There are thousands of hot sauces to choose from today, and most of them are terrible. They’re novelty items designed with an amusing label and name. The sauce itself is inedible, with inferior ingredients and so much capsaicin from the peppers you’ll blister your tongue. A good hot sauce is a combination of great ingredients and a balance of heat and flavor.
These ten hot sauces are filled with zest, spice and peppery heat. Dash enough on your eggs or tacos and you’ll find your eyelids sweating, but no matter how hot the temperature gets you’ll still get a mouthful of great flavor. Let’s start with a surprising number 10 on the list:
10.) Taco Bell Hot Sauce
No need to squeeze the sauce from those tiny Taco Bell packets any more. The Taco Bell folks now provide bottles of their famous sauces, and the best is Taco Bell Hot Sauce. This is the Goldilocks of hot sauces, not as tomatoey as Mild Sauce but not as overwhemed by pepper as Fire Sauce. Don’t turn your nose up at Taco Bell just because Doritos Tacos are an orange abomination. Their Hot Sauce is delicious. Shake it on a homemade taco and enjoy.
Melinda’s makes a sweet, tangy habanero pepper sauce that delivers just the right amount of sugar and heat. The sweet mangos don’t overwhelm the peppers but they provide a distinctive taste. This is a great sauce for shrimp or fish tacos. Add some to a fresh bowl of picante sauce as an accompaniment to tortilla chips or sprinkle it over huevos rancheros. Melinda’s offers lots of flavors but I consider this one the best, with a balance of flavors and spices that lingers on the palate and brightens the flavor of food.
Cholula Chili Lime added a touch of tangy lime to their famous Cholula hot sauce and the combination is dynamite. The result is a hint of sweetness without any added sugar and an intensified flavor. Add it to fresh pico de gallo and serve with chips, or set it out with fish or shrimp tacos. We use it on eggs and on side dishes of Spanish rice and refried beans. Some people swear that a touch of Cholula Chili Lime Sauce added to a Bloody Mary will cure the worst hangover.
7.) Chipotle Tabasco
Tabasco added several new flavors to their hot sauce line, and Chipotle Tabasco is a hit with our teenagers. The sweetness of the chipotle peppers cuts the sharpness of the vinegar in the recipe and the resulting combination of spices is balanced and not too hot. We set out a bottle of Chipotle Tabasco every morning because it tastes great on eggs. The sauce is also terrific as an addition to tacos and enchiladas. We bring it camping with us and add it to our bowls of chili. Delicious!
There’s a reason every Mexican restaurant has a bottle of Cholula on the table. This wildly popular hot sauce contains the chili pepper called “piquin,” a distinctively flavored pepper that gives Cholula a great, smoky flavor with a mild amount of heat. Cholula enhances the flavor of food without overwhelming it. The wooden cap on the tall bottle is unmistakable and the smiling abuela on the label is as welcoming as a hug. You won’t blister your tongue on this hot sauce and you’ll always get the same excellent flavor.
We picked up a bottle of El Yucateco in Mexico and the hot sauce fanatics in the family were delighted at the bold flavor and intense heat of this habanero sauce. We savored the bottle to the last drop, only to discover it’s available in the Latino aisle of our local grocery store. And here we thought we’d discovered a rare and perfect hot sauce found only in Mexico! El Yucateco is not for the faint of heart, but the combination of red habanero pepper, tomato, salt and spices takes any food and kicks it into high gear. Terrific on eggs, seafood, and any Mexican dish. I use it to spice up Asian food like stir fried chicken or beef. The bottle is small, but mighty. A drop or two will do you.
Tapatio’s label is hilariously and unashamedly politically incorrect. A sombreroed Mexican man with a string tie and a giant moustache grins at you as though he’s happy to include you in on the joke. You can almost hear the mariachi band playing in the background. Inside the bottle is a terrific combination of red peppers, garlic, and spices, balanced so perfectly that this popular sauce is sold in gallon containers at our local Wal-Mart. Gallon containers, people. That’s one well-used hot sauce. Our family uses it in our eggs, our salsa, our pico de gallo, our enchiladas, our chicken mole, our guacamole… oh, heck, honey, let’s go ahead and get the gallon. We’re going to use it anyway. Tapatio is bracingly flavorful in small amounts, but if you put in a lot your eyelids will start to sweat. Tapatio is wonderful.
This Asian-looking hot sauce (we fondly call it Rooster Sauce) is actually from Rosemead, California, and sells like hotcakes (which I’ve never tried with Sriracha, but it sounds delicious). Sriracha’s second ingredient is sugar, but the first is chili peppers so hot you’ll need a chaser of milk if you over-apply. Sriracha comes in a plastic bottle with a handy green applicator tip. Adding it to Vietnamese and Chinese dishes is delicious, but also try Sriracha in a bowl of split pea soup. You’ll discover a new slice of heaven. The heat of the chilis and the flavorings enhance the taste of any dish you add it too, though that applicator tip is small for a reason. Too much and your mouth will light on fire and stay that way. Use in moderation, and enjoy.
2.) Tabasco Sauce
Tabasco is the gold standard of hot sauces and has remained a staple on tables in American diners for years. There’s a good reason for this. Tabasco’s combination of Louisiana red peppers, Avery Island salt and vinegar enhances the taste of food without overwhelming it. Put Tabasco in a bowl of New England Clam Chowder and you’ll still taste the delicate flavor of the clams but the entire dish will be brighter and bolder. A plate of biscuits and gravy just doesn’t taste right without a dash of Tabasco. I add it to my guacamole and no one can tell there’s Tabasco in there. They just marvel at the tangy, subtly spicy taste. Use Tabasco for all foods that need a kick up in flavor. Put in on your eggs, in your picante sauce, in your rice dishes, in dips and soups. The magic of Tabasco is that it disappears into the food with no trace except an enhancement of flavor and heat.
This is what I consider the finest hot sauce in all aspects: flavor, heat, appearance and balance. The bottle label is charming, with a cheery “Try Me!” on the top and a Eden-like pastoral scene of peppers growing at the base of a Yucatan pyramid. The sauce inside is orange-red and smells and tastes delicious. The balance of peppers to spices brings warmth and brightness to any food and the taste is addictive. This happy little bottle tops every hot sauce I’ve ever tried and it’s perfect on just about any food. (Haven’t tried it on ice cream yet.) Try it in soups, on eggs, on stir fried beef or in guacamole. I’ll continue sampling hot sauces and some day one will come along that is better than Yucatan Sunshine, but until then this “Try Me!” bottle is the one to beat.