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Larry Crowe, Associated Press
In Utah, fry sauce has been the king of condiments for many years, and it has begun to spread to other states.

The condiment pumps at Crown Burger rarely get a break. But it's not ketchup that's getting all the action, and customers barely give mustard a glance.

Instead, it's a pink-colored delicacy known as fry sauce that customer after customer squirts into paper cups. And it's a scene that repeats itself at thousands of restaurants and homes across Utah every day.

While most Americans top their fries with ketchup and tradition calls for mayonnaise or vinegar in Europe, for more than 50 years a blend of mayonnaise and ketchup has dominated in Utah.

The result is that fry sauce is as much a part of Utah's popular culture as skiing and the LDS Church. There are fry sauce souvenir T-shirts, a local band called Fry Sauce, even an Olympic fry-sauce pin that was wildly popular during the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. (Collectors note, the pin has been spotted on eBay for $45.)

"Utah is the fry sauce state," said Rula Katzourakis, who runs seven Crown Burger restaurants in the Salt Lake Valley with her family. She says she wouldn't dare open a restaurant here without fry sauce.

Slowly, though, Utah's title is fading. A transient population, expanding businesses and the Internet have helped spread fry sauce to other Western states, sometimes even to other countries.

Gary Roberts is president of Arctic Circle restaurants, which are the descendants of a local restaurant that claims to have invented fry sauce here in 1948. Since then, the hamburger chain has helped popularize it in and outside the state.

Roberts — who keeps his fry sauce recipe in a safe — says an Arctic Circle store in the Oregon beach town of Newport now goes through more than five gallons a day.

"In Washington, when we opened up our first store up there, probably 80 percent of requests were probably for tartar sauce. That's dropped to 10 percent. That balance is taken up by fry sauce," he said. "It's so good it's addictive."

Roberts now produces about 140,000 gallons of fry sauce each year for his 78 stores across nine states. His restaurants also sell about 18,000 bottles for home use annually.

The leader in online sales is a local outfit called Some Dude's Fry Sauce.

"We've sent it to every state," said Some Dude's founder Mike Thompson, who also sells his sauce in stores in a dozen Western states. "We've sent it to Scotland, to England, to Afghanistan. We send a lot of stuff over to the troops."

All told, Some Dude's Fry Sauce sells about 204,000 16-ounce bottles each year.

And like Roberts, Thompson is finding that he sells more fry sauce in Oregon than Utah. In fact, Utah ranks third in sales, after Washington state.

Nevertheless, Utahns are fiercely attached to their fry sauce. They demand it nearly everywhere they travel.

"It's kind of a funny thing to go out of state and ask for fry sauce. They look at you like you're crazy," Thompson said.

Though there are numerous variations of fry sauce, the basic recipe is simple — one part ketchup, two parts mayonnaise. Many restaurants then spike this with salt, spices, garlic, relish, horseradish, even pickle juice. It's mostly used for dunking fries, though some restaurants are equally happy to slather it on burgers.

"Once you've had it, you've always got to have it," said Chrissy Riley, who moved to Salt Lake City 11 years ago from Little Rock, Ark. She was enjoying two cups of the sauce with her fries during a recent Crown Burger visit.

At a nearby booth, Utah native Jake Robertson sat with a cup of ketchup and another of fry sauce. He says his sister, who moved to Richmond, Va., has resigned herself to making fry sauce at home.

"She obviously can't find it anywhere," he said.

Though regional alternatives to ketchup abound — barbecue and hot sauce in the South, malt vinegar in the Northeast, a mix of mayonnaise and mustard in Hawaii — few condiments have taken hold of the collective consciousness of a region the way fry sauce has in Utah.

Just look at Roberts' filing cabinets: They are filled with thousands of letters from people who no longer live in Utah asking for his fry sauce. Sometimes, Mormon missionaries abroad claim to go through fry sauce withdrawal.

Roberts honors each request — for free — because he likes receiving letters. He gives away about 25 bottles a week.

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"They all have a story to tell. We sent one (bottle) as a wedding gift to someone in California because her husband loves fry sauce so much she wanted to give him a bottle for his wedding night," he said.

It's all evidence, he says, that fry sauce holds a special place in Utah's culture.

Even more than the state's official snack food of green Jell-O?

"I think even more so. I think we have fry sauce specifically in Utah. People really correlate that with Salt Lake City," Roberts said. "Jell-O is sold in every state in the nation. You can't say green Jell-O is synonymous with Utah."