Hottest Hot Sauces

Published May 1, 2012. From Cook's Illustrated.

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What good is hot sauce so scorching you can't even taste it?

Overview:

Some people want their hot sauce to deliver a pleasant jolt of heat, while others want a condiment that packs tongue-searing, tear-inducing fire. For the latter camp, we mail-ordered four brands of the hottest hot sauces we could find and stocked up on milk and ice cream to have at the ready as antidotes. We also invited chef Jason Heard, who runs the legendary East Coast Grill’s famous “Hell Night” dinners in Cambridge, Mass., to join the bravest among us for a punishing taste-off, in which the sauces were sparingly dribbled over steamed rice.

These sauces mean business, but everyone agreed that they still needed to function as condiments, providing good flavor, balance, and complexity—not just heat. Such was the downfall of the bottom-ranked hot sauce—notably the only sauce to come with a warning for those with heart and respiratory problems—which offered nothing more than a painful, bitter-tasting burn. Our third-place finisher didn’t hurt nearly as much but delivered even less flavor. That’s because the clear liquid… read more

Some people want their hot sauce to deliver a pleasant jolt of heat, while others want a condiment that packs tongue-searing, tear-inducing fire. For the latter camp, we mail-ordered four brands of the hottest hot sauces we could find and stocked up on milk and ice cream to have at the ready as antidotes. We also invited chef Jason Heard, who runs the legendary East Coast Grill’s famous “Hell Night” dinners in Cambridge, Mass., to join the bravest among us for a punishing taste-off, in which the sauces were sparingly dribbled over steamed rice.

These sauces mean business, but everyone agreed that they still needed to function as condiments, providing good flavor, balance, and complexity—not just heat. Such was the downfall of the bottom-ranked hot sauce—notably the only sauce to come with a warning for those with heart and respiratory problems—which offered nothing more than a painful, bitter-tasting burn. Our third-place finisher didn’t hurt nearly as much but delivered even less flavor. That’s because the clear liquid contained no chiles, just capsaicin crystals. We much preferred our second-place finisher, a classic-tasting scorcher with fruity tang. Thanks to the addition of apricot preserves, blueberries, and honey, our winning sauce made with Trinidad Scorpion Butch T peppers is fruity and smoky, but not deadly.

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  • Product Tested

    Price*

  • Prices are subject to change.
  • Recommended - Winner

    Heartbreaking Dawns 1498 Cauterizer

    One of the first commercially available sauces made with Trinidad Scorpion Butch T peppers, this sauce packs a punch without neglecting flavor. It contains apricots, blueberries, carrots, and honey, which give it a “smoky,” “sweet,” “fruity” flavor that balances its “harsh,” “biting” heat. Tasters liked it for use on “all things meat” and warned that it’s “not deadly but not something to take lightly either.”

    $9.99 for 5 fl oz ($2 per oz)

  • Recommended

    Holy Jolokia

    “Fruity” and “earthy,” with a “great balance of spice and flavor,” this sauce had a pleasant “acidic tang” that made it the most like a classic hot sauce. Made with Bhut Jolokia pepper (which held the Guinness World Record for “hottest” before the Trinidad Scorpion Butch T came along), its heat is milder than our winner’s and dissipates quickly, though it’s still “very strong.”

    $10 for 5 fl oz ($2 per oz)

  • Recommended with Reservations

    Frostbite White Hot Sauce

    While the floating crystals of pure capsaicin in this clear vinegar sauce looked intimidating, it turned out to be the “mildest” in the super-hot lineup. It offers some burn but “no flavor” aside from a slight “sour” taste, which made it seem pointless to some tasters, though others thought it would be “the perfect ingredient when all you want to add is heat.”

    $9 for 5 fl oz ($1.80 per oz)

  • Not Recommended

    Dave’s Gourmet Limited Edition Private Reserve Insanity Sauce

    Just a scant dropperful of this sauce left even our bravest tasters in “intense,” “building pain” that lingered for several minutes. It comes with a roll of caution tape and a warning label, and we don’t recommend ingesting it the same way we don’t recommend touching a hot stove. The ingredients include passion fruit and lime juice, garlic, and onion, but our tastebuds were so blown away that we didn’t register any of those flavors, though some tasters managed to detect an “awful,” “bitter, burnt” flavor before the burning sensation set in. Many tasters noted that they wouldn’t use this sauce for anything but a “cruel prank” or a “dare.”

    $36 for 5 fl oz ($7.20 per oz)

*PRICES SUBJECT TO CHANGE
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