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There are Instagram hashtags, challenges, viral TV shows and swag, all dedicated to hot sauce. And why not? The best hot sauce can add an extra kick to a blah tasting sandwich, add heat to your chili and take your guacamole to the next level. So how do you know which sauces to add to your kitchen cabinet and which to skip? We recommend learning a little bit about the hottest hot sauces so you know which product is best for you.
The first thing to know is what flavors work best with your favorite foods because you don’t want to add liquid heat to your food just to have to dump it. The second is to understand the pepper’s level of heat through the Scoville Heat Unit (SHU). The scale, which was named after Wilbur Scoville in 1912, measures the pungency and heat of chili peppers. It ranges from 100 for sweet and spicy to the millions for the hottest of the hot. At the upper reaches of the scale, the most potent peppers can cause actual medical injuries such as intestinal distress or damage to your taste buds and eyes. Of course, that’s not stopping us from seeking out the hottest hot sauces.
So, grab a glass of water or milk and let us be your hot sauce sommelier.
Sweet and Mild Hot Sauces
Trader Joe’s Sweet Chili Sauce plays on chilies and garlic used in kitchens across Thailand and works well on pretty much any type of cuisine. Yes, it pairs well with drunken noodles, but its sweet and spicy flavor is equally as good on plain grilled chicken or homemade fried rice. Another option for sweet with a back kick is Pickapeppa’s Gingery Mango Sauce. The company has been brewing up sauces in Jamaica since 1921 and offers a wide array of sauces to choose from. This iteration is equally as good on ribs as it on shish kebab chicken.
Mild to Medium
Nothing beats a classic, and if you are a beginner to the hot sauce game, you will want to start slow. Tabasco Original Red Pepper Sauce is made with three ingredients — peppers, vinegar, and salt — from a recipe that originated in 1868. It works well on fried chicken, eggs, Tex-Mex food and pretty much everything else, too.
If you are whipping together some guacamole 365 Organic Sauce Jalapeno Hot Sauce, is another must-have for hot sauce lovers. Green jalapeno ranks between 600-1200 on the SHU scale, making it quite enjoyable for those who want just the right amount of heat.
Medium to Hot
Red Clay takes making hot sauce to another level. And the Carolina Hot Sauce aged in bourbon barrels for three months features a blend of Fresno and Carolina reaper. It offers smoky sweetness and just enough heat making it a great addition to a Philly cheesesteak or fish sandwich.
If you love to top your pizza with crushed peppers—and let’s face it, who doesn’t — then Divina Chopped Calabrian Peppers needs to be a part of your life asap. Smoky, spicy, fruity, and from Calabria Italy, works in sauces and just about any soup you can think of.
And if your Turkey meatballs seem dull lately, then take them up a notch by mixing in Mina Harissa Spicy. While harissa is a typical North African condiment, it has grown in popularity and should be placed next to your mustard and ketchup when serving just about anything.
Hot to Very Hot
Both Scotch bonnet and Habanero peppers are ranked between 100,000 and 350,000 on the SHU scale, which means wear gloves and don’t touch your eyes. And while there are those who are daring and eat hot peppers whole — just don’t — they are far more enjoyable when blended with citrus such as Red Clay’s Habanero Hot Sauce. The next time you whip up a bloody mary, add it in for a super spicy kick.
Grace Hot Scotch Bonnet Sauce is authentic and just makes stews and rice and beans so much better. While the actual peppers are often used when making escovitch fish, this sauce is a good substitute as they can be hard to find.
If you were to innocently grab a bottle of Melinda’s Red Savina hot sauce, you might think it is relatively mild based on its innocuous $5 bottle. You would be very, very wrong, as it is certified at more than 577,000 SHU, making it one of the hottest of all habanero varieties. Though flavorful, it is hard on the palate.
Get Bitten Black Mamba 6 Hot Sauce has six million SHU plus chocolate habanero peppers, which doesn’t soften the flavor. It will leave your tongue or fire for a while. Keep a glass of milk close by if you choose to consume.
Call the Fire Department
Da’ Bomb Ghost Pepper Hot Sauce contains bhut jolokia, aka ghost pepper, a hybrid chili pepper that can set your mouth on fire with its over 1 million Scoville Heat Units. One Amazon reviewer who took it to a hot sauce tasting party said, “it basically burned the taste buds off of everyone there.” We say,” proceed with caution,” as this legendary hot sauce is not for the faint of heart.
Really, there’s no reason to try this hot sauce unless you are trying to hurt yourself, and we recommend keeping a glass of milk at the ready. Good luck.