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Like many condiments, hot sauce brands have attracted cult followings, with die-hard fans prepared to fight for what they believe to be the best recipe. Popular in Mexican, Central and South American, and Caribbean cuisine, there are many different types of hot sauce, also called chili sauce or pepper sauce, but they all contain chili peppers. The variety of pepper used influences the spice level of the sauce, with ghost pepper and habanero on the hotter side.
The list of ways to use hot sauce is seemingly endless: Put it on everything from eggs to tacos, or add it to soups, marinades, stir-fry dishes, and sauces (including the popular Buffalo wing sauce).
Whether you want to buy bottles in bulk or try your hand at making your own with the help of a handy kit, here are the best hot sauces on the market.
Best Overall: Secret Aardvark Habanero Hot Sauce
Size: 8 fluid ounces | Sodium: 35 milligrams | Total Carbohydrates: 0 grams | Sugar: 0 grams | Heat Rating: Medium
The secret is out: Secret Aardvark’s Habanero Hot Sauce is downright tasty. While its price tag may be higher than many big-name brands, the item has garnered nearly universal praise, with hundreds of hot-sauce lovers awarding it five stars. A combination of habanero peppers and roasted tomatoes infuses the sauce with a one-of-a-kind zest, inspired by Caribbean and Tex-Mex flavors. The sauce is on the spicier end, clocking in at 5,000 Scoville units, but customers say it’s versatile and balanced enough to pair with a variety of meals. Secret Aardvark even offers a number of recipes that incorporate the sauce on its website, ranging from marinades to, yes, cocktails.
Runner-Up, Best Overall: Tapatio Hot Sauce 5 Ounce
Size: 5 fluid ounces | Sodium: 110 milligrams | Total Carbohydrates: 0 grams | Sugar: 0 grams | Heat Rating: Mild to medium
With glowing customer reviews, an affordable price, and an unbeatable taste, Tapatío’s is the perfect mealtime kick. This authentic Mexican hot sauce is crafted from red peppers and a blend of rich spices, delicious on everything from tacos and burritos to eggs, fish, and more. Tapatío’s is easy to find both in-store and online, and you can purchase the condiment in a variety of sizes, including 5, 10, and 32-ounce bottles, as well as a whopping 1-gallon option. Most importantly, Tapatío’s lands smack-dab in the middle on the spiciness scale. Expect it to be slightly milder than popular brands like Tabasco and Cholula but hotter than Sriracha and Frank’s Red Hot.
Best Mexican: Valentina Mexican Hot Sauce
Size: 34 fluid ounces | Sodium: 64 milligrams | Total Carbohydrates: 0 grams | Sugar: 0 grams | Heat Rating: Medium
Founded and produced in Mexico, Valentina’s hot sauce perfectly captures the savoriness and zest that has come to define the condiment—and it's been doing it for over 60 years. The simple recipe of chili peppers, vinegar, salt, and spices has changed little over that time, and for good reason. Customers say the sauce is mild, as far as spice goes, yet packed with flavor. Valentina’s is available in two varieties: hot, which measures 900 Scoville units, and extra hot, which comes in at 2,100 SVU. The bottles are easy to find online and come in two sizes, 12.5 ounces, and 34 ounces.
Best Truffle: TRUFF Truffle-Infused Hot Sauce
Size: 6 fluid ounces | Sodium: 40 milligrams | Total Carbohydrates: 1 gram | Sugar: 0 grams | Heat Rating: Mild to medium
If it seems that the unique flavor of truffle would get drowned by hot sauce, think again. TRUFF hot sauce provides the heat, as well as the truffles, in a unique sauce that turns taco Tuesday into a gourmet affair. Not just for tacos, it’s also great on burgers and can be used in a marinade, sauce, or dip, so it’s great for chicken, steak, fries, and chips. This original version of the sauce packs medium heat, but a hotter sauce is also available for those who want more kick. This is gluten-free, vegan, and preservative-free and comes in a 6-ounce bottle that will look good in the kitchen and on the table—meaning it’s also great for gifting.
Best for Tacos: Cholula Original Hot Sauce
Size: 12 fluid ounces | Sodium: 110 milligrams | Total Carbohydrates: 0 grams | Sugar: 0 grams | Heat Rating: Hot
You’re likely to find Cholula hot sauce on the table of your favorite Mexican restaurant, ready to be added to your tacos, drizzled on your burritos, or sprinkled on your carne asada. Cholula is made in Mexico and includes both arbol and piquin peppers, along with vinegar and spices for great heat and complex flavor. Not just a table condiment, you can add it to your rice dishes, soups, stews, and more, or even use it to help a salt rim adhere to your cocktail glass.
Best Sriracha: Bushwick Kitchen Weak Knees Gochujang Sriracha Hot Sauce
Size: 10.5 fluid ounces | Sodium: 65 milligrams | Total Carbohydrates: 2 grams | Sugar: 2 grams | Heat Rating: Mild to medium
This sriracha and gochujang sauce from Bushwick Kitchen has a delicious and unique taste that lends itself to a variety of dishes. Customers praise the subtle sweetness, the fermented flavor, and the kick from the peppers. However, this isn't the hottest sauce on our list, which means you can add more to get the flavor you crave on eggs, grilled cheese sandwiches, stews, marinades, and more. The only complaint people seem to have is that they wish it came in a larger bottle—it comes in a 10.5-ounce bottle—because it gets used up so fast!
Best Louisiana: SLAP YA MAMA All Natural Louisiana Style Hot Sauce
Size: 5 fluid ounces | Sodium: 200 milligrams | Total Carbohydrates: 0 grams | Sugar: 0 grams | Heat Rating: Medium
Do you remember when jalapeños used to be considered very hot peppers? Now, compared to the hotter varieties of peppers, jalapeños are pretty tame, but they’ve still got a little bit of a kick along with great flavor. While this is a Louisiana-style sauce, you don’t have to stick to Cajun recipes when you use it. Feel free to drizzle it on all your favorite foods, from tacos to jambalaya to your grilled chicken, smoked ribs, or oven-roasted meats. It’s also great in your red beans and rice or your black bean soup.
Best for Wings: Frank's RedHot Hot Buffalo Wings Sauce
Size: 23 fluid ounces | Sodium: 190 milligrams | Total Carbohydrates: 0 grams | Sugar: 0 grams | Heat Rating: Mild
Some people argue that the only proper hot sauce for wings is Frank's. It has the tartness from the vinegar and a little bite from the cayenne peppers. It’s not just great on Buffalo wings, though. It can add just the right flavor to spicy meatballs, deviled eggs, or even baked beans. This is a 23-ounce bottle, so you’ll have enough to use it in recipes and as a condiment for tacos, pizza, and more.
Best Ghost Pepper: Dave's Gourmet Ghost Pepper Naga Jolokia Hot Sauce
Size: 5 fluid ounces | Sodium: 170 milligrams | Total Carbohydrates: 1 gram | Sugar: 0 grams | Heat Rating: Extremely hot
Dave’s Gourmet makes a wide variety of sauce, salsas, and condiments, like this ghost pepper salsa. Ghost peppers, also known as Bhut Jolokia, are one of the hottest peppers you’ll face, but they’re tempered somewhat in this sauce, so you’ll still have taste buds left after you try it. Still, it’s a very hot sauce if you’ve only dabbled in the milder varieties, so if you don’t want it full strength, you can add a little to your slow-cooker chili or add just a drop to your salsa. This is a slightly thin sauce, so it’s easy to drizzle just a drop at a time if you don’t want extreme heat. Besides the heat, it has a mildly smoky flavor. If you’re really adventurous, add a drop to your frozen margarita or Bloody Mary cocktail.
Best Avocado: Kumana Avocado Hot Sauce
Size: 13.1 fluid ounces | Sodium: 100 milligrams | Total Carbohydrates: 1 gram | Sugar: 0 grams | Heat Rating: Mild
Avocado hot sauces may not be familiar—yet—but they’re a tasty alternative to more traditional sauces. There's a trio of avocado hot sauces to choose from: the original version that’s spicy (but not excessively spicy), a sweet version, and a hot version. The avocado tempers the heat and adds a creamy texture that makes it great on tacos, omelets, tomato salads, burritos, or just about any dish that needs a little bit of heat.
Best Kit: The Chili Lab Homemade Hot Sauce Kit
Size: 4 fluid ounces | Sugar: N/A | Heat rating: Medium
If you love hot sauce, why not make your own? This handy kit includes two different spice blends that will let you make two different 4-ounce bottles of hot sauce. One spice mix is fruity and smoky, while the other has citrus and herbal notes. It only takes a few minutes to prep the hot sauce mix, and then it needs to age for three days—so you’ll have your own hot sauce blend in no time. The bottles with corks are included, along with a fine-mesh strainer and a stainless steel funnel, so you can continue experimenting with your own spice mixes after you’ve made and used your first batches.
If the kit gets you inspired to make your own hot sauce, your possibilities are endless. Trevor Sullivan, owner of Pingala Cafe and Broccoli Bar—two vegan hotspots in Vermont—often uses hot sauce to heat up his dishes. He recommends making this tropical hot sauce:
Heat coconut oil in a pan and throw in a fistful of coriander seed. Just as the coriander finishes toasting, add carrot, onion, garlic, and fresh ginger and allow to sweat. After some caramelization on the onion, add a 2:1 ratio of water to white vinegar. Bring to a simmer. After the carrot is cooked through, transfer ingredients to a high-powered blender (or use an immersion blender) and add in fresh habanero peppers—seeds and all. Season with salt to taste. Should be the viscosity of Sriracha.
If you're looking for a middle-of-the-road hot sauce in terms of spiciness—and one that will add the perfect flavor to a variety of meals—you can't go wrong with Secret Aardvark Habanero Hot Sauce (view at Amazon). Looking for something more gourmet to treat yourself or to gift a foodie? We suggest trying TRUFF Hot Sauce, Black Truffle Infused (view at Amazon).
What to Look for in Hot Sauce
Since hot brings the heat, it’s important to narrow it down to the spice level you can handle. Some hot sauces are practically flaming, while others give a barely-there bite that really just elevates the flavor of the dish. Most hot sauces will have some indication on the label, maybe fire or pepper icons, to let you know how hot they are. Make sure you’re paying attention to this, and choosing one that’s appropriate for your taste level.
While all hot sauces are made with a pepper base (albeit those peppers can vary), the added ingredients and length of fermentation give them very distinct tastes. This may take some trial and error and experimentation, but when choosing a hot sauce, consider what you’ll be using it for most often. For example, the Valentina Hot Sauce lends really well to Mexican food, while Slap Ya Mama is designed for Cuban food. You certainly don’t have to box yourself in—you can add any hot sauce to whatever dish you’d like—but keep in mind that they all taste very different.
Quality of ingredients is another important player in the hot sauce game. Regardless of which sauce you choose, you’ll likely see peppers are the first ingredient, but pay attention to the additional ingredients, too. Some hot sauces are made with all organic ingredients, while others have added sugar. There’s no right or wrong here, but if you’re on a specialized diet, it’s important to look at the label carefully.
Does hot sauce go bad?
While hot sauce may eventually go bad, it has a long shelf life. The USDA states that it can be stored for six months in the pantry and longer if refrigerated.
Does hot sauce need to be refrigerated?
You don’t have to refrigerate hot sauce if you plan to use it up within six months. However, if you want to extend the shelf life of your hot sauce, it can last in the refrigerator for up to a year and maybe more.
Is hot sauce keto?
Some hot sauces contain added sugar that adds 1 to 2 grams of carbohydrates to each serving. The ketogenic diet allows for a little sugar, as long as it's under the daily carb limit. This means that many types of hot sauce will be okay in moderation as long as you pay attention to the servings and keep the carb count low the remainder of the day. Make sure you’re reading ingredients lists and nutrition labels.
Is hot sauce vegan?
Most hot sauces are vegan and will state this on the label, but double-check the ingredient list to make sure.
Is hot sauce gluten-free?
Not all sauces are gluten-free. Some contain wheat flour or wheat-containing ingredients that are used as thickeners. Most labels will specify if the hot sauce is gluten-free but always double-check the ingredients to make sure.
How many calories are in hot sauce?
Many hot sauces have no calories, but some may have around 10 to 20 calories per teaspoon. If you’re monitoring your calorie intake, check the nutrition labels of your hot sauce, so you have accurate information.
What is fermented hot sauce?
Technically, all hot sauce is fermented. Hot sauce is made by combining chilies (and other ingredients) with vinegar and letting them sit for a period of time—anywhere from 5 to 7 days to 3 months. This fermentation process breaks the chilies down and helps make the flavors rich and complex.
How can you thicken hot sauce?
There are two ways to thicken hot sauce. You can bring it to a slow boil over medium heat, uncovered, and let any excess water evaporate. Once the hot sauce cools down, it will be slightly thicker.
The other option is to add a thickener, like cornstarch or arrowroot powder. Mix 1 teaspoon of cornstarch or arrowroot with 2 teaspoons of water for each cup of hot sauce and then stir into the sauce over medium heat. Continue stirring for about 5 minutes or until the sauce thickens. Remove from heat and allow to cool—the sauce will thicken even more once it cools.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Donna Currie is a writer and product tester for The Spruce Eats. She specializes in product reviews and recipes, has written her own cookbook, and knows what to reach for when she wants to add a spicy kick to everything from eggs to tacos to marinades.
Lindsay Boyers, who updated this piece, is a functional nutritionist specializing in gut health and mood disorders. She's written more than a dozen books and cookbooks and created over 1,000 original recipes, using the highest-quality and tastiest ingredients she can find.