The world of hot sauce is beautiful, vast, and competitive. Hot sauce competitions for the tastiest (and spiciest) recipes bring out sauce makers from across the country, from barbecue lovers to bakery owners. The wildly popular Hot Ones talk show has only expanded the industry, and no doubt there are amazing sauces out there yet to be discovered as well.
We’re not here to knock the classics. Tabasco, Sriracha, and Tapatio are all staples for a reason, and we’ll defend them any day. But there’s always joy in exploration, and there are hundreds of great brands to spread (or dab) the love around. Outside of the typical top ten hot sauces in the country, there are hundreds of contenders of varied fame and popularity. Lucky for you, we’ve rounded up 25 of them from all sources and spice levels.
Related: The Best Barbecue in Every State
If you’re just beginning to venture outside of your Cholula comfort zone, there are a few relatively famous sauces that you’ll want to use all the time. They have strong followings, and offer heat that is noticeable but not overpowering, making them perfect for everyday use. Start out with Secret Aardvark. Though it’s not quite a secret these days, the line of sauces from Portland, Oregon, is now a staple in plenty of barbecue establishments across the country.
Amp up the heat with Yellowbird; Texas natives treasure the hometown favorite sauce and the line of brightly-colored bottles, ranging from serrano to ghost pepper varieties. Give back to the community with Small Axe Peppers—they make their sauces from community garden harvests from urban farmers. The very trendy TRUFF (a.k.a truffle hot sauce) has amassed a huge following and three varieties, including a limited edition white truffle. Adoboloco is a Hawai’i export and a great staple hot sauce with every level of heat to choose from. Hell Fire Detroit’s bottles are also great to keep in the kitchen, with four styles ranging from mild to over 100,000 Scoville units.
Speaking of the Scoville scale, let’s talk about heat measurement. As hot sauce lovers know, at a certain point, heat can overwhelm flavor. While we love to toe that line, we mostly want the best of both worlds, and these hot sauces will do that (with the exception of Puckerbutt, but we’ll get there). Our list is divided into Scoville categories:
If you’re unsure of what the levels mean, know that “mild” leans toward poblano and pickled jalapeño peppers, “medium” is in the range of fresh jalapeños and serranos, “hot” gets into cayenne and Thai chili pepper, “very hot” can include habaneros and Scotch bonnets, and “extreme” takes it up to everything from ghost peppers to the Carolina Reaper (spicy as pepper spray). Keep in mind that the scale works on exponential levels, so hopping from medium to extreme isn’t like just skipping one rung on the ladder; it’s slingshotting to dramatically higher heat levels.
The ingredients at every level mix and mingle to play with the heat differently, so people’s preferences can differ even across a similar heat. It’s worth noting that this list could be 200 bottles long, but these are a good place to start. Read on for our full list from mild to mortal peril. Happy dabbing!
Mild Hot Sauces
Starting with the mildest of the bunch, Humble House’s smoky sauce from Texas flavored with ancho chiles and tamarind is an easy condiment for everyone. TRUFF’s sweet and savory truffle sauce is at a simmering 2,500 SHUs; their hotter sauce will put you in the medium category if that’s more your speed, but you can also buy them both in a two-pack.
Heartbeat is a small batch sauce made in Ontario, balancing bell peppers with red habaneros. Secret Aardvark is a blend of fire-roasted tomatoes and habaneros, with a rich sweetness and just the right amount of kick. On the fence between mild and medium heat is Small Axe Peppers sauce, made with serrano peppers from community gardens throughout the Bronx.
Medium Hot Sauces
Vermont’s Butterfly Bakery got into hot sauce almost accidentally, and now the bakery has an entire line of sauces and is the #1 purchaser of Vermont-grown chili peppers. Their maple wood Smoked Onion sauce is a great option. Shaquanda’s Hot Pepper Sauce heats things up a little at 10,000 SHUs, packed with hot peppers, onions, ginger, and turmeric. Austin’s Yellowbird Sauce has a spread of sauces from mild to hot, but their habanero, carrot, and citrus-y sauce is the perfect pairing for sweet and salty food. Red Clay from Charleston, SC, tones down the legendary Carolina Reaper to a medium-spice sauce by aging it with Fresno chiles in bourbon barrels. Cheeba Gold is a mustard-based sauce with fiery habaneros, reaching towards the hot section of the Scoville scale with Scotch Bonnets, and sweetening the deal with sweet peach curry.
Hot Hot Sauces
Coming in at 28,000 SHUs, Bravado Spice manages to tame ghost peppers with fresh blueberries and black pepper notes; it’s one of their best-selling sauces. Get a little more savory with Lucky Dog’s pineapple and Thai chile, layered with honey, Aleppo pepper, ginger, and lime flavors. Adoboloco’s Hawaiian Chili Pepper Water is hot enough for flavoring breakfast, lunch, or dinner. If you love salsa flavor but want more kick, Hotter Than EL Ghost Sauce is a great option. Finally, for bridging the gap between hot and very hot, Hell Fire Detroit’s Habanero packs a punch with a tropical edge on fire-roasted orange habaneros.
Very Hot Sauces
This section is for hot sauce fiends, starting off with a casual 82,000 SHUs from Dawson’s Original Hot Sauce, a classic in sweet and spicy. Fat Cat’s Chipotle-Ghost Pepper blend makes for a scorching mix with cilantro, tomato, and paprika that grows with time. Purple Hippo gets funky with prickly pear and watermelon/bubble gum notes that carry the heavy Scorpion and habanero bite. Torchbearer’s mustard and garlic Reaper Sauce (you guessed it, with Carolina Reapers) is a favorite amongst hot sauce fanatics, as is their even hotter Zombie Apocalypse Ghost Pepper Sauce. “Hot Ones” watchers will be familiar with the hottest in this group, “Da Bomb,” at a fiery 135,000 SHUs, recommended to use “one drop at a time.”
Extremely Hot Sauces
There’s scorching hot, and then there’s this group that goes above and beyond the call of duty. These were all designed to test limits, and some to break barriers. Dave's Original Insanity Hot Sauce might be the limit for many, as the original hottest hot sauce on the market. Double that number of Scoville units and you’ll reach Mad Dog 357 (that is, 357,000 SHUs), a blend of cayenne and habaneros for a world consumed by fire. Burns & McCoy has one of the hottest all-natural sauces in the world, made with 7 Pot Primo pepper, agave, garlic, and yuzu. Step up higher and reach actual Hellfire, an almost 60% Carolina Reaper mash. Finally, for the bravest and possibly most unhinged, The Reaper Hot Sauce, made by the creator of the Carolina Reaper himself, Ed Currie, clocks in at nearly 1 million SHUs. Glutton for punishment with a stomach of iron? Reaper Squeezins is 2.2 million, making it essentially weaponized. You have been warned.