Sweating brow, watery eyes, and burning tongue aside, I love hot sauce. There’s nothing quite so effective at transforming boring (or less than expertly cooked) eggs, chicken, or takeout into something delicious. To discover new condiments to add to my arsenal, I recently attended the Sixth Annual NYC Hot Sauce Expo to sample the newest hot sauces on the market. After trying dozens of spicy condiments (some rather timid, some blazing), I came away with a few favorites. Here, the top 10 hot sauces I tasted, ranked from mild to wild.
This was one of the few sauces I tried at the NYC Hot Sauce Expo that really wasn’t hot at all, in the scheme of things. But as the brand positions it as a garlic aïoli, not a hot sauce, that was little surprise. You would be doing it right to dump this tangy, garlicky, and ever so lightly peppery sauce all over salads, sandwiches, pizza, and more. I used a spoon and it was tasty, so imagine a bite of pizza with pepperoni, black olives, peppers, and this stuff.
If you’re like me, sometimes you want a superhot sauce that would wake up the dead, but other times you want a milder sauce you can dump on in generous portions. That would be this one. This unique sauce is sweet and tart, and mild enough that you could slurp up a tablespoon of it straight with only minor regret. It’s a great balance to a food that’s already got some spice, like a peppered meat or, hey, peppers.
This hot sauce proves that the expression “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” isn’t always true. I got a bit of a smoldering burn maybe, but really it has a lot of smokiness and tang; it’s not a painful product. Which is good because the wide-mouth bottle pours on fast. The company, based out of Chattanooga, has only been around for three years, but they are already making a mark with balanced, approachable sauces.
While you could be forgiven for thinking that this hot-sauce company got its name from the howl you’ll release after trying its spicy sauces, in fact it’s named based on region. Howler monkeys are native to the same region of Panama that inspired this “Aji Chombo”–style hot sauce, a sauce that upends the traditional flavor profile. Most sauces start mildly with the burn creeping in; this one will singe the tongue and taste buds for a moment, with the heat quickly receding and a bright tangy flavor replacing it.
Whitehouse Station Sauce Company is a father-and-son operation, and I got the chance to talk to the son of said duo at some length. He’s a professional chef by trade, and his dad was a salesman. Their skills came together to launch this company, but it’s the quality of the sauces that make it work. Their Jalapeño Sauce is an all-natural (i.e., no xanthan gum or other preservatives) and well-balanced sauce that packs moderate heat without overpowering other flavors, or your mouth for that matter. While spicier than lots of salsa-verde sauces I’ve tried, it’s very much tolerable.
I tried a few hot sauces from this New Jersey–based company, but this is the one that left an impression, and it didn’t leave much pain, either. The concentration of spice from the jalapeño peppers is nicely balanced by the sweetness and tang of the pineapples, so you can pour it on pretty thick without blasting your taste buds. I tried it on a tortilla chip, but I imagine it would be delicious on fish, chicken, or pork.
This award-winning hot sauce has plenty of fire behind it, but taken in moderation, it’s the subtle sweetness of the chocolate flavor that defines it. There is also a distinct smokiness to the flavor that makes this a great choice for mixing in with a mole sauce to add heat. I enjoyed it right off a plastic spoon, and can see it atop enchiladas, steak, and more. It’s a thinner sauce, so shake it well and make sure to use care when pouring.
Not only did I try some El Yucateco hot sauces at the expo, but in fact, I recently finished off a bottle of their XXXTra Hot Kutbil-ik Mayan Style Hot Sauce, and believe me when I tell you that a little bit is plenty. Well mixed into your meal, this super-spicy habanero hot sauce will still wake you up with heat. If you get a dab of it straight, you can forget about tasting anything else for a while. I love it on Mexican foods, of course, but also with many Asian dishes.
If you’re a glutton for punishment, then this multi-pepper, super-spicy hot sauce is the one for you. Go ahead and load up on it and you’ll briefly taste savory cinnamon, then only fire. But dripped sparingly over tacos, or blended into a marinara sauce, this spiced and spicy hot sauce will make other foods shine. It’s pricey at $10 for a five-ounce bottle, but you will (or at least should) only use a little bit at a time.
Frankly, this hot sauce with the rude name was too hot for me, but maybe it will be perfect for you, tough guy or girl. I tried it well into the day, and this one still set things aflame. It uses the Carolina Reaper Pepper, which was named the hottest pepper in the world by Guinness in 2013 (it’s since been surpassed) and is the pepper from the infamous One Chip Challenge.