How Mike's Hot Honey became a cult favorite

Mike's Hot Honey is more than just your average condiment. It has become such a food industry phenomenon that at this point, it's practically a household name. If you've never tried it, you are definitely missing out on something that will take your cooking — and your eating — to the next level. This popular condiment combines the sweetness of honey with the zing of spicy chilies to create an addictive addition to just about anything you want to consume.

Unlike other fusion condiments, this one is more than just your typical hot sauce mixed with honey. Owner Mike Kurtz takes high-quality honey and actually infuses it with chili peppers to create a unique flavor profile that pairs perfectly with pizza, biscuits, and even ice cream.

Since the brand was first founded in 2010, Mike's Hot Honey has gone from being a condiment you could only find in trendy Brooklyn pizza shops to one that can be enjoyed by chefs, home cooks, and food lovers all across the United States. So, how did this little condiment that could become so successful? Read on to find out how Mike's Hot Honey went from humble origins to its current status as a cult classic.

Mike's Hot Honey got its start in Brooklyn, New York

Ever since he was a child, the founder of Mike's Hot Honey, Mike Kurtz, loved sauces that combined both spicy and sweet flavors. Kurtz got the initial inspiration to make his own brand of hot honey while he was studying abroad in Brazil, learning Portuguese. While he was there, he visited a local pizza shop. Kurtz was surprised to see that there were jars of honey filled with chilies on the tables. The staff suggested that he try adding the spicy honey to their pizza. After that moment, his life was forever changed.

When the budding entrepreneur returned to the United States in 2004, he began to experiment. Over the next six years, Kurtz perfected the recipe that would eventually become known throughout the food industry as Mike's Hot Honey. At first, he was only making the honey for his own consumption. Then, he started giving his test batches away to friends and family as gifts. It was six years before his unique condiment would make its first appearance in a professional kitchen, but all of his years of work and experimentation proved to be well worth the effort. 

Founder Mike Kurtz was an apprentice at Paulie Gee's pizza, where his honey made it onto the menu

In 2010, Kurtz found himself working a job as an apprentice at a popular Neapolitan-style pizza shop called Paulie Gee's in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. After he had been working at the pizza shop for a while, Kurtz decided to bring in some of his hot honey for owner Paulie Giannone to try. This ended up being the moment that helped begin the real launch of Mike's Hot Honey. Paulie Gee himself tasted the honey on a slice of pizza, and the restauranteur loved what Kurtz was making.

Giannone asked his apprentice to start producing small batches for the shop to use on their pies. Eventually, Mike's Hot Honey was served alongside fresh mozzarella, Italian tomatoes, Berkshire sopressata piccante, and Parmigiano Reggiano on Paulie Gee's now-famous Hellboy pizza. Two other Paulie Gee's pies, the Neffy's Porkpie White and the Red Hot Cherry Jones, also feature the spicy condiment that got its start at the shop. Since Kurtz considers himself to be more of a pizza guy than a honey guy, it makes perfect sense that pizza is the food that helped to launch Mike's Hot Honey.

Now, several popular pizzerias count Mike's Hot Honey as an ingredient

The sweet and spicy pies sold at Paulie Gee's turned out to be only the beginning for what would become a longstanding relationship between pizza shops and Mike's Hot Honey. Another famous Brooklyn-based pizzeria, Roberta's, and Portland, Oregon's well-known Ken's Artisan Pizza both use Mike's Hot Honey on their pies. Popular North American chain MOD Pizza loves Kurtz's product so much, they interviewed him for their company blog. We bet that if you take a look next time you visit your local gourmet pizza shop, there's a good chance you might find Mike's Hot Honey somewhere on the menu. 

Since Mike's Hot Honey got its commercial start as an accompaniment to pizza, it makes sense that pizza shops also helped the business scale. Now, in addition to using Mike's Hot Honey as an ingredient on specific pies, many slice shops also put out bottles of the sweet and spicy stuff right alongside chili flakes and dried oregano for customers to use on any pizza. The brand has even launched single-serving to-go cups and squeezable packets so pizza lovers can still get their hot honey fix on the move.

The brand caught a big break on a national morning TV show

In 2015, the spicy condiment brand got a big break on a national level. In a game-changing television feature, CBS This Morning brought Kurtz's story into homes across the United States. This helped to further cement the brand's status as the next Sriracha, another condiment that gained immense popularity. Touting Mike's Hot Honey as a must-have ingredient not only for restaurants, but for home kitchens as well, the segment showcased Kurtz's unique background. They went into detail about how the chili-infused honey was made, and how it managed to outgrow its humble origins.

With almost four million viewers on average, a mere shout-out on a show like CBS This Morning can be a valuable launching pad for many small brands. Snagging a three-minute segment, like the one that Mike's Hot Honey received, can be a game-changer. The national morning show spot helped Mike's Hot Honey as it transitioned from a niche local favorite found only in Brooklyn to a nationally-renowned brand. A year after the CBS segment, Mike's Hot Honey launched a comprehensive rebrand, which included new packaging as well as new products.

Several major food media companies have given Mike's Hot Honey a shoutout

CBS is not the only major media outlet that has taken notice of Mike's Hot Honey and given the brand some attention. Over the past ten years, Mike's Hot Honey has garnered an impressive amount of press coverage across both print and digital outlets. Food media giant Eater called the Paulie Gee's Hellboy pie, which relies on the chili-infused honey to achieve its flavor, "the crack pie of pizza." Eater cited Mike's Hot Honey as the secret to this addictive pizza. They liked it so much, they even dedicated an entire YouTube video to the honey-drenched pie. 

Esquire writer Nate Erickson said that the condiment "will change the way you eat pizza forever," while Martha Stewart hailed it as one of 2020's ultimate Father's Day gifts. It has been lauded by almost every publication that foodies swear by, including Serious Eats, Saveur, and Bon Appétit, which named it as one of the 25 cult condiments worth keeping on hand at all times. With so much prominent publicity, it's easy to see how this spicy honey became so popular. On Instagram, the brand's account has over 38,000 followers, and over 8,000 posts tagged #mikeshothoney.

It's sold at NYC's popular holiday markets

The holiday season can be one of the biggest revenue generators for any company, which makes sense when you consider the online and in-person sales that start in November and go through the new year as many consumers get lost in the frenzy of buying gifts. According to the National Retail Federation, holiday season sales can represent an overall 20 percent of annual retail sales, with that percentage going higher in some industries. Mike's Hot Honey is often listed as a popular gift idea, especially for the food lovers on one's list — even Emily Weinstein of The New York Times gave it a coveted spot on her 2013 dining-themed holiday gift guide.

In addition to being mentioned in popular gift guides, Mike's Hot Honey is also sold at some of New York City's iconic holiday markets. The cult favorite condiment has been spotted at Bryant Park Winter Village, the one that's also known for its popular ice skating rink. Eater NY went so far as to name Mike's Hot Honey as one of the must-have eats whenever visiting the winter village. Something about hot honey just makes a cold winter day feel a little bit warmer!

Mike's works exclusively with one family-owned apiary

In order to make his product consistently delicious, Kurtz has to keep a close eye on his honey supply chain. The owner of Mike's Hot Honey works exclusively with Stiles Honey, a family-owned apiary that has its headquarters in Fords, New Jersey. The business was started by bee lover Grant Stiles in 1995. The idea for an apiary was inspired by the owner's lifelong passion for honeybees as well as his dedication to the art of beekeeping. Stiles is so obsessed with all things bee-related that the entrepreneur even sold beeswax candles to help him work his way through college! The apiary started with only four colonies of bees, but now they maintain over four thousand hives and employ a team of fifteen people. The bees at Stiles Honey are migratory, which means the bee colonies move around over the course of the year.

The partnership has been fruitful for both businesses. Due in part to the popularity of Mike's Hot Honey, the honey produced in the Jefferson County area of New York, where Stiles' bees often do their actual honeymaking, has seen a rise in popularity since Stiles started working with the condiment brand.

They're dedicated to providing resources for chefs who want to feature their products

When the coronavirus pandemic completely changed the game for restaurants and food businesses across the United States, some suppliers stepped up to the plate to ensure that their partners had continued success. Mike's Hot Honey is one of those brands. Rather than forcing customers to forego the drizzle of spicy honey they had become accustomed to, Kurtz released single-serving dip cups, and offered them to restaurants for free. Initially launched in April 2020, Kurtz sent a case of free dip cups to any restaurants that planned to use them for takeout and delivery.

The company has an entire section of its website dedicated to providing resources for foodservice professionals. They offer an entire suite of products specifically created for chefs, including a 12-ounce chef's bottle and a 192-ounce jug. The brand also makes it a point not only to stay on top of relevant trends in the restaurant industry, but to keep their restaurant partners informed. Mike's Hot Honey also provides signage and marketing materials to their partner restaurants, so customers know that when spicy honey is listed on the menu, they're getting the genuine article.

Sweet Heat was named the #1 flavor of 2020 by The National Restaurant Association

If there is any phrase that can be used to describe Mike's Hot Honey, without a doubt, sweet heat fits the bill. That's why it's good not only for the brand, but for any restaurants that list Mike's Hot Honey as one of their featured ingredients, that "sweet heat" was listed as The National Restaurant Association's flavor of the year. Sweet heat managed to eclipse other popular food trends like Japanese umami and functional mushrooms to take the top spot.

Even though it is currently listed as the number one flavor, hot honey seems to be poised to continue its meteoric rise. According to a recent SNAP Datassential report, the term "sweet heat" on restaurant menus has been increasing for years, growing over 600 percent since 2009, while the term "hot honey" has seen a growth of over 120 percent in the past four years.

While sweet heat may not take the top spot in The National Restaurant Association's rankings again in 2021, it's safe to say that this dynamic flavor combination is set to be a part of America's culinary vocabulary for years to come.

You can put it on practically everything

Although many fans of Mike's Hot Honey claim that pizza is the best way to enjoy the condiment, and it is arguably the most popular way to enjoy Mike's Hot Honey, pizza is only a starting point. The culinary possibilities for using Mike's Hot Honey as both a condiment and as an ingredient are pretty much endless, according to Buzzfeed writer Rebecca O'Connell. O'Connell said that it changed how she ate every meal after she tried it. O'Connell put it on the usual suspects, like pizza, burgers, tacos, and chicken sandwiches, but she didn't stop there. This adventurous eater even put Mike's Hot Honey on sweet items like ice cream and brownies, and found that it was just as delicious.

Similarly, Food & Wine's Jayla Andrulonis claims to put Mike's Hot Honey on everything from brussels sprouts to cheese boards and french toast. Using hot honey as an all-around condiment has become so popular that the website The Kitchn published an entire guide to using the stuff. They, too, suggest brussels sprouts, and there's a universal call for Mike's Hot Honey newbies to put it on some pizza as soon as possible.

The brand offers a free digital recipe book to inspire home cooks to get creative with their hot honey

The recipe section of the Mike's Hot Honey website is a veritable culinary gold mine, especially for creative home cooks who are looking to try something a bit out of the ordinary. With dozens of recipe ideas spanning breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, desserts, and even cocktails. All of the basics are covered, like Extra Hot Honey Chicken Wings and Spicy-Sweet Honey Butter, but we're most excited about some of the less-obvious applications for the condiment.

From the beverage section, we can't wait to try the Mike's Hot Honey Margarita, a spicy take on the classic cocktail, and the Davenport Affogato, which combines hot honey with coffee and ice cream — a match surely made in heaven. There are also some stellar recipes for sweet and spicy desserts, like Hot Honey Grilled Peaches and a Strawberry Rhubarb Galette laced with chili-infused honey.

But these recipes are just a starting point. Creative home cooks can use these as inspiration, but once this becomes a staple in your pantry, we have a feeling you'll be putting a dash of hot honey in most of the things that come out of your kitchen.

Home cooks and chefs alike can buy hot honey all over the United States.

While there was a point in time when the only way you could buy Mike's Hot Honey was by ordering a pizza from Paulie Gee's pizza shop in Brooklyn, those days are long gone. Fortunately for all of us who do not live in Brooklyn,  Mike's Hot Honey is now available to chefs and home cooks all across the country. The standard 10-ounce easy pour bottle can be purchased on Amazon. Since it has over six thousand positive reviews, we recommend this product as a starting point if you are just getting in on the hot honey craze. There's also a shoppable section on the Mike's Hot Honey website, where you can not only buy hot honey in single-serving packets or enormous 12-pound jugs, you can also get t-shirts and crewneck sweatshirts emblazoned with the company's logo.

For chefs, there's a comprehensive FAQ page that details everything from how to promote the fact that you use Mike's Hot Honey on your menu to what to do if your hot honey crystalizes. The answer? Heat it up! Advice that's useful for all Mike's Hot Honey fans, both amateur and professional.