why you should make your own hot sauce

Learning to make your own hot sauce means you can control the heat levels — resulting in a hot sauce that adds a punch of flavor with none of the acidic, face-melting burn you expect from store-bought hot sauces.

Historically, hot sauce has not been my thing. I don’t love spicy food. I prefer to, you know, actually taste my food, not cry through it while chugging classes of milk to stop the inside of my mouth from blistering. It’s hard to know just how hot a hot sauce will be so, being the risk-adverse person that I am, I generally avoid messing around with it because what if it’s too hot and then I’ve ruined my food? So when Jimmy decided he was going to start making his own hot sauces I was interested in the process, but kinda bummed that I probably wouldn’t reap any of the rewards.

But this homemade hot sauce? This hot sauce I actually like. And not just because of how easy it is to control just how hot it is. It’s all about the flavor of the sauce, not so much about burning your face off.

Since making hot sauce is Jimmy’s domain, I asked him to write out the recipe for me to share. It’s your lucky day though, because he went all-out and wrote a whole damn blog post about it. (I know, he’s a great husband). Fair warning, it’s got a lot more swearing than I usually use, but it’s also equal parts funny and informative. If you’re squeamish about swears, just scroll straight to the recipe at the end. If not, read on.


Why you should try making your own hot sauce (Spoiler: because it’s f#$@ing dope)

by Jimmy

Aside from genitals and ice cream, hot sauce makes everything taste better. For me, it’s my go-to condiment when I’m underwhelmed by my cooking. Bland scrambled eggs? Dab some of that acidic, fresh hot sauce on those bad boys! Tacos not seasoned enough? Hide that shame with some Cholula! Had a bad day and can’t bother putting effort into dinner? Put your sweatpants on and drown that boxed mac-and-cheese you call a “meal” in the good stuff like the royalty you are.

There are enough good hot sauces out there that you’d be right to assume there’s no need to make one of your own. I understand that logic. But that type of mindset is for a chump. And you’re not a chump, you’re a goddamn rockstar. 

A rockstar who is about to make your own hot sauce.

A plastic squeeze bottle of hot sauce sits at the front of a small wooden end table. It's labeled "HOT SAUCE 9/21/19". Behind it to the left are two slices of avocado toast with a zig-zag of hot sauce on top. Behind it to the right is a blue hard cover book on top of which sits a small planter with a lemon button fern.

But really, why should you make your own hot sauce?

I prefer making my own sauce for two reasons, the first of which is acidity. Acidity is essential to a hot sauce. It’s what keeps it shelf-stable, and it’s also a big part of what makes hot sauces “zing.” You know that feeling you get in the corners of your mouth when you suck on sour candy? That’s acidity, baby. That’s the zing. When the acidity in a hot sauce is well-balanced, it adds to the overall flavor. When it’s not balanced, like in many grocery store hot sauces, the acidity of the vinegar overpowers the flavor of the sauce, and shows up as a separate, wholly unpleasant burning sensation, rather than a flavor-booster.

So should you use less vinegar?

No, but you can use different vinegars.

  • For a hot sauce with a sweeter, fruitier profile, use apple cider or balsamic vinegar.
  • For a hot sauce with citrusy notes, use lemon juice and white wine vinegar.
  • To add acidity without affecting the flavor too much, go and grab that basic bitch white distilled vinegar

In order for your hot sauce to be shelf-stable, it needs to have a PH of 4.0. I’m going to be honest, I’ve never used a pH tester when making my hot sauces, but if you use the ratios I mention later and keep your sauce in the fridge, you should be fine. You can always buy pH testing strips if you want to be extra safe.

Why else should you make your own hot sauce?

The second reason you should make your own hot sauce is freshness. Bottled hot sauces are exposed to light for most of the day and can be on the shelves for weeks if not months, and who knows how long they’ve been sitting in storage before that. Time and light exposure are the death of flavor. When you make your own hot sauce, the loss of flavor and freshness to light and time is practically non-existent. Fresh hot sauce tastes nothing like a bottled one, and once you’ve had it fresh, it’s really hard to want to go back (except for Cholula, because that hot sauce was created by the gods).

A medium sized metal bowl filled with bright red fresno peppers, two shallots, and three habenero peppers sits on a grey and white speckled countertop.

And what ingredients do you need?

At the most basic level, hot sauce can be made from three things: peppers, vinegar, and salt. For every 10-12 ounces of peppers, you’ll need ½ cup of vinegar and 2 teaspoons of salt.  

But that’s at the most basic level, and you’re not basic, are you? Personally, I like to add garlic, peppercorns, and shallots to add some depth, complexity, and a little sweetness. The options are literally limitless. You want to add some fruit? Do it, this is America. You want to add some tequila to give it a slight burn? Go for it. You want to add pickle juice? That’s disgusting, you monster, but I respect your hustle.

And what kind of equipment do you need?

Do not forget the gloves.

What happens if you forget the gloves?

If you don’t wear gloves when chopping peppers, you will get pepper oils all in your finger joints and wrinkles. Those oils will be a waking fucking nightmare. If you run your hands under warm water, it will feel like someone is burning your skin alive. You pick your nose or rub your eyes, you will regret every decision in life that led you to that moment. Lord help you if you touch your genitals.

If you don’t remember the gloves, how do you get rid of the pain?

You don’t. I’ve tried. Every remedy I’ve seen (and tried) will never be good enough. Just buy some latex gloves, okay? They aren’t expensive, and they’re useful for more than pepper chopping. Making kabobs is much less annoying when you can take gloves off after. Same goes for breading food for frying.

A metal bowl filled with slices of red fresno peppers, their ribs and seeds removed sits on a kitchen scale. In front of it is a small yellow bowl filled with the discarded seeds, ribs, and the tops of the peppers. on a small cutting board to the right of the yellow bowl two hands wearing latex gloves are chopping another fresno pepper. in the background there is a wooden cutting board with two shallots on it. More peppers sit on the counter.

What if you don’t want your hot sauce to be too…hot?

Then suck ketchup, you coward.

C’mon, don’t be like that.

Fine. The majority of the heat in peppers comes from two parts of the pepper: the seeds and the ribs. I know you know what seeds look like, but the ribs of a pepper are the white part that the seeds are attached to. If you cut those parts out of the pepper, you’ll reduce the heat immensely.

Another way to reduce the heat is to use bell peppers in place of some of the chili peppers.

a plastic squeeze bottle of bright red hot sauce sits on a black and white marble countertop. In front of the bottle is a small plate with a grey and white zig-zag border. On the plate are two pieces of avocado toast with hot sauce zig-zagged across the top.

Are there any peppers you shouldn’t use?

I’m not here to tell you how to live your life. It’s all about personal preference. However, I’d advise you to taste the peppers prior to making the sauce so you have some sense of the flavor and level of heat. For example: last year, we grew jalapeños in our Aerogarden. We like jalapeños, but we didn’t realize that when you grow peppers with hydroponics, they become (approximately) a thousand times hotter. That batch of peppers also was what taught me to buy latex gloves.

If you want to use more than one type of pepper in your hot sauce, I’d recommend sticking to the same color. This has nothing to do with flavor, but everything to do with appearance. You want people to eat your hot sauce. They will not want to eat your hot sauce if it is brown, and that’s what happens when you mix green and red. 

a white plastic funnel sits inside the open mouth of a plastic squeeze bottle. a half-inch of hot sauce fills the bottom of the bottle. more hot sauce is inside the funnel. Above the funnel is a metal wire strainer with more sauce in it. The strainer is slightly blurred to show movement as the person holding it is shaking it lightly to encourage more hot sauce to move through it.

How should you store your hot sauce?

You can use an empty shoe for all I care, I’m not your mom. But my favorite containers for sauces are plastic squeeze bottles. They store nicely in the fridge, are literally designed for this type of liquid, and you’ll never be annoyed trying to scrape out or smack the bottle to get those last drops of sauce out. Fair warning: if the bottles are clear, your hot sauce will probably stain them, but the good news is stains don’t affect flavor.

After buying squeeze bottles for hot sauce, I’ve found that I want to put everything in squeeze bottles. Put your cooking oils in squeeze bottles. Put your homemade salad dressing into squeeze bottles. You will feel like a professional making perfect zigzags lines with your squeeze bottles. This whole post might honestly be a subliminal ad for squeeze bottles

Alright, now that have everything you need, how to you, you know, make hot sauce?

Scroll down and read the recipe ya big ol’ goof!

Not-Too-Hot Hot Pepper Hot Sauce

Recipe by The Practical Kitchen (adapted from ChiliPepperMadness.com)Difficulty: Medium
Prep time

30

minutes
Cooking time

40

minutes

Yield: 10-12 oz hot sauce. Shelf-life: 8 months, refrigerated.

Ingredients

  • 10-12 ounces Fresno or jalapeño peppers, ribs and seeds removed, and roughly chopped.
    NOTE: 10-12 ounces after removing the ribs and seeds.

  • 2 medium-sized shallots, cut into quarters

  • 4-5 whole peppercorns

  • 5 garlic cloves, lightly smashed but still mostly intact

  • 2 tsp salt

  • 1/2 cup white distilled vinegar

Directions

  • Remove the stems from the peppers and cut them in half, lengthwise. Roughly chop them into approx 2″ pieces.

    OPTIONAL: For a hotter sauce, leave the ribs and seeds on a few or all of the peppers.
    NOT OPTIONAL: WEAR GLOVES!
  • Put the chopped peppers and the rest of the ingredients in a medium-sized sauce pan. Bring it to a boil, then reduce to a lightly-bubbling simmer.
  • Simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. After 20 minutes, remove from heat and let cool for 10 minutes.
  • Carefully pour everything from the sauce pan into a blender. Blend from low to high until completely smooth. This may require a few minutes of blending.
  • Pour hot sauce through a strainer into your plastic squeeze bottle using a funnel. You may need to do this in a few batches. Use a small spatula to stir the sauce inside the strainer to press the sauce through the mesh, occasionally lifting the strainer to scrape the sauce off the bottom and into the funnel.
  • Transfer the container into the fridge to cool.

Notes

  • Stick to peppers in the same color family unless you want brown hot sauce. Other than that, you can really use any kind of hot pepper you want and follow the steps above.
  • For a hot sauce with a sweeter, fruitier profile, use apple cider or balsamic vinegar. For a hot sauce with citrusy notes, use lemon juice and white wine vinegar.
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