Hot sauce is the only product in the culinary industry that ranges in character from “adds a little flavor” to “blatant masochism”. So it’s important to know your chilis before you douse your chicken wings in a seemingly unassuming sauce. Sauces made with the Scoville Heat Scale chart toppers, like the Trinidad Scorpion Pepper or Carolina Reaper pepper, are clearly out to do some damage.
But there’s also an art to concocting a spread with plenty of flavor and just enough kick to get some endorphins flowing, and it exists well beyond the bounds of the tired Sriracha and diner stalwart Tabasco. There’s an entire industry full of chili-heads producing complex sauces, some (extremely) more spicy than others. From the sandwich toppers to the tear-jerking face melters, these are our favorite hot sauces.
Puckerbutt Pepper Co. I Dare You Stupit Horseradish
Best Bloody Mary Addition: Don’t let the sedate mason jar and simple printed label fool you, this horseradish has some serious kick. Although horseradish has a little heat to it as a rule, Puckerbutt Pepper Co. mixed in the Carolina Reaper pepper, hottest chili in the world. Put a dash of it in your Sunday brunch Bloody Mary and really knock your senses straight.
Chili: Carolina Reaper Pepper (2.2 Million SHU)
High River Sauces Foo Foo Mama Choo
Best “No Bullshit” Heat Chinese takeout menus always mark the General Tso’s with chilis as a warning, only to never follow through with enough spice. High River Sauces’ Foo Foo Mama Choo has the garlic and ginger to blend in with the General Tso’s sauce, but brings the heat your chicken was always promised. It should be noted the aforementioned Carolina Reaper pepper is what gives the sauce its kick — so you may get more than you bargained for.
Chili: Carolina Reaper Pepper (2.2 Million SHU)
Old Barney’s Lighthouse Hot Sauce
Best Entry-Level Sauce: In our line up, Old Barney’s Lighthouse Hot Sauce is the closest you’ll find to the old familiar Tabasco. Except, where Tabasco’s inherent saltiness may be a put-off, Old Barney’s has a more refined and robust taste, using habanero and cayenne chilis. Next time you’re diving into some oysters, give Old Barney’s Lighthouse a try and you’ll never look back.
Chili: Habanero (350,000 SHU), Cayenne (50,000 SHU)
Horseshoe Brand Peach Sauce
Best Sweet Heat: Since the serrano chili is on the lower end of the Scoville Heat Scale, Horseshoe Brand Peach Sauce makes a better dipping sauce than the other scorchers on the list. The sweet and sticky peaches and the spice from the serrano make it great for slathering on chicken for the grill or spreading on top of egg rolls.
Chili: Serrano (25,000 SHU)
Unique Destiny Cayenne Herb
Best Pasta Sauce Enhancer: Unique Destiny Cayenne Herb is on the milder side, but the cayenne pepper and tomato mix together to make it a great addition to pasta sauces or adding a little something extra to your Bloody Mary. The Cayenne Herb is a seasonal sauce, so its availability may vary — meaning you should stock up when you can.
Chili: Cayenne (50,000 SHU)
Big Fat’s 708 7 Pot Citrus
Most Versatile: It’s said that the Trinidad 7 Pot chili got its name by being able to spice up seven pots of chili with just a single pepper. And although the 1.05 million SHU rating can be intimidating, Big Fat’s 708 7 Pot Citrus sauce uses orange juice, pineapple and garlic to create a complex flavor that’s good on top of just about anything. Just be careful not to be lulled by the sweetness; the scorch isn’t far behind.
Chili: Trinidad 7 Pot (1.05 million SHU)
Cajohn’s Trinidad Hot Sauce
Best Sweats: There are some sauces that you have to go into knowing there’s going to be pain. Cajohn’s Trinidad Hot Sauce is one of those sauces. Brief hints of lemon and garlic are quickly chased by the heat of 1.2 million Scoville units from the Trinidad moruga scorpion chili. Mix a little into your stir fry or taco meat when you’re cooking and you’ll not only get the full flavor for your food, but also the the full force of Cajohn’s. It’s a lasting burn, but it hurts so good.
Chili: Trinidad Moruga Scorpion (1.2 million SHU)
Sweet Heat Gourmet Sweet & Spicy Stout Mustard
Best Sandwich Spread: Mustard seeds aren’t measured in SHU, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a little kick. Sweet Heat Gourmet Sweet & Spicy Stout Mustard isn’t too spicy, and it’s balanced out nicely with honey and apple cider. The mustard seeds were soaked in stout beer, which adds a unique flavor great for lining the bread on a stacked sandwich.
Most Masochistic: There’s no apple cider or other thin veil of sweetness trying to hide what’s in this sauce. Culley’s Reaper is 2.2 million SHU of unadulterated New Zealand-grown Carolina Reaper. If you put it directly on your food, do so in small doses (read: one or two drops). If you’re feeling adventurous enough to cook with it, open a window and prepare to tear up and cough. It’s guaranteed pain — if you’re into that sort of thing.
Chili: Carolina Reaper (2.2 million SHU)
High River Sauces Rogue
Best Cooking Hot Sauce: It may contain two of the hottest chilis in the world, but High River Rogue also incorporates blood oranges, apples and pears for a subtle hint of sweetness. Use a dash when cooking and the moruga scorpion and ghost peppers add enough heat to induce a little sweating, but the depth of flavor that accompanies it makes it all worth it.
Chili: Moruga Scorpion (1.2 million SHU), Ghost Pepper (1.4 million SHU), Serrano (25,000 SHU)
Hellfire Hot Sauce Devil’s Gold
The Go-To: It’s pineapple based, but that doesn’t mean that Hellfire Hot Sauce Devil’s Gold can’t bring serious heat. Devil’s Gold won Best Fruit Based Hot Sauce at the 2013 NYC Hot Sauce Expo, and it’s really no surprise. With three of the world’s hottest hottest chilis, one might think it’s unapproachable. But the balance of sweet exotic fruits and bold heat make it a must-have in any chili head collection.
Chili: Trinidad Yellow 7 Pot (1.05 million SHU), Yellow Bhut Jolokia (1.4 million SHU), Yellow Scorpion (1.2 million SHU)