Bring on the Heat

There is a thing about hot sauces, rubs and meat that somehow dwell in the heart of men. It seems they have a soft spot for spicy and burning meats and it can be a competition to who can eat the hottest or cook the best meats. My husband is among this throng of men. He is a hot sauce connoisseur. So as we enter the BBQ season I have decided to interview him on what makes the best hot sauces and/or rubs on meat.

Why is a good hot sauce so important on your meat?

Hot sauce can do two things for the meat, cover up the bad taste (use lots), or bring out the flavor, it can act like salt that way.

What is the main thing you look for in a hot sauce?

Vinegar should not be the first ingredient. This is a sign of a cheap hot sauce. Usually I want to see water or peppers or some flavoring ingredient up top. One great staple hot sauce is Cholula. Its ingredients read “water, dried peppers, salt, vinegar, spices… With vinegar toward the bottom it allows the other ingredients to show through. Sauces like Cholula can appeal to hot sauce lovers and the un-initiated because there is heat and significant flavor. Some people like a cheap thrill though in which case sauces like the original Tabasco do the trick, (distilled vinegar first ingredient).

Is there a difference between water based and vinegar based sauces?

There definitely is. Water based sauces tend to allow more flavor to show through. Vinegar, when it is the first ingredient, often over powers subtle nuances that would otherwise be found if water was first. That being said, you can’t judge the heat by water or vinegar base alone. You will find the full range of heat in both styles.

What brings the best kick to a sauce?

When talking pure kick capsaicin content is part one. Capsaicin is the primary chemical in peppers that bring the heat. Heat is important, but the heat wouldn’t be worth it if it wasn’t searing in some flavor in the mouth. One great example of this is a sauce called Endorphin rush( This sauce is a prime example of an excellent kick. Put a tiny drop on the tip of a fork. As soon as the drop contacts the mouth there is literally a rush of barbecue flavor and is immediately overwhelmed by tear jerking, nose watering, make you mute heat. It brings the best of what a hot sauce is all about. Oh and this sauce doesn’t have any vinegar. In fact it is a tomato base.

Thin or thick, that is the question?

It depends upon application. In soups or chilies, viscosity isn’t really a factor. On wings or as a condiment thickness really helps define the experience. To illustrate the point, there is a wing shop in Seattle called Wing Dome. There sauces are rated on an alarm scale, 1 through 7. 1 through 6 alarm come covered in fairly thin sauces, getting slightly thicker moving up the scale. The 7 alarm takes a massive leap in thickness, think barbecue sauce to spaghetti sauce. 7 Alarms are deviously thick in their whole pepper seed glory. It is near impossible to avoid the sauce goatee when biting in. This is all part of the experience, because that goatee just brought the heat all over the front porch and guarantees the heat all the way out the back door.

There are restaurants, cities, states and countries known for their hot sauces! Some of the most famous and popular are:

Tabasco: Avery Island, Louisiana

Tapatio: Vernon, California

Huy Fong Chili Garlic: Los Angeles, California

Crystal: Reserve, Louisiana

Cholula: Chapala, Jalisco

So there you have it, a man’s scoop on the importance of sauces! If you are not a hot sauce fan maybe try giving your next BBQ a few drops of one of these hits and see what you think! Do you have a favorite sauce you use on your meats and BBQ dishes?

    Carolyn Spencer
    Monthly Newsletter Contributor since 2015
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