Published May 1, 2012. From Cook's Illustrated.
What good is hot sauce so scorching you can't even taste it?
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.