How to Choose the Correct Hot Sauce for your Meal

Elias Kenworthy, Student Writer

Hot sauce is undoubtedly the perfect condiment. You can put hot sauce on pretty much everything and it is a low-fat food,  making it hard to argue that there is a better condiment. The big question on everyone’s mind should be: how do I pick the right hot sauce so that I can get the best flavor profile for different types of cuisine? This list can help you understand how to match your hot sauce to whatever type of food you want to eat it with. This “How-To” will open your eyes to the numerous hot sauce possibilities and how you can send your taste buds on a wonderful journey with the right hot sauce pairing. 

  1. The first step is to know your hot sauces. Once you know the flavor profile of a hot sauce it is much easier to pair your sauce with your food. I chose a few of my favorite most versatile hot sauces that any beginner can start experimenting with.
    1. TABASCO IS NOT HOT SAUCE. Yes, you heard that right, tabasco is not, in any way, hot sauce. Tabasco is a spicy vinegar that claims to be hot sauce. If this is the only hot sauce experience you’ve had, it’s time to broaden your horizons.
    2. Tapatio (3,000 SHU*): Tapatio is a wonderful Mexican hot sauce that will enhance any type of Mexican or southwestern food. Tapatio has a slightly smoky flavor/
    3. Frank’s Red Hot (450 SHU):  This is a very mild hot sauce for those who are not quite ready to dive headfirst into the hot sauce experience. It is a saucier more vinegar-based (a little less fresh) but is very cheap and easy to find 
    4. Marie Sharp’s hot sauce (50,000 SHU for extra hot): Rated best carrot-based hot sauce, Marie Sharp’s hot sauces are bursting with flavor. They are not just hot, they are sweet, tangy, and savory. It truly provides a robust flavor experience. These hot sauces are also some of the freshest hot sauces on the market. Marie Sharp’s is a good option for those who are looking for varying levels of heat with all of the same flavors in every sauce.
    5. Torchbearer’s Zombie apocalypse sauce (500,000+ SHU): Torchbearer is another brand that has a wide variety of heat levels with most having relatively the same extremely smoky flavor. This hot sauce is not very versatile and can only be used for very specific foods without overpowering the original flavor

*SHU stands for Scoville heat units, which is the measurement of how spicy the hot sauce is

  1. Next, you need to separate the food into a cuisine category (ex. Mexican, American, French,) or type of food (vegetable starch, etc?). This helps you establish a flavor profile that is associated with that cuisine and its preparation style. Each style can be good with most hot sauces, but one type of flavor will make each dish perfect. Find your category from the list below to help identify your perfect hot sauce.
  2. For vegetables: Torchbearer hot sauces are perfect for veggies. The smoky flavor perfectly compliments the bitter taste of most vegetables. If you choose a more intense hot sauce, the heat will likely mask the flavor of vegetables which will help those who don’t particularly enjoy vegetables. For sweeter vegetables like squash you want to go with a slightly sweet hot sauce, like Marie Sharp’s
  3. For starches: Starches are mostly flavorless so any hot sauce can work depending on what kind of flavor you are looking for. If you are looking for a mild flavor to compliment your starch I would go with Franks Red hot. If you are looking for a more flavorful experience I would go with a Torchbearer sauce, smoky flavors go really great with starch and it’s like a party in your mouth with a good torchbearer sauce
  4. For Italian/ food with marinara sauce: Franks red hot is a mild sauce that pairs really well with marinara because it does not overpower the perfect flavorful dishes of Italian cuisine, it just adds the perfect amount of spice to compliment the flavor.
  5. For Mexican/ southwestern food: Tapatio is the way to go. Tapatio was made for Mexican food and so it perfectly compliments the flavor profile of any Mexican dish 
  6. Blandly or barely seasoned meat: Meat is like starches where pretty much any hot sauce will work because you are bringing a new flavor to a previously flavorless meal. My number one choice for meat is Tapatio because even though it is mostly meant for Mexican food, it packs a punch as far as flavor goes and it’s slightly smoky flavor is not overpowering to the natural flavor of the meat.
  7. American food (Burger, grilled cheese, etc.): For American food, it has got to be Franks Red Hot. If the original doesn’t satisfy your need for heat Franks extra hot will satisfy your craving without compromising the flavor profile
  8. For Hot Pockets: Yes, there is a specific hot sauce that goes with literally every type of Hot Pocket: Marie Sharp’s hot sauces. They make pretty much any frozen food taste fresher and it adds a new level of flavor to a potentially bland hot pocket.
  9. Other: If your hot sauce dish is not on this list, use the flavors mentioned to try to match your dish to the perfect hot sauce. Remember: if a food is bland or bitter you want to go with a smoky flavorful sauce. If a food is sweet, you want a hot sauce with little to no smoky flavor and a more fresh, chunky hot sauce will do the trick. If you are trying to bring frozen foods back to life, go for a super fresh hot sauce like Marie Sharp’s. Lastly, if you are just adding heat to an already flavorful meal, the mild flavor of Frank’s Red Hot is a perfect pairing to an already perfect meal.