The Food Hacker
McDonald's Szechuan Sauce copycat recipe by Todd Wilbur

McDonald’s Szechuan Sauce

· Hacking the delicious dipping sauce that sparked multiple riots ·

April 27, 2018 21 Comments

This once dead sauce was brought back to life by a cartoon show and a sustained social media campaign from scores of obsessed fans prodding and poking at McDonald's. Unfortunately, how the fast food giant chose to comply with their demands turned out to be one really bad idea.

In 1998 McDonald’s created a delicious Asian-style McNugget dipping sauce to promote the release of Disney’s new film, Mulan. The limited-time-only Szechuan Sauce came and went, and that was that.

Until 19 years later, in October 2017, when this happened…

One person who never forgot about the sauce from two decades ago is Justin Roiland, co-creator of the animated Rick and Morty on Cartoon Network. According to a quote from Cinema Blend in 2017, Roiland has some incredibly fond memories of McDonald’s Szechuan Sauce:

“My memory of it was that it was the most f—ing delicious thing I have ever had in my life, and I probably ate more McNuggets that year than I probably have in my entire life combined.”

And that is why the season 3 premiere of Rick and Morty featured a storyline about Rick’s obsessive quest to obtain some of the discontinued sauce by traveling back in time through an interdimensional portal. After the episode aired the non-existent sauce was instantly elevated to legendary status among the show’s dedicated and growing fan base. And, just like Rick the mad scientist, they all wanted to taste it.

Since those fans were unable to create an interdimensional portal, they turned to social media. Scores of Rick and Morty fans inundated McDonald’s with an overwhelming number of requests to bring back the sacred sauce. And they persisted.

The strategy worked.

McDonald’s announced it would be reissuing the dipping sauce but would offer only a limited number of sauce packets and send them to only a limited number of stores.  Also, it would be for just one day.

As we know now, the demand for Szechuan Sauce greatly exceeded the supply, and that’s when the ugliness ensued.

But rest assured Szechuan Sauce connoisseurs, a sauce shortage crisis of this magnitude shall never happen again in our great country. No sir. Not on my watch.

Because now there is a hack that will give all Rick and Morty fans—and non-Rick and Morty fans—more than enough sauce for dipping nuggets and spring rolls, or to use as a delicious baste on salmon and wings. Yum.

To begin, we must start with the most important ingredient, that, surprisingly, other recipes (including the recipe at the end of the video above) are missing. It’s THE key ingredient that makes this sauce so special.

C’mon man, it’s right there in the name of the sauce…

McDonald's Szechuan Sauce copycate recipe by Todd Wilbur

You can’t have Szechuan sauce without Szechuan peppercorns. And these little guys are one of the most unusual ingredients you’ll ever cook with.

Szechuan peppercorns aren’t really peppercorns at all, but the hull of the berry from the prickly ash tree that grows in the Sichuan province of China. They taste more citrusy than peppery when they first hit your tongue, but that’s only the beginning of their coolness.

The citrusy flavor is soon followed by an invigorating tingle, buzzing, and numbing sensation that ultimate food geek Harold McGee describes as “touching the terminals of a nine-volt battery to your tongue.”

Don’t be scared by that.

The sensation is a good thing. Nerves in your mouth and on your tongue that are normally non-sensitive, suddenly become hypersensitive, making food taste uniquely good. This “neurological confusion” as McGee describes it, is caused by a compound called hydroxy-alpha sanshool, and the tingly mouth sensation it causes is unlike any other spice.

Because the sanshool tingle is so unique it’s easy to detect Szechuan peppercorns in this sauce just by tasting it, but we’re going to have to get a little closer to figure out what else is hiding in there.

McDonald's Szechuan Sauce copycate recipe by Todd Wilbur

I found many of these black specks in the sauce.

Under a microscope, it’s obvious that this is not Szechuan peppercorn, but it looks like it could be black peppercorn.

Let’s compare.

McDonald's Szechuan Sauce copycate recipe by Todd Wilbur

Here’s what black peppercorn looks like.

This bit hasn’t been cooked yet as the other particle has. Regardless of that, I think we have a match.

We’ll add black pepper to our sauce.

McDonald's Szechuan Sauce copycate recipe by Todd Wilbur

Then there’s this little speck.

Hmm. What could it be? It’s got an interesting strip of red running through it, so it shouldn’t be hard to identify.

I shuffled through my spice cabinet and popped several spices commonly found in Szechuan cooking under the microscope for a look-see.

Cinnamon: nope.

Cardamom: nope.

Clove, star anise, fennel seed: nope, nope, nope.

Nothing appeared to match, and I was about to give up.

And then I noticed my bottle of ground coriander.

McDonald's Szechuan Sauce copycate recipe by Todd Wilbur

Look at this.

There’s that deep red strip running through this particle. Bingo! Coriander is commonly used in Szechuan cooking, so this must be our mystery ingredient.

We’ll add coriander to our sauce.

McDonald's Szechuan Sauce copycate recipe by Todd Wilbur

With our spices identified it’s time to prepare the Szechuan peppercorns so that they taste their absolute best.

Toasting them brings out the flavor. Just heat up a couple of tablespoons in a medium saute pan for about 5 minutes or until they darken.

When your house is filled with an incredible smell, they’re done.

Hey man, what’s that unusual incense you’re burning? Yeah, um, that’s called “Toasted Szechuan Peppercorns.”

McDonald's Szechuan Sauce copycate recipe by Todd Wilbur

Now get a coffee grinder, spice grinder, or mortar and pestle, and grind the peppercorns until fine.

Not all of the bits will grind fine, and that’s okay because you’ll do this…

McDonald's Szechuan Sauce copycate recipe by Todd Wilbur

There will be some big pieces in there that we don’t want.

Just pour the ground peppercorns into a strainer, shake it around a bit, and toss out the big stuff left behind.

McDonald's Szechuan Sauce copycate recipe by Todd Wilbur

Your ground and sifted Szechuan peppercorns should look like the pile on the right.

It’s powerful stuff, and we’ll need only 1/4 teaspoon for the recipe, so you’ll have plenty left over for something else.

Now, where did I put that Chinese food cookbook?

McDonald's Szechuan Sauce copycat recipe by Todd Wilbur

It’s time to assemble our sauce.

Add water, soy sauce, ginger paste, minced garlic, sesame oil, and salt into a small saucepan over medium heat.

When the sauce begins to boil, turn down the heat and simmer it for 12 minutes.

After 12 minutes, turn off the heat, cover the pan, and let the sauce steep for 12 minutes.

McDonald's Szechuan Sauce copycate recipe by Todd Wilbur

Strain the sauce to remove the chunks of garlic and ginger.

They’ve contributed their awesome flavor, they did a good job of it, and now they must go.

Don’t be sad.

McDonald's Szechuan Sauce copycat recipe by Todd Wilbur

Add the strained sauce back into the pan. Mmm, gingery.

Combine the cornstarch with the remaining 1/2 cup of water and whisk it into the pan along with the sugar, ground Szechuan peppercorn, black pepper, and coriander.

Cook this for 3 minutes, then let it cool for 3 minutes.

McDonald's Szechuan Sauce copycat recipe by Todd Wilbur

Finish off your sauce by stirring in the acids (that’s the vinegar and lime juice), and let the sauce cool.

Now you’ve got 1 1/2 cups of a Szechuan dipping sauce that you can use with chicken fingers or nuggets like at McDonald’s. You can also use it as a dipping sauce for egg rolls and spring rolls, and you can brush it on grilled salmon or toss chicken wings in it.

Do whatever you like with it. Just keep it covered in your fridge and it should last for several weeks.

The best part about this sauce? No portal required.

Todd Wilbur, The Food Hacker

What other famous foods can be made at home? I’ve created recipes for over 1,100 iconic foods at See if I cloned your favorites here.


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McDonald's Szechuan Sauce copycate recipe by Todd Wilbur
Print Recipe
4.87 from 36 votes

McDonald's Szechuan Sauce Hack

Just like the sauce that caused riots! Use it with chicken fingers or nuggets like at McDonald's. You can also use it as a dipping sauce for egg rolls and spring rolls, you can brush it on grilled salmon, and you can use it as a coating for fried chicken wings.
Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time34 mins
Total Time39 mins
Author: Todd Wilbur


  • 1 cup plus 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons ginger paste
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 7 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground Szechuan peppercorns (see step #1 for prep)
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper (fine grind)
  • 1/4 teaspoon coriander
  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice


  • Before starting the sauce prepare the Szechuan peppercorns by toasting around 2 tablespoons in a sauté pan over medium heat for 5 minutes or until fragrant and slightly darkened. Grind the toasted peppercorns in a spice grinder, coffee grinder, or mortar and pestle until fine, and then sift it through a wire mesh strainer to remove the big pieces.
  • Make the sauce by combining 1 cup of water with soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, garlic and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat. When the mixture begins to bubble reduce the heat and simmer for 12 minutes. Cover the pan and let the mixture steep for 12 minutes, then pour the sauce through a wire mesh strainer. Add the strained sauce back into the saucepan.
  • Mix 2 tablespoons of cornstarch into the remaining 1/2 cup of water until dissolved. Pour this slurry into the saucepan along with the sugar, ground Szechuan peppercorns, black pepper, and coriander. Heat over medium until bubbling, then reduce the heat and simmer for 3 minutes. It should be much thicker. Remove the sauce from the heat and let it cool for 3 minutes, uncovered.
  • Add the vinegars and lime juice, and let it cool down before using. Store the sauce covered in your refrigerator and it will last for several weeks. Stir well before using.


  1. Reply

    Food developer

    March 2, 2023

    Your recipe is lovely, but you have four more ingredients than we do in our formula. Also, we did not use Szechuan peppercorns, Coriander Lime juice, rice vinegar, or Apple cider vinegar.

  2. Reply


    February 6, 2022

    I like this, better than other recipies. Still, I wonder; was this analysis made of an actual McDonalts sause pack, and if so har it been confirmed that the new sauce was similar to the original? Im just one of those that never tried it.
    Also, Id love some more tips on the details of some basic ingredients, like “soy sauce”. Thats a lot, and with a recipe like this Id assume its a lighter soy similar to japanese soy, yet the recipe should be chinese inspired?

  3. Reply

    Kim Mercer

    September 20, 2021

    Hi there, I made your sauce last night and it was delicious. I lf I wanted it spicier, would I just say double the peppercorns, or would you suggest a different ingredient and when would you add it to the cooking process?

    Many thanks
    Kim from New Zealand

    • Reply

      Todd Wilbur

      September 20, 2021

      A little chili oil would do the trick. Add it with the sesame oil or instead of it.

  4. Reply


    August 9, 2020

    Incredible sauce, made it with some unbranded bodega sichuan peppercorns the first time. We added some additional peppercorn to the sauce as well as the dry portion of our fried chicken batter.

    I’m reviewing this during the steeping step of this recipe, but I’m making one recipe with red Sichuan peppercorns and one recipe with green Sichuan peppercorns. Excited to taste these versions

  5. Reply


    March 18, 2020

    Can’t wait to try this recipe. What kind of soy sauce did you use?

  6. Reply

    Lana Cheri

    October 24, 2019

    I was a kid when this sauce came out and remember trying it a few times to find out what the fuss was about.

    I didn’t like it – the first bite was sweet, but the aftertaste was a little tangy and strange.
    (I was 8 or 10 or something.)

    I’m curious how close yours is to the original?

  7. Reply


    August 20, 2019

    Am wondering if you could suggest a recipe to duplicate the topping for Hamburger Helper “Cheesy Enchilada”? I bought 6 boxes when I thought they were discontinuing this variety a couple of years ago and when I pulled out a box earlier this week to make it found the topping was unusable. After I opened the pouch with the contents and smelled it it seemed off, and when I added the milk to it and tasted it, knew it had to go. So now I have 5 more boxes to use up, which are fine except for the topping mix and was hoping for your help. Thanks for whatever direction you could give me.

    • Reply


      August 20, 2019

      That’s a tough one as far as a powdered sauce mix that is almost ready to use. Taco seasoning packets from the grocery store are a quick way to season ground beef and are close to the stuff in the box. But the cheesey enchilada sauce is a mix of taco seasoning and a mac n cheese dry powdered sauce mix from a box of dried mac n cheese. If you use that mix in your enchilada box, then you are down one sauce pack for your mac n cheese. The other way to go is use the taco seasoning and add some chopped onion to the browning meat while it cooks and just top with real grated cheddar or monterey jack cheese before you bake it to melt the cheese..

  8. Reply

    Anthony Magsajo

    June 15, 2019

    WUBBA DUBBA DUB DUUUUB!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    you, sir have given us all a path to scratch an itch. a sincere thank you… presently gathering ingredients.

  9. Reply

    Irene Repp

    April 6, 2019

    Do you do any of the Nutrisystem snacks…I would like to learn how to make them, most of them are high in protein and fiber……excellent for a snack. Do you have any nutrisystem “hack” recipes.
    ps…..I love you’re books, and use the recipes often, thank you.

    • Reply

      Todd Wilbur

      April 6, 2019

      Sorry Rene, I haven’t hacked any Nutrisystem yet. Interesting idea though.

  10. Reply

    John S

    February 10, 2019

    I made the sauce as per your recipe and it came out perfect! I sauced some wings and everyone loved them. I might get me some McNuggets and use this sauce on them. Thanks for the great hack.

  11. Reply


    October 16, 2018

    Hi i have Tried your recipe. It taste very well. Thank you for this. Greetings from germany 🙂

  12. Reply

    Kat Linke

    April 30, 2018

    I have never gotten the chance to taste the infamous Szechuan sauce original, but if this recipe is anything to go by then I must had missed out the first time around! I really enjoyed this sauce, it came out very flavorful, with the wonderful mouth tingling pungency unique to szechuan peppercorns. I followed the recipe almost exactly, as I messed up on the end amounts of the ground spices, and I think my coriander was a bit stale, but nonetheless I’d say this is a wonderful sauce and I’ll be making more of it in the future. I think it would make a great glaze for pork chops, and it would be nice drizzled over a stirfry as well.

  13. Reply


    April 28, 2018

    Can’t say I ever tasted the real McCoy at McDonald’s but this recipe is grounded in classical Chinese sauce making technique and would go great on a dish of lamb Sichuan style stir-fried after coating with cornstarch and flash frying before being sauced with this recipe.

    In most classic Chinese sauces, the ginger and garlic are sweated in hot oil before being cooked with a chicken stock. If you sweat the veg in oil, add chicken stock and boil, you can add the toasted Sichaun spices and strain once to avoid the tedious process of grinding and sieving to remove the “big pieces of spice”. After straining the sauce, thicken it w/ cornstarch added to warm water to temper it and whisk to avoid lumps. Overall a very nice flavored Chinese Sichaun style sauce for us to play with. It would also go well with shrimp or a white fish like Tilapia.

    • Reply

      Todd Wilbur

      April 28, 2018

      Once again, some great words of culinary wisdom. Always appreciate your comments David.

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