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The Definitive Ranking of the 13 Best Commonly Available Hot Sauces

With zero room for discussion, feedback, or argument.

By now, we can all agree that hot sauce has risen to become America’s most popular condiment, topping everything from greasy tacos to double burgers to other, different kinds of hot sauce. But what we CAN’T always agree on is which of the 13 most commonly available hot sauces (that is, the ones you can find at most grocery stores, without having to order from some sketchy website that boasts about how it ships your order “in plain packaging”) are the very best.

Have no fear! Your friends at Spork & Barrel are here with this, the definitive, wholly scientific, 100% objective ranking of the 13 best hot sauces around. Let’s get started:

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13. Tabasco (Original Formula)
Want to add hot sauce to something without really adding hot sauce to something? Want to shake a tiny bottle like a maniac just to produce a few watery drops of nearly flavorless, dirty-looking liquid, that will not impact the taste of what you are eating one way or the other? Tabasco is the hot sauce for you, because Tabasco is bullshit. Your mom’s boyfriend uses Tabasco.

12. Louisiana Hot Sauce
Another very lightly spiced, very runny cayenne-based hot sauce whose label boasts that “One Drop Does It,” which must’ve originally read “One Drop Doesn’t.” Next.

11. El Yucateco Chile Habanero (Black)
We LOVE the El Yucateco brand of hot sauces (more on this later), but the “black” version of their Chile Habanero hot sauce is a bit of a peculiar beast. It tastes like a combination of chile habanero (expected) and a pile of burning leaves (kind of not expected). It’s interesting, but there are better and more versatile choices for when you want to add spice to something, but you don’t want your tongue to feel like it’s just swabbed an ashtray.

10. Valentina
Mexicans love Valentina, and if it’s good enough for those guys, it’s good enough for us. Found on every plastic table in every taqueria south of the border, Valentina boasts a slight heat, plenty of salt, and a velvety smooth texture that enrobes everything it touches. This is a great “everyday” hot sauce, to be liberally applied to everything from poodles to pancakes.

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9. Sriracha
Look, don’t get us wrong; Sriracha is a great hot sauce. But man, is it suffering from some overexposure these days. This garlicky blend of fermented chiles is no doubt delicious, but it simply isn’t the best choice for every single hot sauce eating scenario. We love you, Sriracha, but you’re no longer the star of every single thing we ever eat, ever. You’re number nine.

Photo: The Shelby Report

8. Texas Pete’s Hot Sauce
The only reason this hot sauce exists is to be put on fried chicken. If you are eating fried chicken, you should be liberally applying Texas Pete’s to the crusty, salty exterior. And if you’re NOT eating fried chicken, why aren’t you eating fried chicken?

7. Crystal
The Crystal brand is to New Orleans, just as buzzing flies are to a dead dog, bloating in the midday sun, laying in the gutter on the side of the road. Listen, we’re no good at analogies. And while Crystal certainly has its loyal fan base (and a great, vinegary tang), we must admit to kind of not getting it. Is it better than Tabasco? Of course, since it’s not hot garbage.

6. Cholula
Cholula is another fantastic “every day” hot sauce, that finds its way onto everything. While not the hottest sauce of the bunch, Cholula adds a roundness of flavor to everything it touches, and a feeling of calm from the oddly serene señora on the label. And bonus points for the wooden cap.

5. Tapatio
Tapatio may as well be the uncle to Valentina, as it is another balanced hot sauce that should be applied copiously to anything you can find, equally appropriate for dialing up the spice of Thai food, as it is your bowl of frijoles charros. Tapatio’s slogan? “Es una salsa…muy salsa,” which translates to “It’s a sauce…that’s very saucy.” It’s a slogan…that’s very awesome.

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4. Frank’s Red Hot
Look, Frank’s Red Hot isn’t winning any awards for challenging the palate or blowing the tops off of the heads of chile eaters everywhere. But the simple fact is that you can not make a batch of traditional, Anchor Bar-style Buffalo Wings without a big jug of the stuff. Buffalo wings are one of nature’s most perfect foods, and so not including its base ingredient this high on the list would render the entire list irrelevant.

3. Gringo Bandito “Super Hot”
When we first saw the leering characature of The Offspring’s Dexter Holland leering at us from the supermarket shelves, we were confused. What? Why…does the “Pretty Fly For A White Guy” dude…have a…hot sauce? It made no sense. Until it made PERFECT sense. What in the hell else are you supposed to do, now that no one listens to The Offspring anymore? Why WOULDN’T you start lending your name to hot sauces? And this one measures up, delivering lots of fruity, robust flavor from the ghost chilies and habaneros, and then a blast of heat that hits the back of your throat and shoots straight up your nose. Sort of like Dexter Holland, himself.

2. Sambal Oelek
If you’re ready to graduate from Sriracha, allow us to introduce you to our new chunky friend Sambal Oelek. Sambal oelek is made with raw fresh ground red chili, vinegar, and salt, and packs a sharp heat alongside a bit of a sour note. Try it on scrambled eggs, or any godamned thing under the sun.

1. El Yucateco Chile Habanero (Green)
You know how when you’re catching a rabid squirrel in an old “Nightmare Before Christmas” pillowcase, you have to approach it slowly, and from the side? It’s the same with El Yucateco Chile Habanero (Green), which we always refer to mentally simply as “Green Monster.” The first few times you try it, a few drops seems to overpower your food with its mighty habanero heat. But keep at it, applying it to shredded mole verdes, or dribbling it on quesadillas, and you’ll start to appreciate its bright, flavorful wallop. For its ability to balance impressive heat with fruit flavor, and its tendency to have a few drops carry heat through your whole dish, we award El Yucateco Chile Habanero (Green) our top spot.

 

Written by Malcolm Bedell

Malcolm is the author of "Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road," as well as a frequent contributor to Serious Eats, Down East Magazine, The L.A. Weekly, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, and more. When not poisoning his body with garbage and then posting sardonic commentary about it on the Internet, he also owns and operates the 'Wich, Please food truck, named Eater.com's "Hottest Restaurant in Maine" for 2015.

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