Read This Before Trying A New Hot Sauce

Maybe you're the type of person who likes their wings drenched in a hot, buttery slather of Buffalo sauce. Maybe you're the type who prefers to soak their burgers in half a bottle of Frank's Red Hot. Hey, maybe you're even the type of person who has a bottle of sauce that shows how hot it is using a porcelain commode on the label belching out fire and expletives we can't put to page. Whoever you are, there's no denying that everyone enjoys a good kick of heat and spice every now and then to liven up their meals. 

But what makes a good hot sauce? Is it the colorful graphics on the label? Is it how many peppers are in it? Is there something you should look for in a sauce? According to an August 2020 post by food blog Condimaniac, there are three key traits to look for the next time you're considering some hot stuff for your next BBQ.

The base

The base of the hot sauce is the main support for all those flavors in your sauce. It could be anything from carrots, tomatoes, or the standard pepper, sort of like how you have certain ingredients in a homemade chicken stock. The key to the base, however, is its versatility and how it plays well with other ingredients. 

If you're trying to find a hot sauce that's all spice, that's perfectly fine. If you want to make something that's more along the lines of hot with a subtle sweetness to it, you'll probably want a base that's a bit less focused on intense heat, such as a sauce with chili peppers and a fruit or maybe adding sugar and ginger, per Chili Pepper Madness

A "bad base" is something that overpowers the flavors of the sauce or can't be noted at all, like adding too many tomatoes instead of peppers or too much vinegar, things that could upset the delicate flow of flavors and spices you got floating around in that mason jar (note: While a mason jar is not required for this, it just feels right to put homemade sauce in, like how moonshine seems to taste better out of a mason jar). A good base supports all those rich flavors, while still providing its own flavors to the mix. 

Now that you know your base, it's time to really turn things up when selecting your sauce.

The heat

Of course, you say, I want my hot sauce to be hot, that's a no-brainer. While it's obvious hot sauce is meant to be hot, there are different layers of heat, and different people who can handle it. Your mother may not want to have anything hotter than a jalapeño on her tacos, while the scruffy-looking guy at McDonald's puts a couple drops of his home-bought bottle of Mad Dog 357 No. 9 Plutonium onto his Big Mac and into his little ketchup cup for his fries. Everyone has different tastes and tolerances!

Fortunately, in July 2020, the folks at Condimaniacs gave some interesting tricks and tips to identify your sauce's heat level. The '-maniacs use three areas to categorize the heat of their sauces. The first is "onset," which is how fast the heat comes on. Is it a slow-burner or a rapid inferno? "Peak," which is just how hot the heat can get, is the second. A Pepper X will leave you weeping as you huddle on your bathroom floor with a gallon of milk, while a Dutch Red Chili is said to be more like a modest bell pepper. Finally, there is "linger," which is how long that sensation sticks around. You might get a pepper that peaks early but goes away quick, just as you'll find a pepper that's a slow-burner and will linger for quite a while on your lips.

Again, everyone has diverse tastes and limits. Just like everyone you know, however, a good hot sauce should have hot character.

The character

Per Condimaniac, the last trait is character. By character, we don't mean this hot sauce has a character that is either honest about its flavor, or willing to sucker-punch you in the jaw and take 10 bucks from your wallet. We're talking about its flavor, how those bases, spices, and such mentioned earlier all blend together.

You could look for a sauce that is sweet, but packs a smoky heat that lingers like a cozy fire in your throat. You may want a sauce that's hot to the touch and has plenty of peppery flavors that bring your chicken back to life. It's sort of like looking for the best person to fill the job of making your cookout good. Do you want a show-stopping sauce that'll really knock the dentures of your grandmother with how bold and fiery it is? Or do you want a mild, smooth sauce that leaves everyone with that languishing heat on their lips when they polish off your pulled pork sandwiches? Perhaps you may even want something more exotic, to really get the guests talking. It's all up to you! You just need to know how everything blends together to make sure you have the sauce that fits the job.

Next time you're out getting some sauce for your next BBQ, stop and read the labels a bit. Think about what sort of flavors you want to bring to the party, and build your flavor profile. Soon enough, you'll be serving up spice-infused smiles in no time.