The best hot sauces from 10 Southern states, and great recipes for foods that deserve them
Southern Kitchen contributor Conne Ward-Cameron went on a search for hot sauces made in the South. From artisan hot sauce you can only get at the source, to hot sauce made in huge vats at vast manufacturing facilities and shipped across the country, any and all was fair game. Here she shares her results and recipes.
As it turns out, finding hot sauces made in 10 different Southern states isn’t as easy as it seems, despite what anyone looking at dozens of bottles on grocery store shelves might assume. Those bottles don’t always tell you where the sauce is made and the name isn’t always a clue. For example, Texas Pete is made in North Carolina. Who knew?
I wasn’t looking for the ones that promise they’re so hot you’ll be lucky to hold onto the top of your head. I went out seeking hot sauces packed with flavor, and personally tasted and tested 23 different types. After that, you’d think I’d be ready to put the little bottles of heat away for a while, right?
Instead, I now find myself adding a drizzle to sandwiches, a teaspoon to salad dressing and a little bit more to my pimento cheese. And it’s all delicious – even to someone like me, who didn’t really know she was a hot sauce fan. Turns out a little flavorful Southern heat really grows on you, and in the South we make it all.
The best hot sauce in Alabama: Alabama Sunshine
Last year, Julie Smith Madison and her brother David Lee Smith took over Alabama Sunshine, a hot-sauce-selling company run by a different Smith family in Fayette County, Alabama. The newer batch of Smiths grows most of what goes into their hot, barbecue and wing sauces, along with jams, jellies, salsa and relishes. They sell 10 varieties of hot sauce, priced from $3 to $5 per bottle, ranging from the original red jalapeno Alabama Sunshine (thick, with a nice, lingering heat) to extra-hot, habanero-based Alabama Wild Fire. Their Cayenne Sunshine is also thick with tiny flecks of cayenne pepper -- they suggest it as the perfect accompaniment for oysters. Order from Alabama Sunshine’s website.
Sweet and Spicy Alabama Sunshine Green Bean Bundles
Most people don’t think of green beans and hot sauce, but Julie Smith Madison put this unusual dish together and proudly suggests them to anyone not sure they’d give them a try otherwise. “In my opinion, it’s hard to beat these Green Bean Bundles. Most people love them.”
2 pounds fresh green beans, rinsed and trimmed
4 tablespoons avocado oil
1 pound sliced bacon
Salt, pepper and garlic powder
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, divided
4 tablespoons honey
4 tablespoons Alabama Sunshine hot sauce
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray. In a large bowl, toss beans with avocado oil.
Cut bacon strips in half. Lay out halves on work surface. Divide green beans into eight bundles.
Top each half strip with one bundle and wrap bacon around beans. Arrange on prepared baking sheet. When all bundles are prepared, sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste. Drizzle with 4 tablespoons melted butter. Cover with foil and bake 45 minutes.
While beans are baking, in a small saucepan, combine remaining 2 tablespoons butter, honey and Alabama Sunshine hot sauce. Bring to a simmer and keep warm until beans are ready. Remove baking sheet from oven, uncover beans and brush bundles with glaze. Serve immediately. Serves: 8
— Adapted from a recipe provided by Alabama Sunshine Hot Sauce.
The best hot sauce in Florida: Tabanero Hot Sauce
Tabanero Hot Sauce is made in Palmetto, Florida, but traces its roots to back to Tabasco, Mexico, and a trip made there by the hot sauce company’s founders in 2004. Tabanero makes three hot sauces – Original, Extra Hot, and Agave Sweet & Spicy – as well as a Spicy Bloody Mary Mix. They’re also the official hot sauce of AMC TV show The Walking Dead, and are official sponsors of National Hot Sauce Day. The non-vinegar-based sauces are made with a variety of peppers, carrots, onions and Key lime juice. Their agave version has alluring sweet and smoky flavors, and brings the heat at the end. Order from Tabanero.com.
Hawaiian-Style Hot Dog
Makes: 3 cups
This original recipe from Tabanero calls for a teriyaki sauce made with garlic confit, but we’ve substituted store-bought teriyaki sauce here. The spicy chutney recipe makes a good amount; you can use it on burgers or almost anything else pulled off the grill to make sure it doesn’t go to waste.
24 Hawaiian dinner rolls
1 pound all-beef hot dogs
Sweet and Spicy Tabanero Chutney (see recipe)
Teriyaki sauce, to taste
1 cup chopped macadamia nuts, toasted
Preheat broiler. Keep 3 dinner rolls attached and slice them through the top to make one long New England-style hot dog bun.
Carefully pull the long bun open and arrange on a baking sheet. Continue to make 8 hot dog buns. Lightly toast under broiler.
Prepare hot dogs either by boiling or grilling. Arrange one hot dog in each prepared bun.
Top with Sweet and Spicy Tabanero Chutney and drizzle with teriyaki sauce. Garnish with toasted macadamia nuts and serve immediately. Serves eight.
Sweet and Spicy Tabanero Chutney
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup diced onions
2 cups diced fresh pineapple
1/2 cup diced sweet red pepper
2 cups Tabanero Agave Sweet & Spicy hot sauce
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon water
In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Add onions and saute 2 minutes. Add pineapple, red pepper and pinch of salt. Continue to saute until the pineapple is soft, about 7 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the Tabanero, vinegar, sugar and water. Bring the mixture to a rolling boil. Then reduce the heat to low and continue to cook, stirring every couple minutes.
Continue to cook until most of the liquid cooks off and the chutney is thick and glossy, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and cool. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.
— Adapted from a recipe provided by Tabanero Hot Sauce.
The best hot sauce in Georgia: Papa Johnny’s Southern Style Hot Sauce
The Mitchell family has been making sauces since the early 1980s when they turned a backyard barbecue tradition into Mitchell’s Barbecue and Seafood Restaurant in Springfield, open from 1986 to 1992. Now the family’s third generation is carrying on the sauce-making tradition with Papa Johnny’s Southern Style Hot Sauce, offering one barbecue sauce and one hot sauce. Little flecks of Vidalia onion and peach tell you the sauces come from Georgia, and the mildly hot sauce betrays its barbecue sauce origins with its sweet overtones. No need to be sparing – you can use it straight from the bottle for dipping, or as a fried green tomato sandwich topping. Order from PapaJohnnysBBQSauce.com.
Papa Johnny’s Southern Style Hot Sauce Shrimp & Cheese Grits (with a kick)
1 (6-ounce) package cornbread mix
1/2 cup Papa Johnny’s Southern Style Hot Sauce, divided
3 cups water
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
Salt and pepper, to taste
3/4 cup quick grits
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup half-and-half
Vegetable or peanut oil, for frying
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup self-rising flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon seafood seasoning
Chopped scallions and tomatoes, for garnish
Prepare cornbread according to package directions, adding 3 tablespoons Papa Johnny’s Southern Style Hot Sauce. Bake and set aside.
While cornbread is cooking, prepare grits. In a medium saucepan, combine water, 2 tablespoons butter and salt and bring to a boil. Stir in grits, reduce heat to medium and cook, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens. Whisk in cream cheese and half-and-half and continue heating until cheese melts. Remove from heat, cover and set aside.
Make sauce by combining remaining 5 tablespoons hot sauce with remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer, then remove from heat and cover to keep warm.
In a large skillet or Dutch oven, heat oil to 350 degrees.
Put shrimp in a large bowl and cover with buttermilk.
In a small bowl, combine, flour, cornstarch and seafood seasoning. Drain shrimp from buttermilk and coat with flour mixture. Carefully drop shrimp into hot oil and cook until light brown. Do not crowd the pan. Remove browned shrimp and drain. Repeat until shrimp are all cooked.
Divide grits between four serving bowls and top with shrimp and sauce. Garnish with scallions and tomatoes and serve with spicy corn bread. Serves: 4
— Adapted from a recipe provided by Papa Johnny’s Southern Style Hot Sauce.
The best hot sauce in Kentucky: Evan Williams Bourbon Hot Sauce
When you think “Kentucky,” you think “bourbon” (or at least I do). While I’m not a drinker of bourbon, I can’t resist its lure when it is combined with other flavors. Evan Williams Bourbon Hot Sauce, bottled in Louisville, is a great way to get a little bourbon flavor with a big peppery punch. The sauce is flecked with lots of black pepper, and is the only sauce I tasted that has a bit of butter flavor as well. The sauce is part of a line of sauces and condiments from Bourbon Country Products that includes Maker’s Mark Gourmet Sauce and Wild Turkey Barbecue Sauce. They also make Gib’s Bottled Hell in four flavors, including Nuclear Hell – a name that pretty much describes the level of heat. Order from BourbonCountryProducts.com or BottledHell.com.
Evan Williams Slow Cooker Shredded Beef Tacos
3 pounds boneless beef chuck roast
1/3 cup Evan Williams Bourbon Hot Sauce
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Juice of 1 lime
24 fresh flour tortillas, warmed
Accompaniments: radishes, crumbled goat cheese, diced avocado, chopped cilantro, extra Evan Williams Bourbon Hot Sauce
In the bowl of a slow cooker, arrange chuck roast in bottom. In a small bowl, combine hot sauce, chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, oregano, salt, pepper and lime juice. Pour over beef. Cover and cook 8 hours on low or 5 hours on high.
When beef is ready, remove beef from cooker, leaving liquid in the pot. Skim the fat off the liquid and discard. Shred the beef and return to the cooking liquid. Stir well and taste for seasoning. Keep warm.
When ready to serve, stack 1 or 2 warmed tortillas and fill with shredded beef. Top with favorite accompaniments.
The best hot sauce in Louisiana: Louisiana Brand Hot Sauce
Folks in Louisiana may not have invented hot sauce, but the state is home to some very traditional favorites including Louisiana Brand Hot Sauce, made in New Iberia since 1928. You should have no trouble finding a bottle on the shelves of your favorite grocery store, maybe alongside the bottles of their Tabasco Peppers in Vinegar, which are a staple at meat-and-threes whose customers wouldn’t dare imagine eating good Southern-style greens without adding a dash. The original hot sauce recipe has only three ingredients – peppers, vinegar and salt – which provide a straightforward flavor profile. In addition to the original recipe there are now six other flavors including chipotle and roasted garlic, and the company also sells wing sauces and pickled jalapeno peppers. Look for retail locations at Louisiana-Brand.com.
Spinach and Biscuit Casserole
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup diced white onion
1/2 pound cooked ham, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
2 cups baby spinach
8 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup half-and-half
2 tablespoons Louisiana Brand Hot Sauce
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 (8-ounce) package refrigerated biscuit dough, biscuits cut into quarters
1 cup shredded Swiss
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.
In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook 2-3 minutes. Add ham and cook 1 minute. Add spinach, stir and remove pan from heat.
In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, half-and-half, hot sauce and pepper. Fold in biscuits and Swiss, then stir in onion-ham mixture. Pour into prepared baking dish and cook 25 to 30 minutes or until center is set. Let casserole rest 5 minutes before serving.
— Adapted from a recipe provided by Louisiana Brand Hot Sauce.
The best hot sauce from South Carolina: Palmetto Pepper Potions
Order up a sample pack of all four Palmetto Pepper Potions hot sauce varieties and you’ll receive four flask-shaped bottles of sauce, in four very different flavors. Julie Blevins, CEO and “Potion-ologist” of the Forest Acres, South Carolina-based company, was inspired to create her “potions” after receiving a gift of multiple chile pepper plants. The plants went into the landscape, and when it came time to harvest the peppers she cooked them up with herbs, seasonal fruits and vegetables, creating the sauces she sells today. Daily Red has bits of habanero and tomatoes and a lot of heat, while Molten Golden is a fun sauce whose blend of mangoes, habaneros, curry and cumin makes a delicious marinade or glaze. Larynx Lava is full of citrus flavors (perfect for seafood), and the fiery, peach-based Trenholm Venom is as biting as its name. Order from PepperPotions.com.
4 tablespoons Palmetto Pepper Potions Molten Golden Hot Sauce
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine, divided
4 (4-ounce) wild salmon fillets
Make glaze: In a small bowl, combine Molten Golden and maple syrup. Set aside.
In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add 1/4 cup wine, then arrange fillets in fillet skin side up. Cook 5 minutes, then turn fillets and add remaining 1/4 cup wine. Cover pan and cook 3 minutes, then pour glaze over fillets. Cover and cook 2 minutes or until fillets are cooked through. Serve immediately with juices from the skillet.
— Adapted from a recipe provided by Palmetto Pepper Potions.
The best hot sauce in Tennessee: TryMe’s Cajun Sunshine Hot Pepper Sauce
TryMe’s Cajun Sunshine Hot Pepper Sauce, made in Knoxville, Tennessee, is one of those classic hot sauce combinations of cayenne, vinegar and salt. The cayenne pepper heat is spicy but not incendiary – you can imagine this sauce complimenting almost any dish. TryMe makes three different hot sauce varieties, as well as a Wine & Pepper Worcestershire Sauce. Their most famous product might be their Tiger Sauce, and they also offer Tiger Seasoning. Order from ReilyProducts.com.
Tiger Steak, Shrimp and Veggie Medley Kebobs
1 pound boneless beef sirloin steak, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound uncooked large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 (5-ounce) bottle Tiger Sauce
1 (5-ounce) bottle Cajun Sunshine Hot Pepper Sauce
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 garlic cloves, minced
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 red pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 green pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 yellow summer squash, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 red onion, cut into 1-inch pieces
Tiger Seasoning, to taste
In a large bowl, combine the steak and shrimp, Tiger Sauce, Cajun Sunshine Sauce, 1/4 cup olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper.
Toss the ingredients to coat the meat and seafood evenly. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours and up to overnight. When ready to cook, remove from refrigerator at least 30 minutes before cooking.
Preheat grill to 350 degrees or heat a grill pan on high.
In a large bowl, combine red pepper, green pepper, summer squash and red onion. Toss with remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Alternately thread beef and shrimp, peppers, squash and onions onto skewers.
Oil the grates of the grill and cook kebobs until beef is medium-rare, shrimp is cooked through and vegetables are tender, about 12 minutes total.
— Adapted from a recipe provided by TryMe Sauces.
The best hot sauce from Mississippi: D’Evereux Foods’ Pepper Sauce Rouge
In 2013, Ashleigh Aldridge took her father’s hot sauce recipe, and her newly minted marketing degree, and started D’Evereux Foods, named for her family home in Natchez, Mississippi. She now makes three varieties of hot sauce, along with jalapeno jams in strawberry, sweet pepper and huckleberry flavors. The original recipe, Pepper Sauce Rouge, immediately makes you think “Bloody Mary,” with a distinct celery seed top note and a nice level of heat that’s not overwhelming. D’Evereux’ Pepper Sauce Fantome carries more heat, with chile d’arbol and ghost pepper chilies as part of its base. As its name suggests, the Pepper Sauce Fermente is fermented and has a bit more “twang.” Order from DevereauxFoods.com.
Ashleigh’s Pimento Cheese
Makes 7 cups
Aldridge uses this pimento cheese in several ways, but her favorite is to make a sandwich with toasted bread, layered with a spread of her pimento cheese and warmed just enough to melt it. She suggests cutting the sandwich into wedges or strips, and dipping them in tomato soup.
1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, room temperature
1 to 2 tablespoons Pepper Sauce Rouge, or to taste
3 cups shredded sharp cheddar
3 cups shredded Monterey Jack
2 (4-ounce) jars diced pimentos
3/4 cup sour cream, or as needed
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
Salt and pepper
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, beat mayonnaise, cream cheese and Pepper Sauce Rouge until mixture is fluffy and texture of heavy whipped cream.
In a large bowl, toss Cheddar and Monterey Jack together. Add pimentos, sour cream, garlic powder and onion powder. Fold in mayonnaise mixture. Season to taste. Store in refrigerator at least 4 hours before serving.
— Adapted from a recipe provided by D’Evereux Foods.
The best hot sauce from North Carolina: Elijah’s Xtreme Reaper Sauce
It’s not often you taste a hot sauce and your first thought is, “This would be great on ice cream!” Elijah’s Xtreme Reaper Sauce was hot — even very hot. But with black cherries, brown sugar and cranberries high up in the ingredient list, the fruity top notes immediately put you in mind of all kinds of unusual ways to enjoy it. In Gastonia, North Carolina, father and son Bret and Elijah Morey make their original sauce with Carolina Reaper peppers and a version with ghost peppers. Your palate is distracted by the fruit and vanilla flavors until the heat breaks through, reminding you that the sauce is made from some of the hottest peppers in the world. Maybe the ice cream idea is brilliant though — the cold sweetness might offset the sweet heat. Find out yourself after ordering it from Amazon or ElijahsXtreme.com.
Elijah’s Xtreme Reaper Bourbon-Glazed Pork Chops
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons bourbon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons Elijah’s Xtreme Reaper Sauce, or to taste
6 (1/2 to 1-inch-thick) bone-in pork chops
Make marinade: In a medium bowl, combine brown sugar, mustard, soy sauce, bourbon, salt and pepper. Add Elijah’s Xtreme Reaper Sauce to taste.
In a sealable plastic bag, combine pork chops and marinade. Seal and refrigerate 30 minutes, turning once.
Preheat grill to 350 degrees.
Remove pork chops from marinade. Move marinade to a small saucepan. Grill pork chops 5 minutes per side or until meat reaches 160 degrees. Bring reserved marinade to a boil and cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour sauce over pork chops when serving.
— Adapted from a recipe provided by Elijah’s Xtreme.
The best hot sauce in Texas: Yellowbird Sauce
Austin, Texas-based Yellowbird Sauce labels its products as “condiments” instead of “hot sauces,” but no matter the name, the result is a flavorful combination of organic carrots, onions, sugar and vinegar, mixed with spicy peppers. You can buy a condiment based on your favorite pepper, whether it’s habanero, jalapeno, ghost pepper or serrano, or you can try Blue Agave Sriracha, an agave-sweetened version of a traditional pepper/vinegar/salt hot sauce that’s very garlic-forward and delicious. All the sauces come packaged in plastic squeeze bottles, which seems like a great innovation in hot sauce packaging. You can squeeze out a drop or a great big quarter-cup full. The condiments pack heat (no doubt about that), but these thick-textured sauces also taste clearly of the Texas vegetables they’re made from. Order from YellowBirdSauce.com.
Oven-Roasted Spicy Turkey
The Yellowbird Sauce recipe calls for a can of Austin Beerworks Black Thunder. If you don’t happen to be in Austin, the folks at Yellowbird say you can substitute a beer like the widely available Shiner Black, a Bohemian-style black lager. Talk with your local beer merchant about other options.
1 12-pound turkey
Kosher salt and pepper
1 (12-ounce) can beer
1/2 cup molasses
1/4 cup Yellowbird Habanero Condiment
2 tablespoons coconut oil
Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
In a small bowl, mix equal parts salt and pepper and rub over the turkey, being sure to cover all the turkey but not excessively. Put the turkey in a roasting pan and cook for 1 hour.
While turkey is cooking, make basting mixture. In a medium saucepan, combine beer, molasses, habanero condiment and coconut oil. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stir and then remove from heat.
After turkey has cooked one hour, pour the basting mixture over the turkey and continue cooking about 3 hours or until turkey reaches 160 degrees.
While turkey is roasting, continue to baste with juices from the roasting pan. Remove from oven and tent lightly with foil. Allow to rest 15 minutes before carving
— Adapted from a recipe provided by Yellowbird Sauce.
Conne Ward-Cameron considers herself blessed to be able to meet and write about some of the most interesting people in the South, those who raise and prepare the food we eat. An Emmy-winning television producer in a former life, she now devotes her time to writing about public health and about food.