“In a society constantly driven to distraction by our phones, email, Instagram, etcetera, there’s something deeply, almost sub-consciously alluring about hot sauce and the pain it causes,” says Denver Nicks. “Hot sauce — especially really spicy hot sauce — commands your full attention.”
Nicks would know. The author and (and Uproxx contributor) wrote a book on the subject, titled Hot Sauce Nation: America’s Burning Obsession. His choice of subtitles was fitting back when the book was released in 2016 and has only grown more so. Complex’s “Hot Ones” is still a YouTube juggernaut and the number of sauces on supermarket shelves has continued to expand exponentially.
Nicks sees all of this as a good thing, further evidence of America’s culinary melting pot.
“It’s not just the sheer number of immigrants we have in this country,” he says, “but how they have transformed and enriched American culture, transformed all of us, and made hot sauce fiends out of many more of us than there were before.”
He makes a great point. But it does make picking the two or five or 10 hot sauces that you decide to spend your money on a little tougher. What elements make one particular hot sauce better than another? Is it just about Scovilles? Is it the chilies used? Vinegar ratio? Hype?
This year’s hot sauce list — sourced from a few of our writers, with lots of entries from yours truly — hopes to offer up a hot sauce for every occasion. Habaneros get lots of love but serranos make a showing, too. And let’s not sleep on ghost peppers. We also have an Italian hot sauce, a honey hot sauce, a curry hot sauce, and a peri-peri hot sauce — all are new (to this list, if not new to the world).
So here it is, the essential hot sauces of 2021. If we missed one you love, definitely be sure to tell us about it in the comments.
— Steve Bramucci, Editor, Uproxx Life
FOR SLATHERING ON SOME CORNBREAD: Tupelo Honey Hot Sauce
In 99% of all hot sauces I’ve tested (and trust me, I test a LOT that don’t make this list), vinegar is the natural preservative keeping the sauce shelf-stable. In simplest terms, most hot sauces are pickled, which keeps them from going bad. But you know what else acts as an excellent natural preservative? Sugar — found here in the form of honey.
As someone who isn’t in love with the saccharine flavor of sweet chili, I doubted I’d like this. And, seeing as it’s honey-based, it does come on sweet up front. But that sweetness adds a layer as the fruity notes of scotch bonnet peppers emerge, then heads in a whole new direction when the heat arrives. It’s a nice, building heat but also has some good, fresh-pepper burn — making your lips sting a little.
I can’t imagine a better sauce for a big ol’ slab of cornbread slathered with butter. Oh and also, by buying this you’re helping save the bees — which helps save chili peppers for future generations!
Heat Level: Isn’t going to scare anyone away, but it’s not exactly playing, either.
FOR YOUR NEXT BIRRIA TACO: Tuétano Taqueria’s Salsa Macha
Ask anybody who knows the border region and, more specifically, San Diego what their favorite taco is and the most likely answer will be Tuétano Taqueria. A small storefront in San Ysidro with more locations on the way, the few-year-old taqueria specializes in birria de res with handmade corn tortillas and a side of roasted bone marrow. Over time, the taqueria’s owner, Tijuana-born Priscilla Curiel, introduced another menu item that quickly became the co-star: salsa macha.
Salsa macha is having something of a moment right now — it has become popular in Texas, as well as Los Angeles, which are obviously two hotspots for Mexican cuisine here in the US. Its roots can be traced back to Orizaba, a city in the Mexican state of Veracruz. Being oil-based — more popular in Asian condiments than it is in Mexican salsas — salsa macha has achieved cult status both in the United States and Mexico. Recipes vary from vendor to vendor, but the template is the same. Required elements of the mixture include a variety of chiles, nuts, seeds, and oil. Implied is the fact that it will set mouths on fire.
Tuétano Taqueria’s version of a macha features chile de arbol and roasted garlic and a searing, building heat that lingers far after whatever taco has been devoured. Similar in form to Sichuan chile oils, it’s an incredibly versatile hot sauce that shines over roasted vegetables, grilled meats, in sandwiches, mixed in with pasta, or even over vanilla ice cream. But if you’re making birria or carnitas — it’s a must.
Heat level: Pungent and filled with flavor, salsa macha punches with immediate heat but it’s the lingering full-mouth sear that makes it the force that it is.
Price: $10. Right now, it’s available by store pick-up only, so feel free to ask that friend of yours who lives in San Diego that you’ve been meaning to catch up with to send you some. Ask around your own city, too — as mentioned, this salsa style is having a moment and is popping up in Mexican restaurants all over the country.
FOR SLATHERING ON PLAIN OLD BORING RICE: Lola’s Trinidad Scorpion
I like to keep a sauce for plain old rice handy. That’s a tall order — it has to have loads of flavor and enough heat to get you coming back for more. Lola’s Trinidad Scorpion is that sauce. In a sea of sauces that are either smoky or stewed, this one tastes fresh. The fruity notes of the scorpion pepper are on full display here and the uncooked garlic and lime make it even brighter.
Sure, this is great on shrimp and fish and similar seafood specialties — it would kill on a Hawaiian plate lunch — but the fact that it’s great on boring old white rice is a testament to how full and complex the flavor is.
Heat Level: You don’t have to eat it with rice, but you’ll want to have some starch handy to temper that burn.
FOR FRIED CHICKEN & WAFFLES: The General’s Maple Mayhem
For years, I committed the sin of eating fried chicken without hot sauce. But wizened elders have set me on the right path. Sometimes that means Texas Pete’s, sometimes it means KPOP Food’s Honey Glaze wing sauce. And they’re great, but the pinnacle, for me, is marrying chicken and waffles with The General’s Maple Mayhem sauce, which brings equal parts sweetness and heat, taking the dish to new heights while keeping the standard hot sauces and maple syrups in the pantry.
This sauce is definitely more on the mild side, which makes sense because a tongue-numbing fire would distract from the pleasant sweetness of the maple. It’s a flavor profile meant to enhance a very specific meal, not overtake it and be all anyone talks about. For that, they leave it to the package, which as you can see, looks like a damned glass grenade. And it’s heavy too, making you feel like it earns its $12 (or so) price tag while standing out as something you could easily send as a low-cost gift.
— Jason Tabrys
Heat level: Some nice warmth but the sweetness stays the star.
FOR STEW: AfricanDream Foods — Bird’s Eye Chilli
You can’t visit Mozambique without hearing the phrase “peri-peri ho-ho” — a reference to the ubiquitous condiment served with goat stew, fried fish, and just about every food you can find across the country (except those little delicious toffees that kids sell for a penny and I find myself craving at least ten times a year). This hot sauce is traditionally made with the peri-peri chili, which seems to be rarely cultivated outside of sub-Saharan Africa. More commonly found is the similarly flavored “bird’s eye chili” — used in most mainstream peri-peri sauces (even the Nando’s version!).
Though I somehow remember the peri-peri being even fruitier on the palate (that might just be my nostalgia for months spent driving from town to town in East Africa, trying every roadside restaurant’s homemade peri-peri sauce along the way), bird’s eyes make a solid stand-in here — delivering a red pepper, fruity flavor that few sauces on the market capture. You get that bit of brightness and then an almost Thai-chili front-of-mouth burn. That combo makes for a unique heat — not something you want to mess with if you have cracked lips.
To counterbalance the heat, you’re going to want a nice, rich, unctuous dish. I vote stew. That could mean the Mozambiquan version of Portuguese feijoada or just whatever beef stew you like to make at home. Need another selling point? Besides being super affordable, this sauce supports animal conservation while working with photographers across the African continent.
Heat Level: Front of the mouth heat — ripe and coming on early but fading relatively quickly.
FOR JAMBALAYA & PO-BOYS: Poirier’s Louisiana Style Hot Sauce
Followers of the UFC can tell you that interim champ Dustin Poirier, aka “The Diamond,” knows two things well: how to punch people out and hot sauce. Hailing from Louisiana, Poirier grew up around Cajun cooking and the southern sauces that come with it.
The profile on this umami-rich sauce harkens to those family dinners in Lousiana, with a winning mix of aged peppers, sea salt, celery, and garlic. Its heat is present, but dialed down on purpose, to allow for easy enjoyment.
“It’s got a kick for sure,” says Poirier. “But the burn doesn’t linger.”
The goal was to create a flavor that was so savory that it wasn’t relegated to the condiment shelf, becoming a key ingredient during the cooking process as well. Heads up: Since the fighter took down Conor McGregor for the second time this past July, this stuff has been flying off the shelves even faster than before. So you might struggle to find it if you wait too long.
Heat level: Bit of a kick, but not a roundhouse.
ON CLASSIC CALI-MEX NACHOS: Disha Hot
I regret to admit that I don’t know Omar Apollo’s music very well. I know his hot sauce very well, though — it’s my favorite tomatillo sauce on the market and the first sauce in a few years that I’ve bought again with my own cash. I’m putting Disha as a sauce for classic nachos but… this is the best all-rounder we’ve got. Don’t limit yourself.
The green-almost-grassy tomatillo pairs beautifully with the fruity habenero and lime. I don’t like too much acid on my food and this actually adds the right bit — no need for extra citrus. While this isn’t the hottest sauce on the list, its flavor is absolutely impeccable.
Heat Level: You’ll notice it, but you could manage it on a first date without too much sweating.
FOR A CLASSIC CENTRAL AMERICAN RICE & BEANS (GALLO PINTO): Marie Sharp’s Fiery Hot Pepper Sauce
On my first trip to Belize, I came home with a suitcase full of the hot sauce found in every Belizean restaurant. One taste and it’s clear why this carrot and habanero concoction is so ubiquitous: it’s freakin’ amazing. Even Hillary Clinton, famously a hot sauce aficionado, gave Marie Sharp’s a shoutout in her memoir, calling it her favorite.
She wasn’t wrong to love this gem. Fiery Hot packs heat, but the burn is tamped down by the potent blend of carrot and habanero mixed with the uniquely Central American-Caribbean tang of onions, garlic, and lime juice. The velvety texture makes it easy to limit how much hot sauce you pour out, but even with only a few drops are needed per dish I still go through so much of this stuff that I’ve genuinely considered ordering their gallon option (hey, it comes with a free pump!).
Heat Level: Hot but sweet, like the perfect lover.
FOR A HIPSTER TACO OR A JAMAICAN BEEF PATTY: Queen Majesty Scotch Bonnet And Ginger
Queen Majesty was reccomended to us by Sean Evans, star of Hot Ones, and… what can I say? Dude knows his sauces.
This Scotch Bonnet & Ginger expression is more like a fruit puree than a thin, traditional “sauce.” The flavor captures the sweet notes of the peppers but balances them with the bright tang of ginger (rather than a lot of vinegar). What you end up with is a sauce that fits well with a variety of dishes.
As a longtime proponent of Jamaican beef patties, I’ll go out of my way to note that this is a great play for that dish. Also, it does great in a range of curries and stands out in a hipster taco with a few really dialed ingredients.
Heat Level: It’s not going to scorch you, but it will make you sit up straight.
FOR CLASSIC GUMBO: Zatarain’s Cajun Hot Sauce
This is a new love of mine. Zatarain’s is a big Louisiana brand that makes everything from rice to gumbo mix. Recently, I was wandering around the grocery store, looking for hot sauces, and came across this one. The label promised aged chili and garlic in one bottle. I was intrigued. I brought it home and placed the sauce on my shelf next to my Valentina’s Extra Hot and made some chicken breasts in the ol’ sous vide.
I doused the sauce onto the chicken and it was a revelation. Zatarain’s Cajun isn’t overly hot but packs a nice little punch. The garlic is 100 percent present. There’s a light vinegar tang going on that’s sweeter than tart and way less egregious than standard Tabasco tang. Overall, this is a great sauce to have on hand when you want a subtle spicy bump with a garlic base.
Heat Level: Mild and breezy, like the Big Easy.
FOR YOUR SCRAMBLED EGGS: Frank’s RedHot
Frank’s RedHot is simple — cayenne peppers, distilled vinegar, water, salt, garlic powder — cheap and readily available everywhere (your favorite fast food joint keeps it behind the counter, just ask) and yet when it comes to hot sauce it’s nearly unparalleled.
Rare and interesting peppers? A beautiful label? Fancy bottle design? Frank’s RedHot has none of them. But pass me a bottle and I hold in my hands the perfect accompaniment to wings, chicken sandwiches, French fries, eggs, stir-fries, and whatever the hell else you put hot sauce on.
Frank’s RedHot is made using aged cayenne peppers, giving it a nice spicy kick but unlike some of the other entries, you don’t spend too much time thinking about what makes Frank’s RedHot good. Instead, it’s a hot sauce that forces you to shut up and focus on your meal. That’s why it’s the GOAT.
Heat Level: Medium
Price: $4.72 (for 23 ounces)
FOR CHICKEN THIGHS OFF THE GRILL: 6LACK’s 600 Degrees Hot Sauce
Back in 2020, amid a summer that was shorn from its most enjoyable aspects, Atlanta-born singer 6LACK announced he would return with a new project. The upcoming effort, which would eventually be his 6pc Hot EP, was his first release in almost two years. However, it wasn’t just music the singer delivered to his fans. With the extended play came his new hot sauce brand, 600 Degrees.
As a big fan of 6LACK, I took interest in the hot sauce. His Atlanta roots drove even more curiosity, since that city is responsible for some of the best wings I’ve ever had. So I made the purchase, and I have to say — good call on my part.
For all of you veteran hot sauce lovers, you can take pleasure in 6LACK’s 600 Degrees without a glass of water beside you. The sauce is a melodic blend of aged red peppers, distilled vinegar, and salt — pretty standard. The latter elements coat the tongue with a sour lime-like presence before the red peppers step in to provide the flavor and spice.
600 Degrees finds a happy medium between nonexistent spice and an intolerable heat, bringing just enough to wake the taste buds from their slumber. This hot sauce is definitely worthy of a spot at the cookout.
Heat Level: Very managable.
FOR SE ASIAN-STYLE NOODLE DISHES: Sambal Olek
For me, there’s hot one sauce that rises above them all — Sambal Olek.
What pushes this one to the top is its simplicity. It’s a blend of spicy chilis, salt, and vinegar. That’s it. It’s thick and often gooey. There’s always a jolt of joy when you sit down at a table and there’s a tub of sambal on it with one of those tiny spoons for scooping all that hot peppery goodness onto any dish.
Seriously, you can scoop it on each bite of your burrito or throw a nice big dollop in a bowl of noodle soup or fry some up to spice up fried rice. That’s versatility.
Heat Level: Medium to warm, depending on the brand.
FOR YOUR BLOODY MARY: Tabasco Habanero Sauce
I already like regular Tabasco. You really can’t make an old-school Bloody Mary without one. But, I get that’s it mild and very vinegar forward. This version, on the other hand, is not mild, still hits on those Tabasco notes, and packs some serious flavor.
The habanero really comes through with a clear earthiness and heat. That combines with the almost fruity vinegar for a really solid hot sauce worth using on multiple applications. I put this in my chicken soup, dose it on tacos, I’ve even put it on steak.
But, the best use remains a Bloody Mary. Nothing will both sober you up and prep you for another day of partying faster.
Heat Level: Medium, full
FOR WHEN YOU’RE MAKING PIZZAS: Casa Firelli Italian Hot Sauce
Firelli calls itself the first hot sauce for pizza and pasta and… I tend to agree. After all, hot sauce isn’t a common sight in Italy. More typically, you’ll find dried chili flakes or olive oil that’s been blended with chilis and then strained. This sauce is neither of those — but it is both exceptional and exceptionally interesting.
The use of Calabrian chilis is a nice touch — adding heat with plenty of red pepper flavor — but even better is the use of balsamic vengar instead of the more common apple cider vinegar or far more astringent white vinegar. The result is a sauce that tastes like it really fits with Italian food. You get some nice warmth and a lovely balance of balsamic sweetness, without the cumin that might make a sauce seem better suited to tacos.
The downside of peppers in olive oil is the oily-ness. This sauce has a little bit of piquancy and some brighter, fresher red pepper notes, without the grease.
Heat Level: You’d still need to add chili flakes for a serious burn.
FOR WHEN YOU’RE GRILLING & CHILLING: Klowns on Fire, Spicy Peach Reaper
This Spicy Peach Reaper starts sweet then it gets f*cking hot (but in a good way). Your first taste of the peachy concoction is a fruity treat, which is generally unexpected in the hot sauce realm. But within seconds, the heat consumes your tastebuds and all your fruit-filled peachy enjoyment is driven far from your mind.
The brand describes itself as “a taste of the Caribbean with real Texas heat,” and I genuinely agree with this statement. The BBQ-hot sauce hybrid is great for grilling, marinating your meat, or dousing on ribs or wings after they’re off the grill.
The brand itself has won more than 50 awards for its tangy, uniquely zestful flavors. The Spicy Peach Reaper, specifically, received 2nd place in the 2020 International Flavor Awards. So if you don’t believe me about how tasty it is, believe the professional hot sauce critics (*Googles how to become a professional hot sauce taster, changes career paths immediately.*)
If you can handle the heat, this one is 100 percent worth the $10 price tag.
Heat Level: Hot AF, Dabble at your own risk.
FOR PLAYING YOUR OWN VERSION OF “HOT ONES”: The Last Dab XXX
This is created by the team at Complex’s The Hot Ones and my god is it good. It’s just the right amount of sweet on the front end and then… BLAM the heat comes.
And what heat. Two hybrid, lab-created peppers — Pepper X and Chocolate Pepper X — add so much fire to this that a few drops will endanger your whole meal. If you can handle it, this is a sauce that has all the fire without sacrificing taste. Plus you’ll sympathize with the celebs who go on The Hot Ones in a whole new way.
Heat Level: Meal-dominating type heat.
FOR HUSH PUPPIES AND FRIED FISH: Texas Pete
Some items in the fridge or the cabinet just feel right. Whether they’re from childhood or simply regional standards (shouts to White Lily Flower, Duke’s Mayo, and Bertman’s Ballpark Mustard), there’s something to be said for sticking to the classics. For me, a hot sauce I’ll never do without is Texas Pete.
Sure, part of it is knowing its origins are every bit as intertwined with Winston-Salem as the college I went to, Wake Forest. But it’s also been on hand for some really important moments — from the afternoon fish fry to backroads barbecue pilgrimages to dinners with friends — that helped crystalize my love for food and travel.
Pete’s is complex enough to stand on its own, beats the pants off most of the other ubiquitous brands, and brings out the flavor of the food you’re eating rather than just masking or burying it. It’s just as adaptable in fried foods (a must on hush puppies) as it is in chilis or soups, and is killer with a BLT or a pimento cheese sandwich.
When I found it at Smart & Final in Long Beach, I audibly gasped. You never know when or where home will find you.
Heat Level: Baseline burn
FOR ACCENTUATING YOUR NEXT SALAD: Dragon’s Blood Elixir
Apparently, the secret to dragon’s blood is apples, because this stuff has apple cider syrup, apple cider vinegar, and apple puree. You don’t necessarily taste the apples, but what you do get is a very fruit-forward flavor before the heat comes on. I love chilis for their taste, not just their spice, and Dragon’s Blood does an ace job highlighting the uniqueness of the habanero here.
You’ll want a solid few dollops to make it work, but there is heat there. It comes on late and doesn’t linger long, allowing the other flavors to shine and not disrupting your meal. In all seriousness, I like this one in salads — especially salads that feature green apples.
Heat Level: The exact level that makes a person say, “Oh, this is spicy.”
FOR A CHORIPAN SANDWICH: Pique
When Sol Food hit the scene in Marin County, the Puerto Rican restaurant brought some much-needed flavor and color to the region. This was, in part, thanks to painting their building a vibrant lime green, sticking out in a sea of beige. But mostly it was the delicious flavors of Puerto Rico, exemplified by their in-house hot sauce, Pique.
My husband always orders their choripan sandwich — chorizo, ham, and Swiss cheese baked between French bread — and it’s incomplete without a side of the bright orange hot sauce to dunk the whole mean into. This medium-spicy, vinegar-based hot sauce was so beloved by diners that Sol Food had no choice but to sell it online. It’s packed full of a variety of peppers — from spicy, fresh jalapeños and serranos to nutty, dried chile de arbols. The branding makes no effort to elevate itself, but trust me, you’ll want this on hand next time anything even remotely tropical lands on your plate.
Heat Level: Overt tang, covert heat.
FOR WHEN YOU WANT YOUR GARLIC SHRIMP TO CARRY SOME HEAT: Mago Ghost Pepper
Mago, made in Laguna Beach, has been on my radar for a while now, but this isn’t an expression I’d tried until recently. I had a pretty horrible experience with ghost peppers a few years back and the name was scaring me off. I’m glad I circled back for this one.
Don’t get me wrong, Mago Ghost Pepper is spicy, but it’s also fragrant with carrots and bell peppers and features a nice note of smoke (not chipotle pepper intensity). The sweetness of the carrots has the same effect here that it has in some of the habanero-based sauces on this list: calming your mouth and activating a different part of your palate.
Since Mago isn’t very vinegar forward, I use it in a wider variety of dishes — from fried rice to garlic shrimp to stewed mushrooms. Even with big-flavor foods like those, this isn’t a sauce that lets you forget it’s there.
Heat Level: “Are those beads of sweat on your forehead?”
“Yes. Yes, they are.”
FOR WHEN YOU CRAVE SERIOUSLY AMPED TACO SAUCE: Secret Aardvark
Put simply, Secret Aardvark is a spicy, liquid version of your taco seasoning packet. If you like that sort of thing, as I do, you’ll love it. The peppers here are fire-roasted and you taste that smoke. There’s also a nice texture that comes from finely blended but not fully liquid tomatoes. Most of all, it’s the sweet/spicy balance and the nice fruitiness that makes this Portland-based sauce liven up dishes so well.
This one has been popular for a good long while, but it lives up to the enduring hype. Just as good (and similarly fruit-forward) is their drunken Jerk Sauce. It literally brings me back to Jamaica, and the jerk chicken shacks that line the road there, every time.
Heat Level: “Whew, it’s spicy for sure. Whew.”
FOR WHEN YOU NEED HEAT ON YOUR HOT DOG: Skinny Fats — Jãlatcha
I’ve been stanning for ketchup around these parts for a long time. When someone talks smack about it, I fight back.
Why? Because flavor-profile-wise the tang of ketchup is a fantastic counterbalance to many an umami-rich, carb-heavy meal (eg burgers and fries). You know what could make ketchup even better though? The most unsung of the chilies — jalepeño.
The flavor of a fresh jalepeño is bright and fruity and the heat comes in late, like a slow-rolling wave. It’s a joy and pairs really well with ketchup. Trust me, your hot dog will never be the same.
Heat Level: A nice bright kick, not a long, deep burn.
FOR RIBS: El Yucateco Chipotle
I love hot sauce. I put it on everything from mac and cheese to pizza to eggs. But I don’t need it to be so hot that it drowns out what I’m eating. That’s why I love El Yucateco Chipotle. In their line of sauces, it’s probably one of the mildest, but it has a smoky, sweet flavor with enough heat to make it worthwhile.
This sauce is made from chipotle peppers and clocks in at 3,400 Scoville units. Is that a lot? I actually have no idea. What I do know is that El Yucateco is fantastic. Especially when I am cooking ribs and want to amp up the smokiness.
FOR WHEN YOU’RE LISTENING TO PUNK MUSIC IN AN OC TACO DIVE: Gringo Bandito Spicy Yellow
Remember the band Offspring? This is part of the line of sauces created by the band’s frontman, Dexter Holland. While that turn of events might sound strange, even stranger (and more interesting) is the fact that Holland, a Ph.D. in molecular biology, takes the sauce game very seriously and produces one hell of a product. (I’m not in love with the label or name, though.)
The Spicy Yellow is the best of the Gringo Bandito line. It utilizes scotch bonnets and habaneros and carries the fruity flavors of those two chilies throughout. There are also some nice garlic, onion, and black pepper notes. It’s an excellent pick for eggs and tacos and a step up from the brand’s own, more popular, traditional red sauce.
Heat Level: Warm but not overpowering.
FOR A DANK BURRITO: Nine Mile Hempress Rising
Back in college, we used to call a giant San Diego Cali-Burrito loaded with carne asada and french fries “dank.” A double-wrapped monster that would flatten you out faster than smoking a bowl of purple kush. The heat always came from those house made red sauces that every taco shop has. But as my tastebuds acclimated to handle serious Scovilles, I started adding jalapenos (raw, not pickled) to my burritos — I found the jalepeno to be the perfect way to cut through the richness of a gut bomb.
Hempress Rising reminds me of the “dank burrito” era both because it uses hemp seed oil to provide a silky mouthfeel and because it highlights the power of the jalepeno — it’s such a lovely pepper and so fruity and “green” tasting. So many tomatillo sauces go overboard but this one does the smart thing and treats it light a supporting player. The grassy flavor is there but it’s subdued. In fact, all the secondary flavors are nicely balanced. What’s left is the smoky, fire-roasted jalapenos — the star of this very hot, very delicious, super dank show.
Heat Level: It layers the “fresh” heat and the “stewed” heat to hit you on two levels. Won’t lay you out flat but will make you look around desperately for the nearest glass of water.
FOR WHEN YOU’RE BUYING IN BULK OR JUST MAKING SOME HASH BROWNS: Salsa Valentina
The first thing you should know about Salsa Valentina is that you can put both of your hands around the jar. This is no dainty, bottleneck hot sauce bottle. It doesn’t have an artisanal wooden cap like Cholula. Hell no. It’s a chubby, thick barrel-shaped glass container with a wide-mouth plastic spout that lets you throw down thick streams of hot sauce all over your hash browns.
If I see it in someone’s cupboard, my respect for them goes up tenfold. If I had a one-night stand and was offered this with eggs the next morning, I’d probably try to marry the guy. Valentina’s two distribution companies are in California and Texas, so expect to see it primarily in the Southwest. In New York, I found it in the regional food aisles of grocery stores, and very good diners, but it was scarce elsewhere — a shame because this is a well-balanced, flavor-forward sauce that’s as cheap as they come.
Heat Level: Classic “hot sauce” level and not a bit more.
FOR WHEN YOU’RE GOING UPSCALE: Truff — White Truffle Infused Hot Sauce
Look, I don’t know what to say. This stuff is hyped as hell (what hot sauce has 125K followers on Instagram?), Oprah chose it as one of her “favorite things” (twice!), and truffle oil is plaaaaayed out, but still… It’s freaking good. Like really good.
The heat and umami richness of the truffles are, quite literally, the perfect match. You get a hot sauce that hits those high, bright chili pepper notes and manages to have an “of the earth” mushroom quality. The fact that the sauce uses white truffle oil means it’s got a silkiness to it that most sauces lack and the heat, though it has a nice punch, doesn’t linger too long. In fact, I could use it turned up a quarter-notch.
Be warned: This sauce is pricey ($35). But if you’re having a dinner party post-pandemic and want a special bottle on the table that will elevate food rather than just making it spicier, this is a winner. The flavors are potent and the bottle is elegant.
Heat Level: Very Manageable
FOR WHEN YOU’RE READY TO MAKE YOUR OWN — Two-Shack “Como El Otro” Hot Sauce
This hot sauce was included in the book Cooking With Spices by Mark Stevens (who writes for Uproxx). In the ultimate small world moment, it comes courtesy of John “Two-Shack” Nicks, father of Denver Nicks, interviewed above. As Two-Shack notes, there’s a lot going on. You can make it hot as you want by adding additional cayenne.
From the man himself:
“Many hot sauces are comprised of a mixture of vinegar, pepper of one or more varieties and salt. I like to make a more complex hot sauce. I liked the ‘Two Dick Billy Goat’ sauce at the Thunderbird Restaurant in Marfa, Texas. I tried to duplicate it and came up with this. It will not be too hot for most people.”
- 1 cups apple cider vinegar
- ½ small can tomato paste
- 1 small tomatillo or green tomato, chopped
- 4 dried cayenne peppers, chopped
- 3 Pasilla Bajio chilies, seeded (or keep seeds if you want more heat)
- 2 Anaheim Peppers, pith removed (or mild Hatch Peppers, if available)
- 1 ½ tsp sea salt
- 1 small carrot, shredded
- 1 small red onion, chopped
- 1 ½ tsp of date molasses or blackstrap molasses as a substitute
Mix all ingredients together. Refrigerate