Hot sauce makes everything better. 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.
There's a lot to consider when making your own homemade hot sauce. In this post I'll give you a very basic homemade hot sauce recipe, as well as some suggested variations so you can really customize it and make it your own!
This basic homemade hot sauce recipe is super versatile and easy to make. It's got enough vinegar in it to have a shelf stable pH (for home use) but not so much vinegar that it overrides the rich, bright, fresh pepper flavors of the sauce.
And if making a pH stable hot sauce doesn't matter to you, I've included notes below for safely reducing the amount of vinegar.
Once you've got a bottle of your very own homemade hot sauce, try serving it with paprika fried eggs, old bay fries, or my one-avocado guacamole. You can even use it to make my spicy Goldfish crackers!
Why I Like This Recipe
Okay, so, 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 glasses of milk to stop the inside of my mouth from blistering.
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 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.
I asked Jimmy to write up his hot sauce recipe so I could share it with you, and it's your lucky day! He's given me all his best tips, tricks, and advice. So let's dive in.
What Jimmy Says
Hot sauce, in my opinion, makes everything taste better. 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 in the good hot 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.
Why You Should Make Your Own Hot Sauce
The first reason to make homemade hot sauce is acidity. Acidity is essential to a hot sauce. It’s what keeps it shelf-stable (in the right amount, but more on that later), 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. 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 store bought hot sauces, the acidity of the vinegar overpowers the flavor of the sauce. It shows up as a separate, wholly unpleasant burning sensation, rather than a flavor-booster.
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.
Fresh hot sauce tastes nothing like a store bought one. Once you’ve had it fresh, it’s really hard to want to go back (though Jimmy makes an exception for Cholula, because "that hot sauce was created by the gods").
Here are the ingredients you'll need to make this basic homemade hot sauce. Fresno peppers can be hard to find depending on the season, but everything else should be readily available at most grocery stores. And you can always sub in other pepper varieties instead of Fresnos (I've recommended some below).
See recipe card at the end for quantities.
- Hot Red Peppers - You can use all Fresno peppers, all cayenne peppers, all habanero peppers, or you can use a blend of red peppers to create a hot sauce with a more complex flavor and range of heat levels. The spicier the pepper, and the more of it you use, the spicier your hot sauce will be. Jimmy often uses mostly smoky, slightly fruity Fresno peppers (2,500 – 10,000 Scoville) but will add in a few scotch bonnets or habaneros (each 100,000-350,000 Scoville), and a red bell pepper to balance out that heat. It's really up to you! You can even use green peppers like poblanos, serranos, or jalapeños. Just don't mix red and green peppers in one batch or you'll end up with a muddy brown hot sauce.
- Shallot - One medium shallot (two bulbs) is just fine here.
- Garlic - Big, fat garlic cloves!
- Peppercorns - Whole black peppercorns like the kind you get for your pepper grinder.
- Vinegar - Plain white distilled vinegar works just fine here if you're looking for a hot sauce where the flavor of the peppers really shines, but you can use different vinegars depending on what kind of flavor you're looking for. For a sweeter, fruitier hot sauce, use apple cider vinegar or add a splash of balsamic vinegar. For a citrusy hot sauce, use lemon juice and white wine vinegar.
- Salt - I use Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt which is half as salty as other brands. If you're measuring salt by weight, it doesn't matter what brand of salt you use. But if you're measuring by volume and using a different brand of salt, even a different brand of kosher salt, cut the amount of salt in half.
- Kitchen Gloves - I'm including food safe kitchen gloves as an ingredient because they're just that important. You will seriously regret handling this many hot peppers without gloves. They are not optional. They are so important I consider them a crucial ingredient.
At the most basic level, hot sauce can be made from three things: peppers, vinegar, and salt. But that’s at the most basic level, and you’re not basic, are you? (It's okay if you are.)
Other flavors to consider adding: You want to add some fruit? Do it. You want to add some tequila to give it a slight burn? Go for it. You want to add pickle juice? Jimmy thinks that's disgusting (he hates pickles) but encourages you to follow your heart.
How to Make Homemade Hot Sauce
First things first, put on a pair of disposable kitchen gloves. If you don’t wear gloves when chopping peppers, you will get pepper oils (aka capsaicin) in all your finger joints and wrinkles and fingernails. And you will regret it as soon as you go to rub your eyes or, worse, go to the bathroom.
So once you've got your gloves on, it's time to chop up and weigh the peppers.
Use a kitchen scale to weigh the chopped peppers in a large bowl. You should have about 10 ounces.
Remove the seeds and ribs for a more mild hot sauce. Leave the seeds and ribs in the peppers if you want a hotter sauce.
Jimmy usually does a mix of both — some peppers with seeds, some peppers without. This gives a nice moderate heat with plenty of pure fresh pepper flavor.
If you're leaving the seeds and ribs in the peppers, you can just chop them into rings instead of slicing them in half lengthwise first.
When you add the shallots and garlic to the kitchen scale with the chopped peppers, you should have about 15 ounces total of peppers, shallots, garlic, and peppercorns. If you have less than 15 ounces combined, add more peppers, shallots, or garlic until the scale reads 15 ounces.
Stir all of the ingredients together in a small sauce pot.
Bring to a boil, then cover the pot and let it simmer for 15-20 minutes.
Be careful when you remove the lid — that vinegar steam is pretty potent! It will definitely clear out your sinuses and make your eyes water.
Transfer the pepper mixture to a blender. Cover it well and slowly increase the speed to the highest (or "liquify") setting.
After a few minutes, the hot sauce will be completely smooth and bubbling away in the bottom of your blender.
You'll get the best, smoothest, and fastest results using a high end, high powdered blender like a Vitamix. If you have a less powerful blender, you may need to run it longer.
Finally, strain the hot sauce through a wire mesh strainer to remove any lingering lumps or pepper fibers.
You can even strain the hot sauce right into the bottle you plan on storing it in!
Arrange the strainer inside a funnel and press the hot sauce through the strainer into the funnel. You'll likely have to do this in batches, depending on the size of your strainer and funnel.
And don't forget to scrape everything clinging to the underside of the strainer into the funnel when you're done!
Homemade Hot Sauce Storage Bottles
Whether you're bottling your homemade hot sauce for home use or to give as gifts, you always want to store it in a clean, sanitized bottle.
Much like sanitizing canning jars for homemade jam, you'll want to completely submerge and boil your bottles, and fill them while they — and the hot sauce — are still hot. For more on this and the specific times and temperatures required for proper food safe hot sauce bottling, check out Spicy Trio's How to Bottle Hot Sauce Guide.
You can buy glass hot sauce bottles online in sets that come with lids, labels, and those plastic caps (called "orifice reducers") that go over the mouth of the bottle to slow how quickly the hot sauce comes out.
We go through hot sauce so quickly around here that we usually store ours in a clean plastic squeeze bottle in the fridge. Squeezing a perfect zig zag of hot sauce onto your eggs in the morning really makes you feel like a pro! And you just can't get that experience with a glass bottle.
If you're planning on storing your hot sauce for months, I do recommend using a glass bottle.
The pH of Shelf Stable Hot Sauce
In order for your homemade hot sauce to be shelf-stable at room temperature, it needs to have a pH of 3.8 or less. As you can see when I tested the pH of this hot sauce, it landed squarely between 3.0 and 3.5 on the pH scale.
To test the pH of your hot sauce, stick a pH strip in the hot sauce while it's still in the blender. That way if it's at a pH of 4.0 or above, you can add more vinegar 1 tablespoon at a time, blend it in, and test again until you reach the correct pH.
An important caveat: This "shelf stable" pH of 3.8 is for hot sauce intended solely for like, home use, or maybe, maybe if you're selling it at a farmer's market or something.
It is a combination of pH and food safe bottling practices that make your hot sauce "shelf stable."
If you are gifting or selling your homemade hot sauce, you need to make sure you're following safe bottling practices and adhering to any FDA regulations for wholesale bottling licensing, the types of caps you can use, how you fill the bottles, etc.
I am not an expert in these things and encourage you do to extra research so you don't get in trouble or make anyone sick!
And while this homemade hot sauce does have a shelf stable pH for home use and can be safely stored at room temperature, it also can't hurt to store it in the fridge just in case. That's what I do.
The Best Blender for Hot Sauce
The more powerful your blender is, the smoother your hot sauce will be. I use my Vitamix 5200 which can liquify just about anything.
If you have a less powerful blender, you may need to let it blend for longer to get a smooth texture. And I don't recommend using an immersion blender for this.
Regardless of what blender you use, you'll still want to push the hot sauce through a wire mesh strainer before bottling!
Practical Tips & Recipe Notes
- Taste whatever peppers you're using before making your hot sauce so you have some sense of their flavor and level of heat. Sometimes even peppers you're familiar with can surprise you! A few years ago we grew jalapeños in our Aerogarden and learned the hard way that peppers grown in a hydroponic garden are (approximately) a thousand times hotter than grocery store jalapeños. (That batch of peppers also was what taught Jimmy to always wear latex gloves when chopping peppers, btw.)
- HAVE I MENTIONED ENOUGH YET TO WEAR KITCHEN GLOVES WHILE HANDLING HOT PEPPERS? HEED THIS WARNING, PLEASE, I BEG YOU.
- If you don't have a blender, a powerful food processor can probably get the job done, though I haven't personally tried it. You'll want to pause to scrape down the sides of the bowl several times and will probably have to let it run for a longer time.
Jimmy says: "If you run your hands under warm water, it will feel like someone is burning your skin alive. If you pick your nose or rub your eyes, you will regret every decision in life that led you to that moment. Those hot pepper oils are a waking [expletive] nightmare. Lord help you if you touch your genitals."
Jimmy says: "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."
Rebecca says: Try some of these remedies for Hot Pepper Hands and good luck to you!
The majority of the heat in peppers comes from two parts of the pepper: the seeds and the ribs. The ribs of a pepper are the white part inside the peppers that the seeds are attached to. If you remove those parts from the peppers, you’ll reduce the heat immensely. Do this for all of the peppers and you'll have a super mild hot sauce. Another way to reduce the heat is to replace some of the hot peppers with red bell peppers or even those mini sweet red, orange, or yellow peppers.
If making your hot sauce shelf stable (a pH of 3.8 or lower) is important to you, use a ratio of 4 ounces (½ cup) vinegar for every 10 ounces of chopped peppers, onions, and garlic combined. Following this recipe, you should have a combined 15 ounces of peppers, onions, and garlic, which is why the recipe calls for 6 ounces (¾ cup) vinegar. You can check the pH of your finished hot sauce by using a pH testing kit.
Yep! If you're planning on storing your hot sauce in the fridge and are making it just for you to use, you can reduce the amount of vinegar to as little as 4 ounces (½ cup).
Eventually, yes! This hot sauce has a shelf stable pH which means it can be safely stored at room temperature away from direct sunlight for several months (I'd estimate 6-8 months, though we always finish ours well before then!). Its shelf life will be extended if you keep it in the fridge. After that time, it's not that it necessarily "goes bad" but you might notice the flavors starting to deteriorate after that.
Basic Homemade Hot Sauce
- 10 ounces Fresno peppers, or desired combination of red peppers (weight is after chopping the peppers)
- 4 ounces medium shallots (about 2-3 bulbs, cut into quarters)
- 1 ounce garlic cloves (about 5 cloves, smashed)
- 5 whole peppercorns
- 2 teaspoons diamond crystal kosher salt (use half as much of any other brand)
- 6 ounces distilled white vinegar (¾ cup)
- Remove the stems from the peppers and cut them in half, lengthwise. Remove and discard the seeds and ribs according to desired heat levels. Roughly chop the peppers into pieces approximately 2″ in size.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 cover and reduce to a lightly-bubbling simmer for 15-20 minutes. Be careful when removing the lid — the vinegar steam is potent!
- While still hot, carefully pour everything into a powerful blender. Slowly increase speed from low to high until the sauce is completely smooth. This may require a few minutes of blending.
- Pour still-hot hot sauce through a strainer into funnel set up in the mouth of your hot sanitized hot sauce bottle. You may need to do this in a few batches. Use a small spatula to press the sauce through the strainer, occasionally lifting the strainer to scrape the sauce off the bottom and into the funnel.
- Seal the bottle tightly and let the hot sauce cool to room temperature, then store in the refrigerator or at room temperature for up to 8 months.
- If making your hot sauce shelf stable (a pH of 3.8 or lower) is important to you, use a ratio of ½ cup vinegar for every 10 ounces of combined peppers, onions, and garlic. With this recipe, you should have 15 ounces of peppers, onions, and garlic combined, which is why it calls for ¾ cup vinegar. You can check the pH of your finished hot sauce by using a pH testing kit.
- If you plan on storing your hot sauce in the fridge, you can reduce the amount of vinegar to as low as 4 ounces (½) cup. Follow safe bottling practices regardless.
- The weight of the peppers is after the tops have been discarded and the peppers chopped — you'll need to buy more peppers than the recipe calls for to account for that loss.
- For a hot sauce with a sweeter, fruitier profile, use apple cider vinegar. For a hot sauce with citrusy notes, use a combination of lemon juice and white wine vinegar.
- 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.