I Tried 9 Bottles of Hot Sauce and These Were Clearly The Best
Chicago-born interviewer-turned-YouTube-host Sean Evans hosts a ridiculously entertaining show called “Hot Ones” and, in every episode, he feeds celebrities a series of increasingly fiery hot wings while he asks them about their lives and about the projects they’re working on (or that they’ve previously worked on). While his guests answer, he gets to watch from across the table while they spend half an hour detonating their own digestive systems, one wing at a time.
Anyway, I thought a lot about “Hot Ones” while I took on nine different hot sauces for this taste test. The show changes its sauce lineup every season, although every guest is served the same, uh, hot ones in the same order. Of the nine sauces I tried, six of them have previously been featured on the show — but they were also the mildest or second-mildest options, which makes me feel simultaneously cool and uncool.
But this mildness was by design: When I selected the sauces for this test, I didn’t want anything that was so hot that it became less a condiment and more a tongue-searing endurance challenge. I didn’t buy anything with the word “Death” typed anywhere on it, nothing with a charred-looking skull logo, and if the label had more flames than Guy Fieri’s closet, then it stayed on the shelf. (If you’re into the Scoville thing, the hottest sauce in this assortment was the OG-recipe Tabasco sauce, which falls between 2,500 and 5,000 Scoville Heat Units.)
There’s a ridiculously wide range of hot sauces out there, and even the words hot sauce mean different things to different people. For this test, I focused on some widely available red chile sauces, while excluding smoky chipotle versions, green habanero sauces, gochujang-based sauces, and Sriracha — but only because we could do stand-alone taste tests for each of those categories, too.
All that said, I still ended up with a wide range of sauces of varying origins and with varying styles, which is why — SPOILER ALERT — there’s not just one “winner.” And, as always, each sauce was purchased at either a supermarket, a specialty grocery store, or a big-box retailer. (We didn’t include any sauce sold online either, because have you seen how many sauces are currently sold online?) To test the sauces, I tried them by themselves (yup, just a mouthful of sauce), then on pizza, on chips, on popcorn, and, in the case of one tiebreaker, on a plate of scrambled eggs.
These are the only bottles I’d buy again.
So here goes: If you’re looking for a hot Buffalo-style sauce for a batch of chicken wings, to add some kick to mac and cheese, or for the meatballs you take to an NFL playoff watch party, then Frank’s RedHot Original is the way to go. Its heat enhances the flavor of the sauce, as opposed to overpowering it — although there is an Xtra Hot version if you need a little more fire.
Buy: Frank’s RedHot Original, $4.72 for 20 ounces at Walmart
Tapatio has been one of my long-time go-tos for salsas, Mexican-style omelets, and enchilada bakes (and one of my friends swears that it’s the key to a good Bloody Mary), but it still stood out when I compared it to other sauces — possibly because there’s a hint of sweetness that gives the heat some extra depth.
Buy: Tapatio, $14.95 for three 10-ounce bottles
When it comes to Louisiana-style hot sauces, I prefer Crystal Hot Sauce, because I don’t think the bite of the vinegar is quite as prominent as it is in similar sauces. As a result, I think the flavor of Crystal is much more balanced, and much more enjoyable than, say, Tabasco. (I said it!)
Buy: Crystal Hot Sauce, $1.49 for 12 ounces at Target
Finally, my all-around most versatile sauce is the inaccurately named Texas Pete. (It’s actually made in Winston-Salem, North Carolina). Although it claims to be a “Louisiana” sauce, it doesn’t have the vinegar tang of Crystal or Tabasco, but it does have a well-rounded flavor that works on almost anything. It was easily the mildest sauce I sampled, but apparently there’s a Hotter style too.
Buy: Texas Pete Original Hot Sauce, $2.74 for 24 ounces at Walmart
I probably haven’t earned an invite to appear on “Hot Ones” yet, but that’s alright. I always liked Liam Gallagher better anyway.
Do you have a favorite store-bought brand of hot sauce? Tell us about it in the comments below!