Whether you’re going for a fresh pico or a roasted salsa verde, nailing your own homemade salsa formula is an accomplishment to be proud of.

For many households across the US, salsa comes from two places: a jar, and Mexican-American eateries. That’s a shame, because while jarred salsa can certainly serve its purpose (and well-made restaurant salsa is always welcome), making your own salsa at home is an easy, and inexpensive, way to keep the delicious dip more frequently on hand. And the best part of making your own salsa is that you can customize it to your taste. Instead of relying on simplistic descriptions like “mild,” “medium,” and “hot” to judge whether a salsa is worth purchasing, you can control how fiery, or how fire-less, you want your salsa to be. Plus, mastering your own salsa at home can also be a great step towards punching up your other cooking. Pork chop night can become ten times more flavorful with a mango salsa topping, and a perfectly cooked steak will go down even easier with some salsa verde on the side. Basically, there’s no downside to making your own version of this classic sauce.

Whether it’s your first time making salsa or your fiftieth, you can use the below guide when creating your next batch. And feel free to experiment beyond the suggestions included here. There’s no shame in using your creativity to spice things up.

Step One: Choose Your Salsa Style

Before getting started on your salsa, you’ll want to decide what kind of salsa you want to make. Most salsa in the US is divided into red sauces, which are largely tomato based, and green sauces, which are generally made up of tomatillos and herbs. But also worth considering is the consistency of salsa you’d like to serve. Are you craving pico de gallo, a salsa variety made by combining uncooked, chopped ingredients? Or would you rather make a cooked salsa, such as salsa roja, which involves roasting or sauteing your base ingredients before processing them to a smooth consistency? If you’re not sure which type of salsa you might like the most, try experimenting with different recipes and consistencies. You’re sure to find a salsa form that’s perfect for your table.

Step Two: Choose Your Base

Once you’ve decided what kind of salsa you’d like to make, you’re ready to pick out your base ingredients. Of course, for most salsas, that base will be either tomatoes or tomatillos, but there’s plenty of other ingredients that can make for a delicious, if occasionally unconventional, salsa. For example, you could always use roasted eggplant as your salsa base, rather than roasted tomatoes. If you’re simply looking for a slight flavor change and a big visual payoff, you could use yellow tomatoes rather than red to create your finished product. Black bean and corn are classic alternative choices for fresh salsas. And if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you could add fresh crab and avocado to your finished pico de gallo. Going beyond the traditional salsa ingredients will guarantee that you’re able to serve up something far more interesting than the jarred sauces your family may have become used to.

Step Three: Choose Your Add-Ins

With your base chosen, you’ll want to gather together some more complementary ingredients to punch up your salsa. Classic choices here include onions, chiles, cilantro and jalepenos, but that doesn’t mean you should limit yourself to just those options. Peanuts, when pureed into the finished sauce, can lend an interesting twist on salsa roja, and olives can also make for an intriguing addition to tomato-based salsas. As always, try playing around with different options when experimenting with your salsa; you never know when an untried combination could yield something incredible.

Additional Salsa Styles

mr - Watermelon Salsa
Credit: Alison Miksch; Food Styling: Rishon Hanners; Prop Styling: Sarah Elizabeth Cleveland

How to Bring Out More Flavor in Your Salsa Components

Get the Recipes: Salsa Tatemada

Of course, you can always just chop up your veggies, season them and pulse them for a bit in a food processor to make a simple salsa. But if you’re looking for some extra flavor, then you should follow the main recommendation made in this guide and broil your tomatoes, tomatillos, peppers and other veggies for a few minutes before peeling and pulsing them. The broiler will bring out tons of nuance in your salsa ingredients, and charring those vegetables will allow you to peel your components before adding them to the processor, resulting in a smoother consistency that’s amazingly close to restaurant quality.

How to Make a Fruit Salsa

Savory and spicy ingredients are great mainstays of salsa, but there’s no reason not to explore the sweeter side of potential salsa components. Adding sweet fruits to your salsa can be a great way to bring out new flavor notes in your dish, and can also help offset and complement some of the sauce’s heat for guests who may find less appeal in fiery foods. To make a fruit salsa, choose which fruits would likely go best with your other ingredients. Then, decide whether you’d like a cooked salsa or a fresh one. Some fruits, like pineapples, peaches and mangos, work great in salsa when grilled or sauteed. Others may do better when placed in fresh salsas, rather than cooked down. Serve with your usual dippers, or use as a topper for your next main course.

How to Make Brazilian-Style Salsa

Get the Recipes: Salsa Campanha

Campanha, or Brazilian-style salsa, is fairly close to pico de gallo and other fresh salsas. The main difference is that Brazil uses vinegar to punch up their sauce. If you enjoy acidic bites and happen to have white vinegar on hand, then campanha may be the perfect dip for you.

How to Make Italian-Style Salsa Verde

Italian salsa verde is a little different from the tomatillo-based salsa verde we’re familiar with in the US. For one thing, it tends to be a bit more savory than spicy; for another, the base is generally parsley and other fresh green herbs like rosemary rather than tomatillo. If you’re a huge fan of Italian food, however, then it’s definitely worth adding these recipes to your repertoire along with more conventional salsas. Served with pita, potatoes or simply over your main course, this bright salsa will definitely become one of your new favorites.

How to Make Warm Salsa

Typically, salsa is served cold, but it doesn’t have to be. Warm salsa can definitely hit the spot, especially as the weather begins cooling down again. To make warm salsa, simply serve your sauteed or pureed ingredients immediately after you finish the dish, or warm gently on the stove to reheat. Warm salsa is especially easy to make if you’re making a salsa that incorporates roasted or grilled ingredients, as mentioned above.

How to Make Salsa Even Easier

Get the Recipes: Salsa Picante, Southwest Salsa

Yes, we know the point of this guide is to move further away from premade jars or cans. Sometimes, however, there’s just not enough time to roast tomatoes and other vegetables and you need a shortcut. If you’re looking to make a salsa that tastes almost like it was made from scratch without as much prep work, consider using canned tomatoes to speed up the process. Canned black beans and corn can also save you some time. Once you spice up and process your canned ingredients, you’ll have made a salsa that tastes homemade while requiring considerably less effort.