Everyone has a go-to hot sauce. And for some, their go-to is the only thing they'll use. Tabasco over Valentina? Blasphemy! While having a preferred hot sauce is a personal thing, there's no reason why you shouldn't explore what other spicy condiments are at your disposal. We asked a bunch of chefs what their favorite spice bombs are, and we included a few of our own picks that deserve a place in your pantry, on your dining table or in your bag.
Thanks to its habanero base, El Yucateco is easily the fieriest of your everyday hot sauces. It was the second most vote-getting sauces among the chefs we spoke with, and they put it on whatever is in front of them. “I’m hooked, I put it on everything — pizza, tacos, macaroni and cheese — everything,” says Milwaukee-based Chef Dan Jacobs of DanDan, EsterEv and Fauntleroy. “It is an essential all-purpose condiment in my household.”
Big Red’s God’s Wrath Ghost Pepper Sauce
Don't let its name scare you away from trying it, because God's Wrath is more like a gift from the spice gods. It's blowing up sad leftover lunches like a flavor bomb in the mouth with habanero and the infamous ghost pepper. God's Wrath also packs extra flavor with the additions of garlic and onion powders, rosemary, applewood-smoked seat salt and lemon juice concentrate.
Crystal Hot Sauce
One of two lines of Louisiana hot sauce royalty (the second comes later) is made with just three ingredients — salt, vinegar and aged cayenne peppers — but its popularity doesn’t end with simpletons. “If I were on a desert island and could only have one hot sauce it would be Crystal. You can use it just on greens, mix it with mayonnaise, it’s good on cheeseburgers, great on seafood. It’s just universal,” Atlanta chef Linton Hopkins of Holeman & Finch, Restaurant Eugene, C. Ellets and others said. “I love Tabasco on oysters. And for something like tacos, I love Cholula. But Crystal is the most universal.”
Hot Ones Los Calientes Rojo
Hot Ones — yes, based off the web series of the same name — makes killer (not literally) hot sauces that you can eat at home. Los Calientes Rojo blends smoked red jalapeños, for sweetness and depth, with habanero, for hellish heat, as its base spicy profile. Then it gets treated with a mix of herbs, plus the unique addition of tart apricot, which lends its fruit flavor and color.
Shaquanda Hot Pepper Sauce
This hot sauce pleases everyone from its hometown of Brooklyn to its roots in Barbados. Shaquanda's hot pepper sauce is less about melting your face off and more about boosting whatever you're eating with blast of flavor. Hot Pepper Sauce mixes scotch bonnets and habaneros with spices inspired by Barbados like ginger, turmeric and mustard. There's also a bit of horseradish to clear your sinuses — better keep the tissues near you.
Chefs really, really like Valentina. Like any hot sauce nerd, chefs use it on everything (apparently, one even puts it and a squeeze of lemon on Flaming Hot Cheetos). But what sets it apart, according to its disciples, is the inclusion of flavors not often present in a cheap bottle of hot sauce. The consistency of this Mexican staple lies somewhere between your typical watery sauce and Sriracha, and it comes in hot or extra-hot.
Red Clay Original Hot Sauce
South Carolina-based Red Clay takes your ordinary grocery store-aisle hot sauce and kicks it up to 11 — not in terms of heat, but flavor. Its base chili is a fresno chili, which has mild heat and sweet flavor, that's mixed with white wine vinegar, then aged in bourbon barrels. This is the sort of hot sauce you put on anything and everything, turning whatever you put it on into a vessel for getting Red Clay into your mouth.
The name is Mexican, the sauce isn’t. Tabasco is made with tabasco peppers grown on Avery Island, which is technically a salt dome. It’s probably the most popular hot sauce in the U.S. — it’s included in MREs and offered to astronauts aboard the International Space Station. The culinary director at Hill Country, Ash Fulk, puts it on everything, though he believes grits are the ideal companion. “It’s a sharp, vinegar snap and slightly fermented zippy sauce give a great platform for any dish without overpowering it,” he says.
Truffle in things is an over-priced gimmick; truffle in Truff is not. This deeply savory hot sauce, made with actual black truffles, is perfectly spicy (as in hot) and perfectly spiced. This is the type of hot sauce that you get someone as a gift.
Hot Sloth CBD Hot Sauce
Hot Sloth is a hot sauce that burns the tongue and cools the mind. Former executive chef at Alinea, Mike Bagale, helped CBD olive oil brand Pot d'Huile come up with this neon-red hot sauce that packs major heat, thanks to a heavy-handed addition of habanero. But this thing isn't all about the heat — it's flavorful like you wouldn't believe. Dragonfruit provides some of that bright color as well as some fruitiness; white miso paste and fermented plum bring the funk; and the CBD olive oil just rounds it all out.