The hot-sauce trials

TONY's Food & Drink team---Jordana Rothman, Chris Schonberger and Mari Uyehara---tasted their way through more than 70 hot sauces, to suss out the best, worst and most punishing condiments around.

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  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Captain Mowatt's Luscious Pineapple & Papaya on Fie-Yah Hot Sauce
    Available at mainespantry.com. 8oz bottle $10.95.

    Chris Schonberger: It's very papaya-forward. You get spice at the end and it's really sweet up front.
    Jordana Rothman: This is a good entry-level hot sauce. It definitely has some fire, but it's more about the acid.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Captain Mowatt's Crapple Hot Sauce
    Available at wohesperus.com. 12oz bottle $10.

    JR: This is very peppery.
    CS: I think it'd be great with ribs.
    Mari Uyehara: Yeah, or some chicken wings. It has some tomato-like flavors, too. It's a little fruity; it's more of a barbecue sauce than a hot sauce.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Captain Mowatt's Greenie Hot Sauce with Avocado
    Available at wohesperus.com. 8oz bottle $8.50.

    JR: Quite acrid.
    CS: I thought that the avocado in this was going to be cooling, but it doesn't really have that effect.
    MU: It's super sour, like rancid lime juice.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Captain Mowatt's Hot Pink
    Available at wohesperus.com. 8oz bottle $10.

    CS: All proceeds benefit charity. It has that going for it. But it tastes like someone snuck up on your strawberry jam at breakfast and put Tabasco in it.
    MU: This is all wrong.
    JR: I feel like Captain Mowatt is on a downward spiral. I don't want to be on Captain Mowatt's ship anymore.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Captain Mowatt's Canceaux Sauce
    Available at wohesperus.com. 8oz bottle $8.

    CS: You can see whole peppers and chili seeds floating in this one, very much like a Thai chili sauce. But it tastes gummy.
    JR: The fact that the name Canceaux sounds like the French translation of "numerous cancers" doesn't help matters.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Captain Mowatt's Blue Flame
    Available at wohesperus.com. 8oz bottle $8.50.

    JR: This looks and tastes like a blueberry jam. You could put it on toast.
    MU: Really? It's really vinegary to me.
    CS: The heat is incredibly mild on this one. Almost not there at all.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Captain Mowatt's Fireberry Sauce
    Available at wohesperus.com. 8oz bottles $8.50.

    CS: This is quite tart; it's really the same as Blue Flame except with raspberries.
    JR: These fruit sauces totally make me think of something you'd get as a dipping sauce for dessert at a suburban Chili's.
    MU: Yeah, like a fruit vinegar with a little spicy kick.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Pure Habanero
    Available at hotsaucedepot.com. 4oz bottle $7.95.

    JR: This could singe your nose hairs off. This is a painful sauce.
    MU: It is pretty spicy with habanero. But it has like a tomato-like quality, too, and a little smoke.
    CS: It's definitely an explosive style. You don't think it is spicy, and then...
    JR: I actually feel like I licked a hot cast-iron pot just now.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Pure Jalapeno
    Available at hotsaucedepot.com. 4oz bottle $7.95.

    MU: Super vinegary. It's kind of one-dimensional.
    CS: As always, jalapeo sauces are on the milder side. You could use it as salsa, it's that thick.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Go Chicken Go G-Sauce
    Available at originaljuan.com. 13.5oz bottle $3.19.

    CS: It's pretty tomatoey. Not much heat at all.
    MU: Ugh, tons of artificial ingredients, a lot of sugar.
    JR: Very ketchupy.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Bite Me Roasted Garlic Sauce Chipotle Hot Sauce
    Available at originaljuan.com. 5oz bottle $3.60.

    MU: Whoa, it's super smoky.
    CS: Like charcoal.
    JR: It smells like Prospect Park on a Sunday.
    CS: It tastes like your father got drunk and made a terrible cookout for you. It's actually pretty hot, though.
    MU: I have to say, this is disgusting; it tastes like eating coal dust.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Pain Is Good Jalapeno Hot Sauce
    Available at originaljuan.com. 7oz bottle $3.19.

    CS: It's a little vinegary, but the jalapeo taste is pretty pure.
    JR: I would really enjoy that doused on pulled pork.
    MU: It has a green-pepper nose and a nice tang.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Pain Is Good Batch 218 Buffalo Blue Cheese Screamin' Wing Sauce
    Available at originaljuan.com. 13.5oz bottle $4.79.

    CS: There's something really off-putting about getting blue cheese out of a jar, but I think if you just presented it to me on wings, the funkiness and mild heat would be kind of nice.
    MU: I actually kind of like it. It's pretty complex, too.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Pain Is Good Batch 218 Louisiana Style Hot Sauce
    Available at originaljuan.com. 7.5oz bottle $4.79.

    CS: It's pretty thick and vinegary.
    JR: Its flavor makes me think instantly of shrimp. It would make for an amazing cocktail sauce, but also inherently has this interesting shrimp-shell flavor.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Pain Is Good Batch 114 Jamaican Style Hot Sauce
    Available at originaljuan.com. 7.5oz bottle $4.79.

    CS: It's got a bit of a tropical-fruit element to it.
    MU: Sweet and then acrid. I hate this one.
    JR: It doesn't have as strong an identity as the other Pain Is Good sauces. Definitely a little more raw. What distinguishes the Pain Is Good line is that they are so nuanced, and this one just doesn't have that.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Pain Is Good Batch 66 Jalapeno Wasabi Hot Sauce
    Available at originaljuan.com. 7.5oz bottle $4.79.

    CS: It tastes very much of horseradish, more so than of wasabi. It has a very grainy mouthfeel. I thought you would get that sinus explosion that you get with wasabi, but you don't. Not a fan.
    MU: This is not a good pairing. It's sweet and mustardy.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Pain Is Good Batch 112 Jalapeno Harissa Hot Sauce
    Available at originaljuan.com. 7.5oz bottle $4.79.

    CS: Reminds me of a mint chutney at an Indian restaurant.
    MU: Oh, this one is yummy; you could put this on anything. It has olive oil and fresh mint and cilantro in it.
    JR: This fully embraces the Pain Is Good ethos. This is the only one I licked clean.
    CS: Yeah, this is like the thinking man's hot-sauce line.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Pain Is Good Batch 164 Honey Cayenne Hot Mustard Sauce
    Available at originaljuan.com. 7.5oz bottle $4.79.

    JR: Oh, yeah! It smells mustardy to me. And what's the herb? Tarragon? Thyme? Turmeric and paprika?
    CS: This one's got a lot going on. It's like the ultimate chicken-finger dip, like honey moutarde.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Pain Is Good Batch 37 Garlic Style Hot Sauce
    Available at originaljuan.com. 7.5oz bottle $4.79.

    CS: I think we've got some habanero going on. I'm not getting a lot of garlic flavor, though.
    JR: Sometimes garlic is a tertiary flavor. It's subtle, but it is sort of enhancing the other flavors.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Pain Is Good Habanero Hot Sauce
    Available at originaljuan.com. 7oz bottle $3.19.

    JR: This is too spicy for me. I find this level of heat off-putting, probably because I don't understand it. Like all great hatred, mine comes from a place of ignorance.
    MU: Oh. Oh shit. Habanero.
    JR: The heat even registers as an aroma. You smell it, and you just know this is going to be hot.
    CS: It's moderate, it's pretty hot but it's still nuanced.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Lingham's Hot Sauce
    Available at amazon.com. Two 12.5oz bottle $11.75.

    JR: Very thin texture, very watery, almost oily. To me this is a very subpar product.
    MU: The label says it is a multiuse hot sauce. I feel like I wouldn't use this sauce on anything.
    CS: It also says "a hundred years of tradition." Looks like a century of tradition adds up to a whole lot of nothing.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Wicked Cactus Sauce Viva La Raza
    Available at wickedcactussauce.com. 5oz bottle $6.

    JR: This smells like jalapeo. It would be excellent in a cocktail.
    MU: There's tomatillo in here, that's what is giving it the acidity.
    JR: And the raw green-vegetable flavor.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Mo Hotta Mo Betta Vidalia Onion Hot Sauce
    Available at mohotta.com. 5oz bottle $5.25.

    CS: A little sweet from the Vidalia onion, a little ketchupy---it would be nice on a burger. It looks like an artisanal ketchup, doesn't it?
    JR: I hate artisanal ketchup. I really do. Give me Heinz.
    MU: And it tastes like salsa. It's like a gazpacho hot sauce---not very distinctive.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Mo Hotta Mo Betta Cayenne Garlic Hot Sauce
    Available at mohotta.com. 5oz bottle $5.25.

    CS: The thinness of the sauce is kind of unappealing.
    JR: When your high-school boyfriend peels away from your childhood home for the last time, this is the smell he leaves behind. Tire tracks or burnt rubber of some kind.
    CS: And then he yells, "Mo Hotta Mo Betta!" into the wind.
    MU: It's the garlic in here, it's just dreadful.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Bella Forte Pepper Sauce Hot Sauce
    Available at mohotta.com. 6.75oz bottle $6.95.

    JR: This is the kind of heat that you can't control. You put it on the tip of your tongue and suddenly it's an outbreak in your mouth. It's in the back of your throat; it's closing in on your tonsils.
    CS: Yeah, "just the tip" has a way of spreading.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Tapato Hot Sauce
    Available at mohotta.com. 10oz bottle $2.25.

    JR: Simple but effective. I think it's a nicely balanced product: a little heat, a little acid, a little sweet.
    CS: It really has the consistency of a watery Tex-Mex restaurant salsa.
    JR: Actually, yeah! I can imagine that dripping off a crappy tortilla chip.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Walkerswood Zesty Caribbean One Stop Savory Sauce
    Available at Fairway Market Harlem, 2328 Twelfth Ave between 132nd and 133rd Sts (212-234-3883). 5oz bottle $2.19.

    CS: It smells exactly like an English Christmas pudding---raisins and steeped in sherry. My mother is English, so I have an emotional response to this. But then I eat it and I remember that Christmas pudding is disgusting. And so is this sauce.
    JR: It's extremely sweet. I could actually see it working with a Welsh rarebit or something. A crusty piece of bread with cheddar and cream.
    CS: Yeah like a ploughman's lunch.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Walkerswood Hot Jamaican Scotch Bonnet Pepper Sauce
    Available at Fairway Market Harlem, 2328 Twelfth Ave between 132nd and 133rd Sts (212-234-3883). 5oz bottle $2.19.

    JR: Despite the Scotch-bonnet content, this seems pretty mild, to be honest.
    MU: Yeah, it's mellow. I think they've balanced out the Scotch bonnets nicely.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    D.L. Jardine's Texas Champagne Cayenne Pepper Sauce
    Available at jardinefoods.com. 3oz bottle $5, 6-ounce bottle $3.75.

    JR: I thought this was going to be a dangerous one, but it doesn't have a lot of lingering character.
    MU: I think the vinegar and spices are in nice balance, though. If you want a more vinegary kind of sauce, this would be great---on fried fish or something like that.
    CS: This is a Friday Night Lights type of sauce. You could use it to celebrate winning the state championship.
    JR: What? Moving on.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Emmaline's Hot Sauce
    Available at Bedford Cheese Shop, 229 Bedford Ave at North 4th St, Williamsburg, Brooklyn (718-599-7588). 5oz bottle $7.50.

    MU: The lady on the label looks excited.
    JR: She looks crazy hot.
    CS: It says she ended up in Hartford, Connecticut. She looks depressed.
    MU: That's how I would look if I ended up in Hartford, Connecticut.
    CS: This is another catch-you-at-the-back-of-your-throat sauce. You only feel it blazing after you swallow.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Habanero Hot Tickle Sauce
    Available at ticklesauce.com. 10oz bottle $10.

    CS: It tastes a lot like stewed tomatoes. You could almost use it as a pasta sauce.
    JR: This one reminds me of when my mother used to make stuffed cabbage or brisket. What's left on the bottom of the roasting pan? This is.
    MU: It's super watery, it's just dreadful.
    JR: Okay, well, don't say that about my mom.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Jump Up and Kiss Me Passion Fruit Hot Sauce
    Available at mohotta.com. 5oz bottle $6.95.

    CS: This has an incredibly candylike sweetness. I'm sure that I've had a Jolly Rancher that tasted exactly like this.
    JR: Or like a lip balm that has been melted into a hot sauce. Oh my. It's horrible and I hate it.

  • Dave's Gourmet Jammin' Jerk Sauce
    Available at store.davesgourmet.com. 5oz bottle $5.99.

    JR: Herbaceous again.
    CS: Or scallions, even. Unbelievably gritty and ashy.
    JR: Scallions, sugar, spice, oil, juice, garlic, vinegar...I wonder where I'm getting this phantom herbaceousness from.

  • Dave's Gourmet Hurtin' Habanero Sauce
    Available at store.davesgourmet.com. 5oz bottle $5.99.

    MU: I think it's pretty well-balanced. I don't think you need to be an insane spicehead to enjoy this one. You get the habanero flavor but without the full mouth burn.
    CS: It would have a great wide range of applications because it's not going to sear your face off.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Dave's Gourmet Crazy Caribbean
    Available at store.davesgourmet.com. 5oz bottle $5.99.

    CS: I think it's just kind of a slight tweak on the Hurtin' Habanero.
    MU: This one has carrots in it. It's much more tart; the first thing you get is a kind of vegetal tang.
    CS: It tastes like a hot pickled carrot.

  • Dave's Gourmet Ginger Peach Hot Sauce
    Available at store.davesgourmet.com. 5oz bottle $5.99.

    CS: I'm weary of these fruity sauces. This has an extremely gingery aftertaste. Very low heat.
    JR: The peach is very artificial-tasting to me.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Heartbreaking Dawns Classic Gold Hot Sauce
    Available at heartbreakingdawns.com. 5oz bottle $6.50.

    CS: Quite spicy, but the habanero heat is kind of contained. It's really tomatoey.
    MU: And peppery---not peppery as in black pepper but as in bell pepper.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Heartbreaking Dawns Jalapeno Pineapple Hot Sauce
    Available at heartbreakingdawns.com. 5oz bottle $5.99.

    CS: Quite thick and jellylike, almost the consistency of marmalade but less sticky.
    JR: I'd like to know why this bottle says "passion sensory seduction." That reads like a totally different kind of product. I don't get any pineapple from this.
    MU: This one's kind of boring.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Heartbreaking Dawns Mango Habanero Hot Sauce
    Available at heartbreakingdawns.com. 5oz bottle $5.99.

    CS: With all these Heartbreaking Dawns sauces, you can actually see the fruit pulp in them.
    MU: But you don't actually get much fruit flavor. I don't know that I would taste mango in this, if it was not on a label.
    JR: There's literally not a trace of it.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Heartbreaking Dawns 1498 Trinidad Scorpion Sauce
    Available at heartbreakingdawns.com. 5oz bottle $8.25.

    CS: This has Trinidad peppers, which I've never heard of, as well as Scotch bonnet. It is quite hot. It's more fruity than the other ones, even though the heat level is higher.
    MU: This one is more balanced with more things going on. The heat is kept in check.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Heartbreaking Dawns 1841 Ghost Pepper Sauce
    Available at heartbreakingdawns.com. 5oz bottle $7.95.

    CS: This contains ghost pepper. I may die.
    JR: It has a thin, vinegary texture with a little bit of grit.
    CS: It is sweet. Interesting: The first three ingredients in this are pear, applesauce and cider vinegar.
    MU: I get the cider vinegar, I get the sweet.
    JR: I definitely get the cider vinegar. You know what it tastes like? A vinegar-fruit shrub. The spice is not registering at all. Heartbreaking Dawns is like the foil to Pain Is Good---it's a wildly unsuccessful line.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Co-Op Local Sauce The Barrel
    Available at coopsauce.com. 5oz bottle $5.

    CS: All of these Co-op sauces are made in Chicago with ingredients from Greenmarket and small-batch purveyors. They are like locavore hot sauces. This one is quite smoky.
    JR: It tastes like an overoaked whiskey, but I actually like that a lot in this context.
    CS: It also has a coffeelike acidity.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Co-op Hot Sauce Mole
    Available at coopsauce.com. 5oz bottle $5.

    JR: This one's very chocolaty and nutty.
    MU: It has a lot of creaminess to it.
    JR: This is a really pleasant product. This mole has almost a ripeness to it, definitely a bit of juicy lime peel going on. I want to douse a quesadilla in that.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Co-op Hot Sauce Habanero   
    Available at coopsauce.com. 5oz bottle $5.

    JR: Beautiful color. But it tastes a bit like artificial lemon candy, or lemon Pine-Sol.
    MU: It is very citrusy.
    CS: It's just too thin and watery to be applied in a useful way. I guess you could put some in a soup or something, but I don't think that would be great.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Youk's Hot Sauce Red Serrano
    Available at youkshotsauce.com. 5oz bottle $7.

    CS: This is from a restaurant in San Francisco, and it is made in collaboration with Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis.
    MU: Just a Little Leaguer. This one tastes like bell pepper to me.
    JR: I think it's fine. It's fair. If this was presented to me, I wouldn't send it back to the kitchen with a scowl and a shaking fist.
    CS: It's a fastball down the middle of the plate. Nothing remarkable, but the heat can catch you off-guard if you're not ready.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Mazi Habanero Harvest Heat
    Available at mazi401.com. Two 7.2oz bottles $25.

    MU: Whoa, this has a crazy nose. It has a one-and-a-half-foot nose. Crazy.
    CS: It's the Pinocchio of hot sauces. This has a real olive-oil quality to it.
    MU: It has a black-olive flavor as opposed to a green-olive flavor.
    CS: It'd be really great just to dip hunks of bread into.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Mazi Piri Piri Sauce
    Available at mazi401.com. Two 7.2oz bottles $25.

    CS: This has got a really chalky mouthfeel. I don't like this very much.
    MU: This one tastes like green olives, too. It has whiskey in it!
    CS: You could saut some shrimp with it. That might work pretty well.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Lottie's Hot Pepper Sauce (Red)
    Available at Kalustyan's, 123 Lexington Ave between 28th and 29th Sts (212-685-3451). 8oz bottle $9.99.

    MU: Tastes thin and vinegary. Habanero?
    CS: Scotch bonnet. It's pretty mild.
    JR: I might have a little bit of underdog affection for this one. I get a lot of the vegetal qualities of the pepper---that kind of fruity raw flavor.
    MU: I have to say when they put xanthan gum in there, it's so off-putting. It makes everything look bright, artificial and gummy.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Lottie's Hot Pepper Sauce (Yellow)
    Available at Kalustyan's, 123 Lexington Ave between 28th and 29th Sts (212-685-3451). 8oz bottle $9.99.

    MU: I kind of like this one.
    JR: Yeah, this would be good for french-fry dunking. It has a definite build.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Cochon Hot Sauce
    Available at picerie Boulud, 1900 Broadway at 64th St (212-595-9606). 5oz bottle $6.

    JR: This comes from an excellent restaurant in New Orleans called Cochon. I go there every time I'm in Louisiana.
    CS: This one's got a really good balance and a sweet heat as opposed to searing heat.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Pain 85% Hot Sauce
    Available at originaljuan.com. 7.5oz bottle $4.79.

    CS: It's all about the front-of-the-mouth burn.
    JR: 85 percent of my life is about pain right now.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Pain 95% Hot Sauce
    Available at originaljuan.com. 7.5oz bottle $4.79.

    CS: What's strange about this series is that you expect the chili percentage to simply rise, but they're actually entirely different styles of sauce. This one is way darker than the 85%. It's habanero-based as well, but it has a different supporting cast. The pineapple in here is really nicely balanced with heat.
    MU: I really like how thoughtful this brand is.
    JR: There's something not macho about it. I would describe this as a blooming heat. It begins at one point on your tongue, and then it blossoms.
    CS: Like a nuclear bomb. Like a mushroom cloud.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Pain 100% Hot Sauce
    Available at originaljuan.com. 7.5oz bottle $5.20.

    JR: When I see "natural pepper flavoring" among the ingredients, it sounds a little bit shady. It makes me wonder if there's cobra venom in here or something.
    MU: This smells really hot.
    JR: As I bring the tasting wand toward my mouth, the fine hairs on my upper lip are curling back and quivering in fear. Um, they're really fine, by the way. Invisible, actually.
    MU: This is really one of those hot-on-contact sauces. You don't need time to figure out if this is hot. As soon as it hits your tongue it starts prickling up.
    CS: Yeah, but it's sort of pleasurably hot.
    MU: It's actually kind of tasty, too.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Raw Heat Vintage 69' Hot Sauce
    Available at originaljuan.com. 7.5oz bottle $4.79.

    CS: You can see the seeds in this one, but I don't think it'll be as hot as the last.
    MU: The first ingredient is water. There's also chipotle in here, which to me is more smoky-sweet than hot.
    JR: This has a distinct Indian flavor profile, and also a very savory quality. Cumin?
    CS: No. Barbecue potato chip.
    JR: Okay... This line comes from the same company as the Pain Is Good sauces. They have such a strong hand at balancing flavor and spice.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    XTREME Hot Sauce
    Available at originaljuan.com. 7.7oz bottle $4.49.

    JR: Oh my God, it's beautiful. It's definitely very spicy, but it's so balanced and...
    MU: Tart.
    JR: Tart, yes. And a tiny bit sweet but not sugary. It has a beautiful texture---thick and pulpy---and it has this excellent garlicky character that lingers.
    CS: This is just one of my favorite sauces---from texture to flavor. It has just the right amount of kick so you can have it with every meal, but it still gets the blood flowing.
    MU: This has a good amount of heat.
    JR: This is a beautiful sauce. It's definitely in the pantheon.

  • Photograph: Krista Schlueter

    Sriricha
    Available at importfood.com. 17oz bottle $3.89.

    JR: This is pretty much my favorite condiment of all time. It's just a beautiful mild sauce, it has a lot of garlicky components and bell pepper, and has a beautiful thick, pulpy texture.
    MU: Whoa, it's super bell-peppery on the nose. I never noticed that. It's sweet on the front and then the spice comes in at the end.

  • Photograph: Krista Schlueter

    Frank's RedHot
    Available at homesolutionsstore.com. 12oz bottle $2.59.

    MU: I like Frank's. It's super vinegary. I like it more than Tabasco.
    JR: I mean, you could drink this. It has tropical-fruit notes. It's really lovely and bright.
    CS: An American classic.

  • Photograph: Krista Schlueter

    Cholula Hot Sauce (Original)
    Available at brewhaus.com. 5oz bottle $2.95.

    MU: This smells like another vinegary sauce. The lower-end products are going to be mostly vinegar---peppers are more expensive. There's something about the flavor that's sort of murky.
    JR: It's interesting; in the past I have liked Cholula. But measured against the others it just doesn't have that complexity.

  • Photograph: Krista Schlueter

    Texas Pete Hot Sauce
    Available at texaspetestore.com. 12oz bottle $1.46.

    JR: This texture is just so gloopy and gummy.
    MU: Xanthan gum; it has almost no nose either.
    JR: Very fleeting.
    CS: It tastes like it was squeezed out of Texas Pete's sweaty jockstrap.
    JR: Texas Pete, you should secede from the hot-sauce union.

  • Photograph: Nitzan Krimsky

    Tabasco Pepper Sauce
    Available at countrystore.tabasco.com. 5oz bottle $3.99.

    JR: It's very acidic. You get a quick hit, but the heat doesn't linger.
    CS: It's the one-minute man of hot sauces.
    MU: It's actually pretty fruity.

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Tabasco Reserve Pepper Sauce
    Available at countrystore.tabasco.com. 5oz bottle $24.95.

    CS: So this is what the Tabasco family has at their table. It's aged up to eight years to distill the flavors. You can really see the difference. It's more consistent, and you don't get that watery separation of vinegar and pepper.
    JR: It's quite tart. You get a slower-building crescendo that reaches a higher peak than the hoi polloi Tabasco.
    MU: Whoa, much less vinegar. There's some fruit in the background, and darker and richer spices.

  • Photograph: Nitzan Krimsky

    Tabasco Chipotle Pepper Sauce
    Available at countrystore.tabasco.com. 5oz bottle $3.99.

    CS: This has more of a BBQ-sauce-like sweetness. It's kind of smoky, and much thicker than the others.
    MU: The smoke is kind of in the background, though.
    JR: I get some hickory and maple.

  • Photograph: Nitzan Krimsky

    Tabasco Buffalo Pepper Sauce
    Available at countrystore.tabasco.com. 5oz bottle $3.99.

    JR: This is really herbaceous to me. You could use it in a cocktail. It's almost spirit-like---like a jenever or tequila maybe?
    CS: Yeah, I can see that. It almost reminds me of a really herbal saison.
    MU: It does have a quality that's similar to herbal booze, but it's not really thick or strong enough to use as a sauce.

  • Photograph: Nitzan Krimsky

    Tabasco Green Jalapeno Pepper Sauce
    Available at countrystore.tabasco.com. 5oz bottle $3.99.

    JR: Like most jalapeo sauces, this is really mild.
    MU: It's watery and super acidic.
    CS: It's essentially like they poured the liquid out of a jar of pickled jalapeos.

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Hotlanta Sweet Southern Heat Hot Sauce
    Available at hotlantahotsauce.com. 5oz bottle $4.04.

    JR: It has a really great, slow-but-steady build. It's the tortoise of hot sauces. It's slow and steady; it wins the race.
    MU: A nice sweet vinegar balance, and then the kick comes in at the end.
    CS: There are peaches in it, but I only really get a vague sweetness, then a balanced hit from the chilies---habaneros, chili de arbol and cayenne.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    CaJohns Fiery Foods Jolokia Sauce
    Available at Kalustyan's, 123 Lexington Ave between 28th and 29th Sts (212-685-3451). 5oz bottle $13.99.

    CS: This contains some chilies we haven't seen yet: fatalii chilies, Red Savina, orange habaneros. I don't know, though; I think it talks a big game.
    JR: Maybe give it a second to kick in?
    MU: No, seriously, there's nothing. It's not spicy.
    JR: A quick spike, then nothing.
    CS: If Tabasco is the one-minute man of hot sauces, this is the one-pump chump.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Magma Hot Sauce
    Available at Kalustyan's, 123 Lexington Ave between 28th and 29th Sts (212-685-3451). 8oz bottle $10.99.

    CS: This is clear, sort of like water, but there's some weird red oil floating on top, so you have to shake it up. It smells horrible.
    MU: God, this really smells.
    JR: It smells like the distilled white vinegar you'd use to clean a teakettle. It's not integrated at all, and it's just unpleasant.
    CS: It is hot, though, if you get enough. But it even managed to make milk taste terrible, so I can't imagine what it would do to food. It looks like a lava lamp; that's the only thing I like about it.
    JR: That was just an unpleasant experience for everybody. This is just a novelty thing. It's something you'd buy in a souvenir shop in Tijuana.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Mad Dog 357 Hot Sauce
    Available at hotsauceworld.com. 5oz bottle $7.95.

    CS: It looks like an oil spill and smells like fruit leather. Wow. I think it's the hottest sauce we've tasted. Tasting it is actually similar to the sensation of inhaling smoke.
    JR: Smells like fouled molasses. The experience is like catching an infection all at once. It spreads across your tongue like some kind of unchecked STD.
    MU: It smells like barbecue to me. It's literally like a little conflagration on my tongue, and it's spreading like a California forest fire. The top of my head is tingling and my nose is running.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Dave's Gourmet Insanity Sauce
    Available at mohotta.com. 5oz bottle $7.99.

    CS: This is a lot of chiliheads' entry into super hot, hot sauces. It's sort of an OG of the extreme-sauce game.
    JR: I think this is notably less spicy than Mad Dog, but it's searing for sure.
    MU: It's not making my ears pop, it's not making me cry. It's game over unless it makes me cry.
    CS: Certainly not nuanced; it's a little artificial tasting. It's basically just hot.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Blair's Pure Death Sauce with Jolokia
    Available at kalustyans.com. 5oz bottle $7.99.

    MU: Looks like coagulated blood, like you could buy it in Bangkok.
    JR: It smells like bonito and kelp! Smell it!
    MU: Whoa, yeah. It does have a dried-fish flavor, exactly what would be sprinkled on some tofu. It has a fascinating texture.
    CS: I think it's the suggestion, but now it reminds me of an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant.
    JR: It's definitely bonito. Or even fish food. It's my goldfish Bubbles and Rusty---it's having to bury them too early, too young.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Blair's Beyond Death Sauce
    Available at hotsauce.com. 5oz bottle $12.89.

    CS: This one sets off a biological instinct. It doesn't smell right so my body doesn't want to eat it. This smells like there's something evil about it or wrong.
    JR: Yeah, this is diabolical.
    CS: Such a thick, pasty consistency! It's incredibly hot. It makes me feel like I actually have a sore throat. A lot of these have exploded immediately in my mouth, but this one traveled all the way down my throat.
    JR: That's what she said.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    The Ghost Hot Sauce with Bhut Jolokia Peppers
    Available at hotsauce.com. 5oz bottle $7.95.

    CS: The packaging is so kitschy with the Grim Reaper skeleton ghost.
    JR: They spelled incendiary wrong on the label. Ha! I love that.
    MU: Yeah, the packaging looks like something they'd sell at Hot Topic around Christmastime. But I'm smelling it and my tongue's starting to prickle up.
    CS: It's got that ghost pepper smell.
    JR: Yeah, it's got that toxic, don't-go-there scent. But I don't know, it doesn't taste as spicy as the other ghost pepper sauces.
    CS: Well, ghost pepper is a slow-action heat. It may build.
    JR: I think this is a bit of a red herring of a sauce. I don't find it that spicy. Yeah...I don't like this sauce.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Melinda's Original Naga Jolokia Pepper Sauce
    Available at melindas.com. 5oz bottle $7.92.

    MU: It smells pretty hot.
    JR: Yeah, it has a menacing scent.
    CS: This is one of the few sauces containing fruit that does a good job of balancing out the heat. The spice registers pretty high here, but there's also that papaya note.
    MU: It's a really flavorful sauce and it also has carrots, which are probably adding to the sweetness.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Dirty Dick's Hot Pepper Sauce with a Tropical Twist
    Available at Dickson's Farmstand Meats, Chelsea Market, 75 Ninth Ave at 16th St (212-242-2630). 5oz bottle $7.50.

    MU: It's definitely dirty. Ugh. It's too sweet.
    JR: It's incredibly sugary with a rancid tartness. It tastes like something that would be served at a Caribbean theme restaurant aboard a cruise ship.

Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

Captain Mowatt's Luscious Pineapple & Papaya on Fie-Yah Hot Sauce
Available at mainespantry.com. 8oz bottle $10.95.

Chris Schonberger: It's very papaya-forward. You get spice at the end and it's really sweet up front.
Jordana Rothman: This is a good entry-level hot sauce. It definitely has some fire, but it's more about the acid.

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