Grocery store hot sauces ranked worst to best

The invention of hot sauce is credited to the ancient Aztecs, who cultivated chili peppers to add some flavor and nutritional value to their limited food choices. By the time the conquistadors arrived, the Aztecs were already mixing peppers, herbs, and water into sauces and serving them on ancient versions of the corn tortilla.

Fast forward several hundred years, and hot sauce has spread from its birthplace in Central America to North America, Europe, Asia, and outer space. Walk into your average grocery store, and you'll be confronted with a dazzling array of hot sauce bottles filled with liquids in red, green, yellow, and orange. Different brands come with different types of peppers, ingredients, spice levels, and suggested food pairings—and not all are created equal.

To help you find a spicy sauce worthy of drenching over your eggs, bloody marys, pizza, tacos, hot pockets, Chinese takeout, girlfriend's cooking, and more, we've ranked grocery store hot sauces from worst to best:

10. Huy Fong Sriracha

Spice rating: Ketchupy

Developed by Huy Fong Foods in Los Angeles, California, Sriracha is definitely the hippest hot sauce on this list. Entire cookbooks have been dedicated to this Asian-inspired sauce. Sriracha T-shirts have been donned. Mini Sriracha bottle keychains have been stuffed into Christmas stockings. When Sriracha sandwiches hit Subway, we knew our nation had been gripped by a fever and nothing could cure it but more Sriracha.

But here's the thing: as a hot sauce, Sriracha is just not that good. In fact, Sriracha may just be the most overrated hot sauce out there.

Aside from being only slightly spicier than marinara sauce, Sriracha's main problem is its exorbitant sugar content. The sauce contains one gram of sugar per teaspoon, which is only slightly below the 1.2 grams found in ketchup. To make matters worse, Sriracha's got double the amount of ketchup's sodium.

Will I continue to pour Sriracha into pho noodle soups? Yes. Will I feel guilty about it? Absolutely. Will I be happy as I'm slurping down noodles drenched in the delicious, sweet, sugary salty sauce anyway? Well... yeah.

9. Tabasco

Spice rating: Annoyingly hot

Let's start with the positives: Tabasco, that iconic red pepper sauce that needs no introduction, has been around since 1868 and still somehow manages to remain popular 150 years later. A staple American condiment, Tabasco was born on the Avery Island, Louisiana. On this very Gulf Island, all Tabasco peppers are grown and all of its salt is mined. The McIlhenny family, who created Tabasco, even continue to live on the island along with many of the factory and field workers.

To this day, Tabasco is made from the McIlhenny family's original recipe: Tabasco peppers, vinegar, and salt aged in oak barrels for up to three years. Tabasco peppers are handpicked when they turn a deep red, which apparently signifies optimal flavor and heat.

If you request hot sauce at a restaurant, nine times out of 10, you're going to be handed Tabasco. Whenever that happens, I can't help but be disappointed. Tabasco is fine, but it's basically all heat and no flavor. And it's a lingering heat, which means that after you finish your pizza or burrito or whatever, you're still going to be in a little bit of pain. I like the heat, but after you're done eating, you want to be able to move forward without continuing to weep and desperately fanning your tongue.

8. Louisiana Brand Hot Sauce

Spice rating: Tame

The Louisiana Brand Hot Sauce, which was engineered in New Iberia, is tasty enough. As in, it'll do in a pinch. But we're knocking the Louisiana Brand down a few pegs because of it's high sodium content. With a blood pressure-hiking 240 milligrams of sodium, Louisiana has the highest sodium level of any commercial hot sauce. Beyond the staggering amount of salt, Louisiana Brand Hot Sauce is made from relatively harmless ingredients like aged peppers and distilled vinegar.

The original Louisiana Hot Sauce is fairly tame. If you're after something a little bolder,  the Louisiana Brand also puts out some more fiery options like the red chili, habanero, and aptly named Hotter Than Hot sauces. For a bit of flavor variety, there's also the Louisiana Brand chipotle, roasted garlic, roasted pepper, jalapeño, and Sweat Heat with Honey.

7. El Yucateco KUTBILIK EXXXTRA HOT Habanero

Spice rating: Really, really, ridiculously hot

The Yucateco Salsas Y Condimentos company was founded more than 50 years ago by Priamo J. Gamboa in the heart of the Yucatan. Gamboa named the company for after the Spanish word for—as you may have guessed—a person from the Yucatan.

There are three varieties of El Yucateco hot sauces, including the red sauce habanero pepper, the green sauce habanero pepper, and the KUTBILIK EXXXTRA HOT Habanero. Made from the habanero pepper rather than the other primarily cayenne-pepper hot sauces on this list, all three of the El Yucateco hot sauces are spicier than average. The KUTBILIK EXXXTRA HOT Habanero, which gets its name from the Mayan word for "crushed chili," predictably, is the spiciest.

Seasoned smokers who have otherwise lost all sense of taste may appreciate the blazing heat of the KUTBILIK. But even as spice aficionados ourselves, we found that the heat of the KUTBILIK overwhelmed the flavor. It's the kind of lingering, mounting heat that makes you abandon your fish tacos and go running to the freezer for a Creamsicle, STAT.

6. Tapatío

Spice rating: Hotish

Contrary to what you may have believed, Tapatío—that popular Mexican hot sauce with a guy in a sombrero on it—is not actually from Mexico. Actually, Tapatío was born in Maywood, California in 1971. According to an interview with the son of the founder, the father of Tapatío, Jose-Luis Saavedra, used to make hot sauce in his California home that he sold at his full-time job. When his company shut down, Saavedra took a chance and opened his own hot sauce factory while working two part-time jobs on the sly.

Nearly half a century later, the Tapatío company is still run by Jose-Luis' family. Today, Tapatío is one of the most beloved not-actually-Mexican Mexican hot sauces. The only mark it has against it is its somewhat watery consistency. On the Tapatío label, "water" is the first ingredient on the list, followed by red peppers, salt, spices, and garlic. In place of vinegar, Tapatío uses acetic acid, which can damage the digestive system. It's also packed with 110 milligrams of sodium, which adds to deliciousness but detracts from its blood pressure-friendliness.

5. Cholula

Spice rating: Caliente 

Named for a 2,500-year-old city in Mexico, Cholula (Choe-loo-la) actually originated and continues to be manufactured in Chapala in the Mexican state of Jalisco—not Cholula (so don't show up in Cholula expecting a tour of the Cholula hot sauce factory).

A common sight at supermarkets across the U.S., Cholula hot sauce is instantly identifiable by its signature wooden bottle cap. Examine the label, and there's a photo of a señorita who is rumored to be the Cholula family matriarch and looks a lot Bob Saget.

The original Cholula, reportedly crafted from a generations-old recipe, contains arbol and piquin peppers in addition to salt, vinegar, and a "blend of spices." In terms of heat level, Cholula is relatively mild, but the spice-blend and vinegar delivers a flavorful tang, faintly reminiscent of garlic.

In addition to the original Cholula, the brand has released a number of new flavors over the years, including chipotle, chili garlic, green pepper, chili lime, and sweet habanero. Of these, the sweet habanero is the spiciest.

4. Crystal Hot Sauce

Spice rating: N'awlins

There's a good chance that most of the population of New Orleans will disagree with our naming Crystal Hot Sauce as anything less than "Number one hot sauce in the world of all time and forever." The best-selling hot sauce in Louisiana, Crystal has been in the Big Easy since 1923 and was once the official hot sauce of the New Orleans Saints. It's owned by Baumer Foods, Inc., a family-run factory that was flooded and destroyed by Hurricane Katrina before making a full recovery, like a phoenix rising from hot sauce flames.

And Louisianans aren't the only ones obsessed with this New Orleans-born hot sauce. Crystal is sold in countries around the world, and is apparently so popular in Saudi Arabia that it's not uncommon for Saudis to carry it around in their pockets.

And indeed, Crystal is one helluva hot sauce. The pure, simple condiment contains only aged cayenne peppers, distilled vinegar, and salt, the combination of which delivers a deep pepper flavor with decent, but not daunting, amount of heat.  

3. Yellowbird Habanero Hot Sauce

Spice rating: Reeeeal hot 

Hailing from Austin Texas, Yellowbird Foods boasts a whole line of hot sauces made from farm-fresh fruits and vegetables. A true Austinite institution, the company goes organic whenever possible and has "zero tolerance" for chemicals, additives, and filler ingredients. Yellowbird is so-named because birds, insensitive to chili pepper burning capsaicin, are true champions when it comes to spicy eating.

The current Yellowbird hot sauce lineup includes a habanero, serrano, jalapeño, blue agave sriracha, and ghost pepper sauce. The original habanero wins points for being the spiciest of the sauces, but also one of the most creative combination of flavors. Crafted from habanero peppers, carrots, onions, organic cane sugar, and tangerine and lime concentrates, the bright orange sauce is at once spicy, sweet, and citrusy.

As a newer, gourmet-ish brand, Yellowbird hot sauces may not be as easy to come by as other brands of hot sauces on this list. Trying hunting for the Yellowbird label at natural food retailers, or ordering bottles online.

2. Frank's RedHot Sauce

Spice rating: Mild

Fun fact: You know Ethel, the old lady who says "I put that s**t on everything" in the Frank's Red Hot ads? Her real name is Jean Hamilton, she's in her 90s, and she doesn't actually swear in real life.

The phrase "I put that s**t on everything" has become the battle cry of fans of all brands of hot sauce, but it's especially fitting for Frank's Red Hot use. Made from aged Cayenne red peppers, distilled vinegar, water, salt, and garlic powder, the Louisiana-born sauce is versatile enough to top cuisines of all kinds.

Tacos? Check. Bloody marys? Check. Your roommate's leftover shrimp stir-fry that's been sitting in the fridge for a questionable amount of time? Check. But perhaps the food item that Frank's pairs best with is wings—Frank's RedHot Sauce was actually the secret ingredient for the first ever Buffalo Wings in 1964.  Following the success of the original Frank's RedHot, the company masterminded a bunch of variations like the Frank's RedHot Chile 'n Lime, Hot Buffalo Wings Sauce, and Sweet Chili Sauce.

1. Valentina Salsa Picante

Spice rating: Medium 

Towering glass jugs of Valentina Salsa Picante have been gracing the tables of dusty taquerias across Mexico for more than 50 years. This ultra-cheap, tangy sauce hails from Guadalajara, Jalisco, and is one of Mexico's most popular. Like mole, Salma Hayek, and other spicy Mexican transplants, Valentina made its way to the U.S. and into the hearts' of the mainstream.

The beauty of Valentina is in its simplicity: While many other hot sauce brands have an essay of weird ingredients listed on the back, Valentina is made from a pure blend of water, chili peppers, vinegar, salt, and spices (there's also sodium benzoate listed on its label "as a preservative," but we'll let that one slide). Valentina is thicker than Tabasco but thinner than Sriracha, and packs a decent amount of heat without overpowering its distinctive citrus flavor. If you have a more timid palette, just make sure you get the original yellow-label Valentina and not the one with the black label that says "extra hot"—they aren't kidding around.