Hot Honey Is the $10 Pantry Splurge I Never Knew I Needed

updated Aug 25, 2020
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Red Clay Hot Honey being drizzled on grilled peach half and ice cream.
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell



avocado honey

When I was in Charleston, South Carolina, this past February visiting my sister who had just moved there, I instinctively kept my eyes out for a new jar to add to my shelf. I hadn’t found one yet when we were at dinner one night at Leon’s filling up on oysters, fried chicken, and rosé on tap. At the table was locally made Red Clay hot sauce and hot honey to dress the fried chicken with. Hot honey isn’t new — it’s been trendy for more than a few years now — but as much of a honey fiend as I am, I’ve never been one for flavored or infused jars, so I’ve always pushed hot honey aside. I did the same at Leon’s — I reached for the hot sauce while my sister and husband grabbed the hot honey. Their overzealousness quickly got me curious and it took only a drizzle on my crispy chicken to realize hot honey is the sweet, spicy, tangy condiment I’d been missing out on for far too long.

Instantly Elevate Everyday Meals with Sweet, Tangy Heat

What makes hot honey such a brilliant condiment is that it has a way of complementing just about everything without overpowering it. Hot honey is neither fiery nor sticky-sweet; instead, a drizzle is spicy, tangy, and sweet all at once and makes just about everything (be it chicken or roasted vegetables) a lot more interesting. There are a handful of brands out there and you can even hack your own quick homemade version, but even after tasting them all, my very favorite remains the bottle that initiated my love affair earlier this year.

At its heart, Red Clay is a hot sauce company, so it’s easy to trust them with the task of adding heat to honey. Molly Fienning, the CEO of the brand, says, “Our Red Clay hot honey is different from most hot honeys out there. We use only the highest-quality ingredients, namely 100% pure, raw Georgian Wildflower honey, sustainably sourced, which we spice up with our fermented habanero pepper mash.” The pepper mash that’s used is actually leftover from making their hot sauces, so it’s a smart, no-waste way to give it delicious new life. Their hot honey has a mellow bite (they make a hot-hot honey if you’re craving something sharper) that’s balanced by the sweet honey and rounded out with the tang of both the fermented pepper mash and a splash of apple cider vinegar, so it elevates rather than overwhelms. What’s more is the honey is aged in bourbon barrels, which lends a light, woodsy note to the situation and really makes it special (not to mention, oh-so Southern).

Buy my favorite bottle: Red Clay Hot Honey, $10 at Amazon

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

My Favorite Ways to Use Hot Honey

  • Shake it in cocktails. Honey is my favorite natural sweetener to use in cocktails for the floral notes it brings. Using hot honey brings even more to the table. It’s particularly great in whisky-based drinks, such as the Gold Rush.
  • Whisk it into salad dressings, marinades, and glazes. Chef and co-founder Geoff Rhyme recommends using it in dressings and marinades to “add complexity.” It will make even the most basic vinaigrette more interesting. It also jazzes up just about any marinade — try it here in this simple one for grilled chicken. Lately, I’ve been really into using it in a simple glaze for salmon, too.
  • Serve it alongside your next cheese plate. We might not be entertaining these days, but you can and should still pop open your favorite bottle of wine and build a cheese board for a special snack or, heck, a simple dinner. Hot honey is the perfect addition.
  • Top off roasted or grilled vegetables. Truly, it doesn’t matter the vegetable — it will be better with a finishing touch of hot honey. Right now I am drizzling it on grilled eggplant, but soon enough it will be what I reach for when roasting Brussels sprouts.
  • Bake with it. Using it in place of regular honey in cornbread is just plain ingenious. Or be bold and try it in these savory granola bars.
  • Drizzle on fruit, yogurt, and even ice cream. If you’re tired of your same old fruit and yogurt breakfast routine, literally spice it up with a drizzle of hot honey. This time of year the peaches can’t be beat, and I find myself loving the combination, particularly when I grilled them for dessert and serve them with vanilla ice cream, too.

There are countless ingredients clamoring for space in your kitchen. Taste Makers are the ones that actually make a dish amazing. Each month, we’re exploring one ingredient that has earned its place in our small kitchens and will make even simple food taste spectacular.

Your turn: What’s your favorite underrated ingredient in your pantry? What do you reach for when you want to elevate your cooking quickly and easily? Tell us in the comments below! We may give it the star treatment in an upcoming edition of Taste Makers.