Hot sauces are one of my favorite condiments. They’re versatile, tasty, and come in a wide variety of flavors and levels of heat.
Determining what counts as “the best” in a type of food is a bit tricky, and it’s mostly going to come down more to which are my favorites rather than which are the best by some objective measure. But we’ll go over all that in a moment; the different kind of things you should look for in a hot sauce, as well as the top picks I’ve tried and been able to find easily available.
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11 Best Hot Sauces (2021 Reviews)
1. Best Overall - Mad Dog 357 Ghost Pepper Hot Sauce
Heat isn’t the only determining factor for what makes a hot sauce good, but it’s one to consider. Bhut Jolokia used to be considered the hottest pepper around, and it still comes in at second place below the Carolina Reaper, which has replaced it as the premiere “hot for the sake of hot” pepper on the market.
Truth be told though, I’ve never liked the Reaper very much, since I don’t value heat for its own sake very highly. If the hot thing doesn’t taste good, why bother? This goes equally for peppers, sauces, and anything else spicy.
The ghost pepper sauces though all share a nice nutty flavor you can’t really find in other chili peppers. It’s best used sparingly, but is also a pepper I’ve found to be pretty forgiving so long as it’s mixed with other flavors, coming through strongly without overpowering other flavors or deadening your taste buds with the heat.
The addition of Peri Peri peppers to this mix also gives it a nice kick in the pants to up the flavor quotient by a bit while giving it a more immediate kick rather than the dangerous “creeping” heat the ghost pepper provides.
This is a nice one to pick up if you’ve always wanted to give ghost pepper sauces a try but didn’t know which to start with.
Delicious sweet and nutty flavor
Good amount for the price, especially with how little you are supposed to use
May be too hot for many people to eat regularly
2. Runner Up - Queen Majesty Hot Scotch Bonnet and Ginger Hot Sauce
Scotch Bonnets are a fun pepper, with a delicious fruity flavor that comes through nice in most sauces. Pairing it with ginger in addition to that fruity flavor makes for a really interesting flavor mix, as well as heat profile; it gets in your sinuses a bit better than most hot sauces manage to do, but in a good way.
The heat, of course, is pretty high up there. Scotch Bonnets are roughly twice as hot as a habanero, which are the baseline for what I’d say is a truly hot sauce. Still, it’s a manageable heat in a different way from a Carolina Reaper or Ghost Pepper sauce; you probably don’t want to toss something purely in this sauce, but you also don’t need to get out an eyedropper to make sure you don’t hurt yourself either, so long as you have a fairly decent tolerance for hot sauces.
In addition to its use as a condiment, this hot sauce makes an excellent base for sauces of other kinds, especially sweeter sauces. A homemade “sweet heat” style barbeque sauce could make perfect use of this, as could something like a mango sauce or similarly fruity, sweet sauce to slather on stuff. It provides a lot of heat while enhancing (rather than masking) flavor.
Delicious flavor both as a condiment and as an ingredient in other sauces
Nice heat that hits high on the scale and quickly permeates the mouth, without being overwhelming
Good amount for the price
Great color when used on foods; makes them pop and enhances presentation
Very sweet flavor overall may not be to everyone’s taste, and does not work for many dishes
A bit on the hotter side, so may be too warm for some people
3. Best Habanero Hot Sauce - Yellowbird Foods Habenero Hot Sauce
This habanero hot sauce is quite delicious, with a variety of unusual ingredients that give it a sweet and savory kick. The vivid orange coloring is even brighter than usual for a habanero sauce, owing in large part to its inclusion of carrots as a primary ingredient. I really like carrots, and the taste comes through surprisingly well here, that natural refreshing sweetness cutting the bitter, vinegary flavor that the base gives it, as well as the tang that the citrus (lime and tangerine juices) brings to it.
As a condiment this is my favorite habanero sauce around. Many are too sweet, too bitter, or somehow both at the same time, but this threads the needle between those problems and produces an independently tasty sauce that nevertheless compliments well a lot of other flavors in foods, especially Tex-Mex favorites.
Add in that it comes in a good sized bottle at a very reasonable price, and it’s made from organic ingredients, and you have an excellent go to sauce.
Not overly sweet or bitter
Great amount of spice, not too heavy but enough to feel it
Very low price
Large bottle size
Convenient squeeze bottle design
Great as a condiment, but not great as a tossing or mixing sauce
4. Best Carolina Reaper Hot Sauce - Torchbearer Sauces Garlic Reaper Sauce
I mentioned above that I’m not usually a fan of Carolina Reaper sauces; they tend to be all heat and no flavor in my experience, but this one is different. The flavor of this sauce is like an explosion of garlic, with a very nice warmth to it that quickly grows to the levels you’d expect from a Carolina Reaper sauce.
I like this one for two reasons, and the main one is that I really like garlic sauces, but it’s difficult to get one with any heat. It’s a difficult tightrope to walk making sure that the garlic flavor isn’t overpowered by the flavor of the pepper itself or augmented weirdly by it. The blandness of the Reaper itself works in its favor for once, lending no flavor but a lot of heat to what would otherwise be a tasty but exceptionally mild sauce.
The second reason is its creaminess. It makes an excellent tossing sauce, as shown by it being featured on Hot Ones (an interview show that involves eating spicy wings).
I don’t think much of it as a condiment, but as a marinade or tossing sauce, it’s one of the best on the market. The sauce is also “accidentally healthy” as they put it, with all natural ingredients and a host of nice little side benefits (it’s vegetarian, gluten free, and extract free as well). It’s a bit expensive (the price per bottle is low, but the bottles are quite small), but that’s to be expected for such a spicy sauce; a little goes a long way in most cases, but if you’re going to use it to toss hot wings you’ll go through it pretty fast.
A perfect marinade for pretty much anything
Delicious garlicky flavor
Slow burn, but ultimately a high heat
Creamy texture is smooth on the tongue and pairs well with most things you’ll be marinating
A little too creamy and spicy to be a great condiment
5. Best Hot Sauce Variety Pack - Heartbeat Hot Sauce Mixed Pack
I don’t usually go in for variety packs of hot sauces. In my experience usually the reason a bunch of sauces get bundled into some kind of value pack is that, frankly, they all suck too much to buy individually, and in an outdoor bbq you’ll need a larger amount of sauce then what a packet can provide.
This one though is a bit different. All three of these sauces are made from high quality ingredients and have a great flavor.
The basic red habanero sauce is one of my favorites. I’m a real sucker for habanero sauces, and this one is a very tasty variant with hints of garlic and lime underlying the vinegar and habanero base. It has a nice heat to it, high but not blisteringly so, and makes an excellent go to sauce for any purpose; it works equally well as a condiment, mixing sauce, or tossing sauce.
The blueberry one is a bit more limited. It’s quite tasty, technically more so than the red habanero kind in my opinion, but it’s significantly less versatile. It’s hard to find something to put blueberry flavor on that also wants to be spicy, so its use as a condiment is iffy. It makes an interesting base for a salad dressing though, and as a nice marinade for chicken especially; I have a blueberry chicken recipe I make pretty regularly that was kicked up quite a bit by the addition of a few squirts of this.
The jalapeno one I like significantly less, though that’s pretty much my own bias, not anything wrong with the sauce itself. The sauce is well made and includes a variety of good ingredients, but I’ve never liked the taste of jalapenos in the first place, compounded by a mild allergy to jalapenos I’ve got. I can eat them without too much trouble so I can taste the sauce, but it’s not my favorite thing in the world to do.
Together, these make an excellent variety pack for any lover of hot sauces, and should be heavily considered.
Excellent variety of sauces
Convenient squeeze bottle design
Sauces are great as a handy condiment or base for a marinade
Blueberry sauce is tasty, but one note and awkward to find a use for
6. Best Non-Traditional Hot Sauce - Hot Hive Spicy Honey by FUEGO SPICE co.
I was torn for a bit on whether to count this one or not. Is it truly a sauce? It’s honey that’s been infused with Carolina Reaper for added spice. My gut says it’s technically not a hot sauce…but at the same time I’ve used honey as a sauce base too many times to really stand by that with any conviction. In the end I decided it’s just as much of a sauce having a honey base as any other sauce with a vinegar base, the latter being kind of its own condiment as well anyway.
And as a sauce it’s quite good. Obviously you can’t use it in the same way as a lot of these other hot sauces. It makes an excellent spicy marinade or base for another sauce, especially for chicken or salmon. It has a lot of heat and a little bit goes a very long way, the same as using honey or peppers on their own.
As a condiment though, this is pretty much useless. There’s a few things you could slather a spicy honey on after the fact that it would taste good on, but not a whole ton, and this is certainly not something I’d want to put in my morning tea. It does get a bit of a bonus for being the only sauce here I wouldn’t mind eating a bit of just on its own, it tastes really good in small quantities just by itself.
Tasty on its own
Surprisingly low price given the cost of both its components
Convenient squirt bottle design
Terrible as a condiment
7. Best Condiment Hot Sauce - Cholula Original Hot Sauce
While significantly milder than the last few we’ve talked about, and a more well known brand, it’s still worth giving credit to the classics. Cholula makes a great, standard heat hot sauce that pretty much everyone can enjoy. It has a nice vinegary sweet flavor that goes well on just about anything you’d care to try it on.
This 64 oz. Bottle is likewise great for cooking as well as just a condiment. Cholula is mild enough to make a good tossing sauce for chicken and other meats before you fry them, making for very interestingly flavored hot wings and similar foods.
Spice fiends probably won’t be too impressed by the heat of this option, and neither will anyone looking for a particularly exotic flavor, but something has to be the ketchup of hot sauces (everybody loves it, and some people think it makes EVERYTHING better), and for my money Cholula has the right recipe for that.
Good lightly smokey and vinegary flavor
Works great as a condiment or tossing sauce
Excellent price for the size given
Widely available at most grocery stores
Mild flavor is great for people who don’t want an overly spicy hot sauce
Very standard flavor isn’t great for people who want a more exotic flavor
Mild flavor is unappealing for people who want a more “brag worthy” sauce
8. Best Hot Sauce to use as a Chili Starter - Secret Aardvark Habanero Hot Sauce
This is interesting stuff, with a flavor that’s a bit hard to describe. At a base it tastes a lot like a Carolina Gold barbeque sauce with all of the sweeter elements removed, though this does mix a mustard base with a tomato base, so it’s not quite the same.
I like this one as a chili starter, among other things. It’s good as a condiment, or as a grilling sauce, maybe mixed with a few other things to give it that sweeter kick. I think its greatest strength is that it has a more neutral flavor profile than other options here. I trends toward the more vinegary bitter side, but not overwhelmingly so. It’s more savory than a lot of other options, which makes it pretty nice on a lot of foods.
The only real issue with this one is that it’s a bit more processed than other options. It still tastes good, but if you’re looking for a pure organic hot sauce, look elsewhere.
Check our reviews on the best bbq sauces for more option.
Neutral flavor lends itself well as both a condiment and mixing sauce
Easy squirt bottle
Good size and value
Habanero peppers make a great baseline for heat
Not an organic product
9. Best Hot Sauce for Shellfish and Seafood - Louisiana Hot Sauce
Another simple one, but good for certain purposes. As a dabbing or topping sauce it’s significantly worse than Cholula for most foods, but for seafood, particularly shellfish, it’s hard to beat.
Louisiana tastes a lot like a concentrated version of spicy V8 juice. Very vegetable-y, very vinegary, and with just a touch of heat.
Louisiana hot sauce is not some gourmet sauce made from exotic peppers, but sometimes that’s not what you need. If you want to make a Bloody Mary or dab some sauce on raw oysters, you’re not going to want to reach for an intensely spicy ghost pepper sauce, or a distinctly flavorful habanero sauce, you want something like this that just adds a nice little vinegar kick and a tomato flavor. And for that, it’s perfect.
Simple flavor goes well with vegetable drinks and shellfish
Very simple flavor and low on spice; this is not a high quality “exotic” hot sauce
10. Best Hot Sauce for Mixed Drinks - Tabasco Pepper Sauce
Tabasco sauce is an odd duck among hot sauces. There’s not really anything out there that tastes quite like it. The sauce is undeniably vinegary, but tabasco peppers have an indescribable smoky flavor that comes through that bitterness nicely.
As a pure condiment, its thick consistency makes it great for slathering on things, and it works as a mix in for barbeque sauces, alcoholic drinks, and so on. The heat is nothing to write home about and the flavor is unique, but not particularly eye popping either, but much like Louisiana and Cholula hot sauces, these big name brands aren’t made to be either of those things. They’re there for the average, everyday use to spruce up some otherwise bland foods, and for that kind of thing these cheaper sauces can’t be beat.
Flavor is subtle enough to blend with most foods, but distinct enough to give it a kick
Low on heat and appropriate for most any palette
Cheap and widely available for purchase
Not particularly flavorful or hot, so not great for hot sauce connoisseurs
11. Best Hot Sauce for Making Asian Dishes - Lao Gan Ma Spicy Chili Crisp Hot Sauce
Asian chili peppers have a much different flavor than North or South American variants, and are often processed differently as well, resulting in this oily, red, delicious sauce that goes well with any Asian inspired dish.
These sauces are intensely flavorful, but generally only suited to being a cooking sauce, as they can be sickeningly sweet if eaten as a dipping sauce or something similar.
That makes this sauce less versatile but no less tasty, and a great marinade or mixing sauce for pork, beef, chicken, and fish.
The size of the bottle is good, as is the price, and while there are better sauces on the market of this kind, they’re few and far between, at least domestically; a lot of sauces like this need to be imported.
The only real problem is a lack of heat. It’s not completely lacking in spice but it’s pretty close, giving you a faint heat and little more.
Delicious Asian chili flavor
Sweet and savory flavor goes with most types of meat and vegetables
Low on spice; accessible for most people
Low on heat, so bad for spice fiends
I like all of these sauces to different degrees. Ultimately, even though I labeled one as the best overall, it’s hard to stand by it, just like all of these. Even the best sauces have different scenarios in which they taste the best, and personal preference only goes so far to change that. You could be perfectly happy owning all 11 of these sauces and rotating between them for different dishes, save maybe the couple of “redundant” habanero sauces, but even then each of those has a slightly different flavor profile that lends it best to something different.
Hot sauces are best when kept as a part of a wider collection, and each of these should make a fine addition to such so long as you don’t already have a favorite that makes them less desirable somehow.
What Kind of Hot Sauce Should I Get?
The very first thing you need to decide when buying a hot sauce is how hot you want it.
How Hot Should My Hot Sauce Be?
There are a wide variety of peppers used in sauces, and they’re roughly categorized into three different “levels” of heat.
The low level of heat will still give you a bit of a kick, don’t get me wrong. There are no truly mild sauces on display here. But low heat level sauces tend to be the kind of thing you’re allowed or even encouraged to slather on things, to use a pretty fair amount of it in or on a single dish. These are made from milder peppers, like jalapenos or pequin peppers (in the case of Cholula, to be found below).
Low level sauces are great for a wide variety of things, and are probably the kind of thing most people think of when they hear the word “hot sauce”. They’re there to kick up your huevos rancheros or add a bit of extra spice to your enchiladas or other Tex-Mex favorites.
A step up from that is what I’d say is the medium heat level. These are still orders of magnitude hotter than the low heat sauces mentioned above. These are almost universally made with habanero peppers, and occasionally cayenne peppers (which sadly I was not able to find a good example of for purchase; it’s great as a homemade sauce however). These are the sauces you use by the drop, but don’t need to be TOO sparing with.
You can add several dashes of these sauces to your favorite dish and come out fine, if a bit red faced. This is typically where most people who like spicy foods will comfortably live; a sauce that will give you a jolt and a burn but still has a recognizable flavor.
High heat sauces are where things get dangerous; in both an exciting and very real way. These are made from Scotch Bonnets or similar peppers at the lowest end; about twice as hot as a habanero, but potentially still within “reasonable” levels. You can eat a whole Scotch Bonnet without too much issue if you’re used to eating spicy foods, but it certainly won’t be comfortable.
But the kings of this arena are the Ghost Pepper (bhut jolokia) and Carolina Reaper peppers. These make sauces best used incredibly sparingly; a drop or two at a time in most cases is enough to kick your dish from completely mild to mouth burningly hot.
Of the two I prefer Ghost Peppers. They’re less spicy and taste a lot better to me, though a lot of people disagree with that second part and prefer the flavor of the Reaper.
Whichever you choose, be sure to be careful with it. It’s not exactly a good idea to chug a whole bottle of hot sauce in any circumstance, but chugging a 5 fl. oz. bottle of Cholula or Tabasco sauce is likely to be uncomfortable, while chugging a similar amount of these hotter kinds can cause your throat and nose to close up.
What Kinds of Flavors are Best?
Hot sauce flavors are as varied as the peppers they’re made with, but can be divided into two basic types: sweet and savory sauces.
Both are commonly made with vinegar as a base, but sweeter sauces add sweeteners of some kind to the mix to make it tastier, especially for peppers like the Carolina Reaper that have an already naturally sweet profile. These tend to also mix in citrus or other fruit flavors, resulting in stuff like the now ubiquitous Mango Habanero flavoring, or a blueberry sauce like one I’ll go over below.
Savory sauces take the route of a more traditional serving sauce, with more emphasis on flavors like onion and garlic that give these familiar flavorings an unfamiliar kick to them.
Typically I find both are good as a marinade, but the savory sauces also double as a condiment much better than sweeter ones. I don’t mind wasting my chicken in Manga Habanero salsa, but I’m not going to drop a dollop of it on my eggs in the morning, while I’ll certainly do that for a more garlicky sauce.
Price varies a lot, but hot sauce tends to be fairly cheap per bottle, maybe $20 at most. Just keep in mind that these bottles are usually small, and you may go through it fast.
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