Sometimes a meal simply isn't ready to eat without a dash (or five) of your favorite hot sauce. And there are so many varieties out there! Personally, I've been cultivating a giant hot sauce collection in the form of gifts for my dad. Every birthday or holiday he gets a funky, fruity, or over-the-top hot bottle of something from yours truly, and we've been burning our tongues on them for years.
Because I just can't get enough, I checked in with some food writers and recipe developers to see which hot sauces they like to keep on hand. Whether we're talking about livening up avocado toast, grain bowls, and eggs, or just using the condiment to add heat to marinades and dips, there's nothing better than hot sauce.
What makes a good hot sauce
The first two hot sauces that probably come to mind are Tabasco and Frank's RedHot Original Cayenne Pepper Sauce. And we would never, ever tell you not to buy them. Tabasco is great for dripping on burritos, eggs, and of course, a necessary ingredient for a Bloody Mary cocktail. Frank's, on the other end, is essential for buffalo chicken-everything — wing sauce, dips, and even grilled chicken.
But there's a fiery world beyond those two well-known hot sauces. We love small batch chili sauce because you know the quality is there (as is the heat). A good hot sauce should have a short ingredients list too: look for chile peppers, vinegar, cane sugar, salt, maybe some fruit purées, and not much else. You want the chile peppers to naturally develop the flavor profile without a whole lotta work from anything else.
Speaking of flavor, you can't always tell what's going on when your mouth is on fire. So before you drizzle ghost pepper hot sauce all throughout our egg and cheese sandwich, know what's on the inside. The type of chile pepper(s) used is the best way to know how spicy the sauce will taste. Hot sauces made with poblano, jalapeno, or Hungarian chile peppers will be on the mild end. Thai peppers, scotch bonnet peppers, and habanero peppers will bring medium heat (though you might want to keep a glass of milk nearby just in case), and anything made with ghost peppers or Carolina reaper peppers will make you sweat, cry, and beg for mercy.
Here are 17 of our expert's favorite hot sauces to drizzle, sprinkle, and downright pour on everything.
The best hot sauces
1. Brooklyn Delhi Guntur Sannam Hot Sauce
I love the new Brooklyn Delhi Guntur Sannam Hot Sauce. It's salty and has some fermented funk, and is much, much less acidic than most hot sauces, a completely different style from anything else I've tried. I put it on everything — eggs and avocado toast and rice bowls and whatnot — just as I do with all their excellent achaar. — Lukas Volger, writer, editor, and cookbook author
I love Pisqueya's hot sauces. The passion fruit one adds beautiful sweetness and acidity to things like avocado toast, and I also like to put it in cashew-cilantro dip for tostones. Their smoky one has big (but not killer) heat, perfect for perking up basic hummus. — Alicia Kennedy, food and drink writer
3. Aardvark Habanero Hot Sauce
This one's my go-to: It has more of a kick than Cholula, but not so much that it hurts. It's made from fruity habaneros, but they also use carrots, roasted tomatoes, and mustard to round out the sauce, so it's got a nice vegetal sweetness and tang. The thick texture makes it perfect for topping huevos rancheros or whisking into a spicy salad dressing or marinade. — Kelsey Youngman, Associate Food Editor, Food & Wine
Frank's forever! I've never met a hot sauce I didn't like, but Frank's RedHot holds a special place in my heart. It's more vinegary than it is spicy, so you can use a lot of it without damaging yourself. Best use: the buffalo cucumber salad from Parm, in New York City. — Becky Hughes, Social Media Manager, NYT Cooking
As a bona fide Austinite, I have to go with Yellowbird hot sauce. My personal favorite is the serrano version, although I do encourage people to try them all, as each one has a distinct flavor profile. I love this hot sauce for its vibrant and tangy flavor, with just the right amount of punch without distracting from the dish. This brand prioritizes organic and ethically sourced ingredients, which is something that directly aligns with my value system. — Olga Koutseridi, food writer and recipe developer
Texas is the birthplace of Siete Hot Sauce, and their chipotle version is my standby for when I need to add a hint of smokiness. Honestly the sauce is so good, it's hard not to use the whole bottle in one sitting — yes, that good. Siete stands out by incorporating nutritious ingredients like chia seeds, flaxseeds, and beets, as well as a wide range of pepper varieties that elevate the sauce to new flavor heights. I dare you to find a better representation of Mexican-American flavors in a jar of hot sauce. — Olga Koutseridi
Regular ol' Tabasco has always been my fave, because I need that tang. Love dipping French fries into it! — Eric Kim, writer and recipe developer
8. Maggi Hot & Sweet Tomato Chilli Sauce
I keep several hot sauces at home, but most often I reach for the Maggi Hot & Sweet Tomato Chilli Sauce, which is an Indian ketchup I grew up with. It works wonderfully well wherever ketchup is appropriate. — Nik Sharma, food writer and cookbook author
9. Trader Joe's Jalapeño Sauce
Trader Joe's Jalapeño Sauce is my favorite put-on-everything condiment: eggs, veggies, potatoes, chicken, grain bowls, you name it. It's spicier than you'd expect from a grocery store label, and is just the right amount of tangy. — Maddie Flager, Commerce Editor, Condé Nast Traveler
I have an entire corner devoted to hot sauce in my fridge, and adding newcomers brings me great joy. That said, I'm a Red Clay loyalist — their Hot Honey was what got me hooked, but I'm also really fond of their Carolina Hot Sauce. It's a little sweet, a little smoky, and not overpoweringly hot, so exactly what I look for to top my eggs in the mornings. — Oset Babür, Associate Restaurant Editor, Food & Wine
11. Horseshoe Brand Peach Hot Sauce
New to me: I'm loving Horseshoe Brand Peach Hot Sauce! Such a beautiful, warm flavor, and it makes peach season last year-round. I've been drizzling some on top of vegetarian tacos, or on avocado smashes. — Oset Babür
12. Shaquanda's Hot Pepper Sauce
Almost anyone can make a hot sauce that brings the heat. So for me, a great one also needs to burst with flavor — and none does it quite like Shaquanda's Hot Pepper Sauce from Andre Springer, who birthed the brand as part of a drag performance in 2013. — Aaron Hutcherson, food writer and recipe developer
13. Humble House Ancho & Morita
Whereas most hot sauces these days are in a competition to see who can singe your tonsils the most, I like that there's an actual balance to Humble House Ancho & Morita. It's a surprisingly versatile team player, with a nice blend of smoky-sweetness, richness, and acidity, thanks to the tamarind. — Andrew Bui, food writer and photographer
14. Huy Fong Chili Garlic Sauce
My favorite brand of hot sauce, without a shadow of a doubt, is Huy Fong Chili Garlic Sauce. I am this close to drinking it straight. — Ella Quittner, writer
15. Texas Pete Original Hot Sauce
Texas Pete is a classic hot sauce that goes with everything, and so I put it on everything. It's bright and actually provides good heat, but not so much that you can longer taste the food you put it on. It's just right. — Makinze Gore, Associate Food Editor, Delish.com
16. Farm To People Bee Sting Smoky Honey Sriracha
It's just a hint sweet and a little bit smoky. Put it on a breakfast taco and you'll never look back. I love this stuff so much that I always, always keep a bottle in my fridge. — Makinze Gore
I had a whirlwind love affair with Chipotle as a teenager, and the most important thing I gained from that experience was a love of Tabasco Chipotle Sauce. I love the deep, smoky, just-spicy-enough sauce for salad dressings, with roast chicken, or, yes, on burrito bowls. — Gaby Scelzo, food writer, Sifted