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Last updated on May 18th, 2024 at 04:43 pm

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Thousand Island Dressing

Thousand Island Dressing is everyone’s favorite, and this homemade version tastes much better than the store-bought ones! It is so popular that it can be used on a salad, on a sandwich, for dipping veggie sticks, or to top steaks. The sweet and tangy dressing is often referred to as a special sauce because it is so similar to McDonald’s Big Mac sauce and several other fast food chain sauces. It is also used as a condiment for Reuben sandwiches and dipping shrimp. Because it is both sweet and savory with a bit of a kick, it can go with anything.

Thousand Island Dressing is so popular that making a homemade version was a no brainer. This dressing has it all: the tanginess of the lemon juice and vinegar, the sweetness of the sugar, paprika, ketchup, pickle relish, and the bite of onion and garlic mixed into the creamy mayo.

My kids love this dressing with a bit of sugar mixed in, and my husband loves it with dill pickle relish instead. I prefer it with a tiny bit of red pepper flakes. No matter how you make this dressing, it is the perfect salad topper, sandwich maker, and dip. For a more authentic taste, add a little bit of this dressing to my Big Mac salad recipe.

Why you will love this recipe

  • The flavor goes with anything: Whether you are serving a salad, veggies for dipping, a ham sandwich, or a juicy steak, Thousand Island has a vast array of flavors that go with anything.
  • It takes minutes: This easy recipe can be made in just a few minutes with ingredients you probably already have.
  • You will save money: For under a dollar, you can mix up a whole bottle of this dressing that would cost you $5 or more in the store.
  • You can change it: Just by adding or removing one thing, you can change the whole flavor profile to fit whatever dish you make.

What you’ll need to make Thousand Island dressing

Special items:

  • Medium bowl or jar – For mixing and storing.
  • Whisk – For stirring.


  • Mayonnaise—I prefer a nice creamy mayo like Hellmann’s, but the kids love it with Miracle Whip. You could even make your own mayonnaise to use in this recipe.
  • White vinegar—This is what gives your dressing that extra tanginess that many restaurant dressings lack. White vinegar has the freshest flavor, but apple cider vinegar has a nice taste, too.
  • White granulated sugar—This is for the sweet flavor. If you would rather it not be sweet, leave this ingredient out.
  • Onion—A fresh yellow onion, minced just before making, will add a bit of spiciness and texture.
  • Garlic—Freshly minced garlic cloves offer the freshest flavor without the bitterness of powdered garlic.
  • Ketchup – This is another ingredient that adds sweetness to the dressing. If you like your dressing more savory, you can use a low-sugar brand.
  • Pickle relish – I prefer sweet pickle relish to add sweetness, but you can use dill if you think it is too sweet.
  • Lemon juice – For a hint of tanginess and a fresh flavor enhancer.
  • Sweet paprika—Again, I use the sweet kind to add sweetness, but you can use regular. I also like it with smoked paprika for a smokier taste.
  • Kosher salt – For the freshest flavor without preservatives.

How to make the Thousand Island dressing?

  • Mix it all: This is probably the easiest recipe you have ever made because it has only one step. Mix everything together in a bowl or jar and shake it. Then, cover and refrigerate to chill.

Expert tip

Sweet or savory dressing

One of the best things about this salad dressing recipe is that you can make it sweet or savory. In fact, you can even add some heat to make it spicy. In my recipe, I use mostly sweet ingredients because my kids love it that way. The sugar, ketchup, relish, and paprika all add to the sweetness of this dressing perfect for salads, sandwiches, and dips. I really love dipping boiled shrimp into it instead of cocktail sauce, and the kids use it for dipping crackers and pretzels.

However, for those who like it more savory, leave out the sugar, use dill pickle relish, and choose regular or smoked paprika. You can also switch the ketchup to a more savory tomato sauce or sugar-free paste. Because my family likes it in different ways, I often make two different versions so the kids can use their version and their dad can use his savory stuff.

Changing the type of onion you use can also make a big difference in the flavor. Try a sweet Vidalia onion for an even sweeter sauce or a red onion for spiciness. Whether you like it sweet or savory, this dressing can do both without changing anything. It just depends on what you use it for.

Fun Fact

Thousand Island dressing was first made by a chef in Boldt Castle in 1894. The castle is in the Thousand Islands area along the St. Lawrence River between Canada and the United States.

Recipe variations and add-ins:

  • No mayo: Make your dressing healthier using Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise.
  • Hot dressing: For an extra kick, add fresh horseradish, cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes, or hot sauce.
  • Add texture: Instead of mincing the onion and garlic, chop them into small pieces. For even more texture, add chopped olives, avocados, or bell peppers.
  • Crunchy dressing: If you really want some extra texture, add some flax, or sunflower seeds.
  • Bacon bits: Add more texture and flavor with some crunchy bacon bits.
  • Make it cheesy: For cheese lovers, add some shredded cheddar, mozzarella, or parmesan. 
  • Vegan: For a vegan dressing, use vegan mayonnaise.

Serving suggestions:

  • Although Rueben sandwiches are typically made with Russian dressing, the same sandwich made with Thousand Island is called a Rachel sandwich. Try it!
  • This is also a nice-tasting sauce to mix into pasta salad. For a unique twist, mix a little into my macaroni pasta salad.
  • Thousand Island dressing is always delicious on a salad. I like to pour a little bit onto a wedge of lettuce and eat it like that.
  • It is a great dip for veggies, crackers, and chips, or even chicken wings, or chicken nuggets.
  • Use it on my Big Mac Sloppy Joes.

Frequently asked questions

What is Thousand Island dressing made of?

In my recipe, I use mayo, ketchup, sweet pickle relish, white vinegar, lemon juice, onion, garlic, sugar, sweet paprika, and a bit of salt. Other common ways to make it are sour cream, red wine vinegar, brown sugar, dill pickle relish, bread and butter pickle relish, and tomato sauce. In the original version, a very finely diced hard-boiled egg was reportedly added.

How are Russian and Thousand Island dressings different?

Russian dressing is a little bit spicier than Thousand Island. It is the sauce used on Reuben sandwiches wherever you get them. Many recipes call for chili sauce instead of ketchup, dill pickle relish instead of sweet, Worcestershire sauce, and a little bit of prepared horseradish. One of the store-bought brands I have used includes eggs, tomato puree, vinegar, sugar, sweet pickle relish, garlic, and turmeric, as well as some additives like xanthan gum and propylene glycol.

What is the difference between Thousand Island dressing and Big Mac sauce?

Most restaurants do not like to give out their recipes for anything they make, especially special sauces like the one McDonald’s uses on the Big Mac sandwich. However, they have revealed a little bit by saying that they use mayo, vinegar, relish, sweeteners, and spices. Most people say it is sugar, garlic, onion, and pepper, but some say there has to be some ketchup or other tomato-based sauce in there.

Do you have to refrigerate Thousand Island dressing?

Although store-bought dressing can sit in the cabinet for months without worry, homemade Thousand Island dressing should be refrigerated. It has mayonnaise, which can go bad within two hours of being out of the fridge. Store-bought stuff has added preservatives that make it safe to leave out until it has been opened. Then, it has to be refrigerated as well.

How to store:

  • Refrigerate: Put this dressing in a sealed bottle or jar and keep it in your fridge for two weeks.   
  • Freezing: With mayo in the mix, it is best not to freeze your dressing because it will separate when thawed. 

More dressings to try:

Recipe tips:

  • After mixing, let your dressing chill in the fridge for at least an hour for the flavors to meld.
  • To make it sugar-free, use honey, agave, or a sugar substitute like Splenda.
  • If your dressing is too thin, add more mayo or Greek yogurt to thicken it up.
  • You could also boil an egg, peel it, and push it through a sieve or pulse it in your food processor. Then mix it into your dressing to make it thicker and richer.

Thousand Island Dressing

Thousand Island Dressing homemade version is creamy, sweet, and tangy, and it tastes so much better than the store-bought one!

  • Prep Time10 MIN
  • Cook Time
  • Servings 4 servings


  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon white granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons yellow onion finely minced
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt


  • Combine all ingredients in a medium mixing bowl and stir until well mixed.
  • Cover and refrigerate for one hour before serving.

Nutrition Facts

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Amanda R Freeman

Amanda R Freeman

There is. Substitute canola mayo, apple cider vinegar rather than white vinegar and sugar, and sugar free ketchup. Everything else is the same. I hope that helps! :)

Lyanna Soria

Lyanna Soria

I've never tried Thousand Island dressing before but that looks quite tasty. I wonder what it tastes like.



Homemade dressings always have such better flavor and consistency. THis would be great for a bbq day.



This is great! I love how easy this is to make!

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