I know that I get on here every week and say things like “I’M aN ExPeRt iN ThiS FoOD BeCauSe I eAt it EvErY DaY” like a true clown. And while these statements are rooted in fact (pantry tour to come), I’m aware that it can sound a bit hyperbolic at times. But when it comes to hot sauce, just call me Beyoncé — I not only possess dozens of bottles, I’ve got them in my bag (swag).
Hot sauce goes on practically everything I consume in a typical day: my morning eggs, my lunchtime cold cuts, my ground chicken at dinner. I simply can’t get enough of the spicy condiment, which probably comprises 5% of my body weight at this point (much to my weak stomach’s dismay). So to say that this hot sauce taste test was a long time coming is an understatement. I’ve been dreaming of this moment.
Of course, in the interest of fairness (because I’m not a professional chef), I relied on my new friend, chef Jesus Medina of Coin & Candor at the Four Seasons Westlake Village, for his expertise on picking the perfect hot sauce.
“Hot sauce brings notes of acidity and heat to a dish,” he tells me. But not all hot sauces are equal. Shoppers should take note of the level of heat and the level of added salt.”
Like most condiments, hot sauce does include sodium. If you are watching your sodium intake, you can opt for a low-sodium hot sauce. But regardless of the amount of sodium, it is important to note that salt does not decrease heat in a hot sauce,” he adds.
This was important to keep in mind, considering that you don’t want to invest in a hot sauce that overpowers a dish. Instead, it should enhance it. And since Medina hails from Mexico, the likely birthplace of hot sauce, I knew he wouldn’t steer me in the wrong direction.
“You want to be able to taste the ingredients of the plate and not just the hot sauce,” he explains. (Medina makes his own iteration to top dishes like a breakfast sandwich and huevos rancheros.)
Considering there are literally thousands of hot sauce bottles manufactured across the world, this taste test had very specific criteria. It had to come from a red pepper and it had to be mass-produced with no crazy ingredient additions. While I am obsessed with small batch and artisanal varieties (because, yes, I am part of hot sauce clubs around the country), I had to filter many out based on what’s readily available and what shares a similar flavor profile.
The result: I genuinely didn’t dislike a single option on this list, so I had to get hyper-specific about what worked and why. And I may still be a little confused and slightly scared to divulge the results as I’m sure hot sauce loyalists will be banging down my front door with torches. So please take this one with a grain of salt — navigating the world of hot sauce is amazing, but it’s also damn difficult.
10. Louisiana Hot Sauce
I’m sure Louisiana Hot Sauce is a beloved staple in the Bayou State, but it’s not going to be one in my pantry. It had great thickness and served as a just-fine finishing note to breakfast potatoes, but it was very, very salty with spice that didn’t last. Keeping Medina’s advice in mind, I can see this ruining already-salty dishes with its excessive sodium content. That said, I didn’t hate it. It just wasn’t my cup of tea.
9. Texas Pete Hot Sauce
Yeehaw! Texas Pete may come from a place where everything bigger is better, but it ironically tasted the most diluted of the bunch (perhaps that’s because it’s actually made in North Carolina — gasp!). I can see this being great in bloody marys for anyone who prefers a whisper (and not an attack) of heat, but it’s extremely vinegary, which means you’ll go through it quite quickly. And for that I give it a strong “meh.”
8. Taco Bell Hot Sauce
“K, yum, but no,” I said after my first bite of this. I am, admittedly, not the biggest Taco Bell fan (blasphemy, I know). It conjures way too many memories of running to the bathroom in college after a night of binge-drinking and taco-eating. And while I thought this was absolutely fine, it just didn’t stack up to the seven I placed ahead of it. I do appreciate the fact that it wasn’t shy away from being spicy, though, since hot sauce should be, well, hot. Shocking, I know, but some of these companies should take note.
7. Tapatio Salsa Picante Hot Sauce
While I absolutely found Tapatio to be more well-balanced than its thicker, Mexican-inspired Valentina and Cholula counterparts, it was also less exciting. Like, this is the bottle I’d use to douse practically anything and everything, but it also one I wouldn’t gravitate towards. It had a good amount of spice and I couldn’t get over how inexpensive it was, but I wasn’t jumping up and down to use it. Consider it a good back-up to your favourites.
6. Cholula Original Hot Sauce
I am most fearful of Cholula loyalists who will scoff at this No. 6 ranking. Listen: I love myself a dash of this stuff, but only for very specific purposes. The arbol and pequin pepper duo was apparently made to zhuzh up bland and basic breakfast foods, but I’ve found the smokiness and nuttiness to be too overpowering for more complex dishes served later in the day. That said, it has still earned a permanent spot in my kitchen. But it is sparingly used, like the expensive weight set I bought in 2020 that I should probably just sell on eBay at this point.
5. Valentina Salsa Picante
Is Valentina Salsa Picante actually a hot sauce? The marketing says so, but its thickness says otherwise. While the mildness of its heat bothers me a bit, I crave its distinct puya chile taste on the regular. There is simply nothing on the market like it and I always award extra points for product uniqueness. Valentina also doubled as a great marinade and I particularly enjoyed it on potatoes to cut through the starch without turning them into mash (or mashed potatoes, if you will).
4. Red Clay Original Hot Sauce
This brand has emerged as a newer one on the scene that is now widely available on Amazon and sites alike … and I’m absolutely not complaining! Thanks to the ingredient’s quality and limited quantity, it tasted the most pure of the bunch, almost as if it was brewed locally from a neighbor’s garden. I also love that Red Clay utilizes a Fresno pepper for heat, creating almost a complex and multi-layered brininess found in many artisanal bottles.
3. Crystal Hot Sauce
There is an amazing Eater article on the cult of Crystal hot sauce and I consider myself a proud member. This was the only option offered at my sleepaway summer camp, so it’s also tied to nostalgia. Growing up, I used to also pour it into a small bowl and dip room-temperature string cheese into it (brilliant or disgusting? still TBD). Either way, I loved that this was the most cayenne-forward on this list — bold, slightly tangy, but never an assault to the palate.
2. Frank’s Red Hot Sauce
I really, really love this condiment (and its hilarious commercials), but a quick forewarning: I went through a stage of eating it almost daily and got sick of it. It’s entirely my own fault, but I consume brands (like my No. 1 pick) at this quantity and frequency and have yet to tire from them (until now, probably, because I just put it into the universe). Frank’s was absolutely the best for Buffalo wings with a wonderful garlicky sharpness that made it distinct and super flavorful. And I really appreciated the almost syrup-y consistency that effortlessly coated anything I shook it on. Two very enthusiastic thumbs up here.
1. Tabasco Hot Sauce
Sure, it’s unnecessarily runny and chock-full of vinegar, but it’s the spiciest of the bunch. And when I want hot sauce, bring it on the heat. Tabasco edged out the competition, not only because of its spice, but also its versatility. A dash or two can elevate anything from an oyster to a salad dressing. And while the burn was uncomfortably lingered, it was more welcome than some of the lackluster options on this list that should be rebranded as “pepper sauce” instead of hot sauce. Is Tabasco the best hot sauce in the world? Absolutely not. But when it comes to mainstream options, this is the one to have on standby. Like a best friend, it will never let you down.