Long before Hot Ones turned hot sauce into a hypebeast collectible, this spicy, tangy condiment was an integral part of the kitchen. In fact, we’d argue your pantry isn’t fully stocked without at least one all-purpose hot sauce in your arsenal. From brightening your otherwise bland breakfast of eggs to working in tandem with the natural spices in BBQ rubs, the best hot sauces can be the showstopper or the workhorse in your cooking.
And, while the market seems to be engaged in a game of chicken as hot sauce brands push out the hottest hot sauces, there is a broad spectrum of hot sauces to choose from. No need to rush to the end of the Scoville scale (more on that later).
To help you navigate the minefield of intense heat, we’ve picked out 11 of the best hot sauces currently available. We’d argue that most of these would work in any dish but we’ve also helped narrow it down with specific food pairings.
How To Make Hot Sauce
Before we get into that, here’s a quick explainer on what the hell is even in these hot sauces.
All hot sauces begin with a pepper. You’ve likely passed most of these in the produce section of your grocery store. Habanero, serrano, fresno, jalapeño. But, some hot sauce brands opt for more obscure varieties like scotch bonnet, ghost pepper, or the dreaded Carolina Reaper.
In addition to one or a variety of spicy peppers, you’ll need some vinegar and some other aromatics like ginger, garlic, and of course salt and black pepper. Blend it all up and voila you’ve got your own homemade hot sauce.
So, What’s the Scoville Scale?
Look on the back of most hot sauces these days and you’ll likely see a ridiculously high number of Scoville units. 100,000? 35,000? What does it all mean? The Scoville scale, named for pharmacist Wilbur Scoville, is a measurement of the spiciness of chili peppers based on the concentration of capsaicinoids. Capsaicinoids, the most commonly known is capsaicin, are compounds that activate our taste buds to alert our body that what we’re consuming is pungent, spicy, or hot. The Scoville scale then assigns a numerical value to the level of “pungency” of a pepper.
For reference, bell peppers are extremely low on the scale, maxing out at around 100. Jalapeños can range anywhere from 3,500 to about 8,000. Carolina Reaper commonly known as the spiciest pepper cultivar maxed out at 2,200,000.
And, for the record, the Scoville scale only applies to the pepper in its dry form. As a sauce, the pepper’s pungency is diluted so the impact can vary.
The Best Hot Sauces To Buy Right Now
The Best Beginner Hot Sauce: Valentina Black Label
Looking for an upgrade to the stock standard Tabasco, Sriracha, or Frank’s? This is it. Valentina is, what I’d call, an everyday hot sauce. Put it in your eggs, your salad dressing, your stir fry, hell even your popcorn. It’s mild enough that it won’t overpower your dish but definitely brings the heat. And, if you’re grabbing Valentina Hot Sauce, make sure it’s the “muy picante” black label. $9/pack of 2
The Best Table Hot Sauce: Secret Aardvark Habanero Hot Sauce
Once you’ve conquered Valentina, it’s time to start checking out some of the “craft” hot sauces on the market. Portland, Oregon’s Secret Aardvark hot sauce brand supplies some fantastic all-around hot sauces. The Habanero Hot Sauce is by far one of the most family-friendly sauces we’ve come across. There’s a touch of sweetness balancing out the heat making it a well-rounded condiment perfect for burgers, tacos, or whatever you’ve got on the table. $15/pack of 2
The Best Truffle Hot Sauce: TRUFF Hot Sauce
Is this a bottle of perfume or hot sauce? TRUFF spared no expense when it came to their luxurious packaging. Seriously, this is the show-off hot sauce. And beauty is more than skin deep because their truffle-infused hot sauce is seriously solid. The result is a sauce that’s a bit more savory than most. In fact, we wouldn’t bat an eye if you swapped out your steak sauce with TRUFF for a condiment with a bit more kick. $18
The Best Hot Sauce for BBQ: Pain Is Good Louisiana-Style
If you can tolerate some extra heat, switch out your normal BBQ sauce for this Louisiana-Style hot sauce from Pain is Good. You’ll notice a sweeter flavor than most other hot sauces but plenty of power from the Habanero and Cajun Cayenne Peppers. Toss this on a pulled-pork sandwich, a brisket plate, or, of course, any Cajun cuisine. $13
The Best Hot Sauce for Seafood: Dirty Dick’s Hot Sauce
Don’t let the name scare you away. Dirty Dick’s is the real deal. Made with a blend of Habanero peppers and tropical fruits like pineapple and mango, Dirty Dick’s Hot Sauce is a truly unique sauce. Those sweet fruit flavors, coupled with some serious spice, really sing in seafood dishes. Balance the salinity of oysters or fish tacos with some Dirty Dick’s. $7
The Best Hot Sauce For Hot Dogs: Poor Devil Pepper Co. Gold Tooth
You might be the kind of person that prefers sweet mustard or savory chili on your ballpark dog. But, hear us out. Poor Devil Pepper Co.’s Gold Tooth Honey Mustard Hot Sauce is perfect for your next backyard cookout. Not only does Poor Devil Pepper Co. feature some incredible illustrations on their labels, all of their hot sauces are fermented resulting in complex, dynamic flavor profiles. Pair Gold Tooth with classic American hot dogs, chicken tenders, or wings! Gold Tooth is available on Poor Devil Pepper Co.’s online store or at provisions shop Superior Merchandise Co. $10
The Best Hot Sauce for Tacos: Queen Majesty Scotch Bonnet & Ginger
There are a lot of hot sauces that accomplish only one thing: making your dish spicier. But, the best hot sauces are able to pack in flavor as well as heat. Queen Majesty’s Scotch Bonnet & Ginger strikes that balance better than any other sauce we’ve come across. In fact, while I often rotate through a bunch of other hot sauces, I always have a bottle of this hot sauce. The tangy, slightly fruity spice flavor in this sauce is great for any dish but really shines in tacos or burritos. It’s bright, vibrant, and sure to impress your dinner guests. $15
The Best Hot Sauce For Ramen: Huey Fong Sambal Oelek
Somehow sambal oelek, which is an Indonesian chili paste, seems to slip under the radar for most folks. But, it’s a staple in Southeast Asian cooking. And it works great when you need to add a bit of spice to a fully loaded dish that already has a lot of elements like stir fry or a bowl of veggies. Truly, though, there is no better application than ramen. Dress up that fatty, salty bowl of ramen with a spoonful of sambal oelek for a damn delicious meal. You can find sambal oelek in the Asian section of most grocery stores or you can buy in bulk on Amazon. Trust me, you’ll want it. $8/pack of 2
The Best Hot Sauce For Eggs: Zab’s Hot Sauce
There are few things better than a dash of zippy hot sauce on a plate of scrambled eggs. We’d say any of the above would work perfectly fine but Zab’s OG Hot Sauce is the champion of breakfasts. This datil pepper-based sauce is made with carrots, onions, garlic, and other spices for a balanced sauce that doesn’t skimp on heat. Zab’s goes great on anything but works best on huevos rancheros, breakfast sandwiches, and omelets. $12
The Best Hot Sauce For Exactly One Drop: Dave’s Original Insanity Hot Sauce
Frankly, I prefer a hot sauce that won’t torture me with spice. But, there are those among us who are happy to limit themselves to a single dab of unreal heat. Dave’s Original Insanity Hot Sauce, created in 1993, is rated at 180,000 Scovilles for a seriously insane sauce. Gentle application recommended. $8
The Best Hype Hot Sauce: Hot Ones The Last Dab (Reaper Edition)
Recreate your favorite Youtube show with the certified Hot Ones hot sauce: The Last Dab. The Reaper Edition variant features the eponymous Carolina Reaper–as mentioned above, known as the hottest pepper on Earth. Those brave enough to try The Last Dab have remarked that it is in fact very flavorful for the heat profile. Though, we wouldn’t blame you if you purchased the Hot Ones hot sauce for the hype value alone. $20