealable bottle or jar and refrigerate. It can be reused when you make your next batch of relish.

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