Walking through this year’s NYC Hot Sauce Expo, two things become abundantly clear about the industry dedicated to all things chili pepper: everyone has a little penchant for pain and a big sense of humor. Despite the slightly masochistic undertones of an event where you’re purposely putting your mouth in pain’s way, most of the vendors have an affinity for the culinary arts and a fine sense of hospitality, more than eager to show you how their sauce can enhance a dish. From the amicable silver-haired lady selling Dirty Dick’s by the box to the rockabilly dude handing out samples of sauce with dark demonic figures on the label, it’s safe to say a broad spectrum of the population is represented.

Much like how the craft beer industry evolved over time, so too grows the hot sauce industry. Small-time chili-heads are eschewing the mainstream in favor of their own mouth-slaying concoctions; they’re just experimenting with spices and chilis instead of hops and barley. The purveyors in attendance at this year’s NYC Hot Sauce Expo have come from all over the country, with a few companies even shipping their sauces from Africa, Germany, New Zealand and South America.

And like craft brewers, sauce makers get just as creative with the outside of the bottle as they do with what’s inside the bottle, enlisting graphic designers, tattoo artists and amateur sketch artists to enliven the label. The creative artwork can give you an idea of how serious the sauce is or provide glimpse into the character behind the sauce. From the Grim Reapers and Lovecraft characters to cartoonish Días de los Muertos themes and innuendos, these are the labels that caught our eye at the 2016 NYC Hot Sauce Expo.

La Segadora

Cajohns Fiery Foods


Main Pepper: Reaper
Spice Rating: Hot

Hot Barbecue Sauce

Texas Rib Rangers


Main Pepper: Chili
Spice Rating: Mild

Bhuty Thyme

Voodoo Chile Sauces


Main Pepper: Ghost
Spice Rating: Hot

Old Barney’s Lighthouse Hot Sauce

World Famous Hot Sauce


Main Peppers: Habanero and Tabasco
Spice Rating: Mild

Gourmet Pepper Sauce

Jak Jeckel pepper Sauce


Main Pepper: Habanero
Spice Rating: Extremely Hot

Sweaty Beaver

Angry Goat Pepper Co.


Main Peppers: Chocolate Habanero, Ghost and Moruga Scorpion
Spice Rating: Extremely Hot

Hot Cock

Angry Goat Pepper Co.


Main Pepper: Jay’s Peach Ghost Scorpion
Spice Rating: Extremely Hot

The Green

Heartbreaking Dawns


Main Pepper: Jalepeno and Serrano
Spice Rating: Hot

Hellacious Hot Sauce

High River Sauces


Main Pepper: Habanero
Spice Rating: Mild

Tears of the Sun

High River Sauces


Main Pepper: Peach Scorpion
Spice Rating: Mild

Ghost Scream (Winner of 2016 NYC Hot Sauce Expo)

Ghost Scream Hot Sauces


Main Pepper: Red Bell and Ghost
Spice Rating: Hot

Reaper of Sorrow

Born to Hula


Main Pepper: Carolina Reaper and Red Jalapeño
Spice Rating: Extremely Hot

Black Garlic

Jersey Barn Fire


Main Pepper: Jalapeño and Habanero
Spice Rating: Mild

Freak Show

Voodoo Chile Sauce


Main Pepper: Jalapeño
Spice Rating: Mild

1841 Pear & Apple Ghost Hot Sauce

Heartbreaking Dawns


Main Pepper: Ghost and Red Habanero
Spice Rating: Hot

Salsa Picante Chile Habanero

El Yucateco


Main Pepper: Habanero
Spice Rating: Very Hot

Dirty Dick’s Hot Sauce

Dirty Dick’s


Main Pepper: Habanero
Spice Rating: Very Hot

The Reaper

Pucker Butt Pepper Co


Main Pepper: Reaper Pepper
Spice Rating: Extremely Hot
Our Favorites From Last Year’s Expo


See our picks, here.

Bryan Campbell

More by Bryan Campbell | Follow on Contact via Email
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