“I think hot sauce is akin to drug use,” says Noah Chaimberg, founder of Heatonist, a Brooklyn-based purveyor of small-batch hot sauces from around the world. “You get the rush of endorphins and adrenaline, your blood’s pumping faster, your metabolism goes up. It’s a thrill, and that’s why people get hooked on it.”
Few condiments inspire as much fanaticism as hot sauce. Sure, you get your fair share of utilitarians drenching fish tacos in anything with a Scoville unit. But hot sauce is more than just dressing. Today’s brands each have their own gaggle of acolytes hawking judgment on the lessers — it’s part of hot sauce’s unique appeal. So, fork at the ready, we asked Chaimberg to collect five lesser-known hot sauce bottles with an established or emerging evangelism. Spread the gospel. Cum calor et sapor. Amen.
Secret Aardvark Habanero Hot Sauce
Secret Aardvark is Portland’s so-called “table sauce,” since it’s replaced ketchup in many diners and restaurants of the city. The flavor is a medium-heat blend of habenero and vinegar notes. “We were the first ones to bring Aardvark [to the East Coast],” Chaimberg says. “There’re some sauces you can put it on anything. Aardvark is great for that.”
Inner Beauty Hot Sauce
Inner Beauty was first made famous at the East Coast Grill in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which closed down in 2016. “One of the long-time fans bought the recipe and started making it again,” Chaimberg says. “It’s a real taste of the islands.” The sauce has mustard, curry and tropical fruit. It pairs well with jerk and grilled meats.
Queen Majesty was founded in Brooklyn by Erica Diehl, a local DJ. “She makes Jamaican music, so her sauces are Jamaican inspired,” Chaimberg says. There are four in total, each crafted with local ingredients, but Charcoal Ghost, a Heatonist exclusive, features habanero, ghost pepper and activated charcoal.
Hot Ones Hot Sauce
The eponymous sauce popularized by the YouTube show Hot Ones. “People have fallen in love with it,” Chaimberg says of the sauce. It’s slightly smoky, with pineapple, lime and ghost pepper. It’s sweet, with a citrusy tang.
Dirty Dick’s Hot Sauce
Dirty Dick’s Hot Sauce, a blend of habanero and tropical fruits, won the overall best sauce award at the New York Hot Sauce Expo in 2017. “People come in and buy three bottles at a time,” Chaimberg says. “Personally, I’ll use it if I’m grilling chicken or salmon because all that fruit sugar will caramelize on the high heat of the grill.”