Hot Sauce
Cheapism

We Tried 20 Popular Hot Sauces — and These Are the Best

View Slideshow
Hot Sauce
Cheapism

The Heat Is On

Hot sauce is a more than 1 billion dollar industry in the United States, and it's only expected to get more popular. Chile heads shake and pour their favorite sauces on anything, not just cuisines known for spicy foods. We lined up 20 popular sauces that you can find at many grocery stores and big-box chains and tasted them. Here are the good, the bad — and the clear winner.


Prices and availability are subject to change.


Related: We Tried 24 Fast-Food Sauces and These Are the Best (and Worst)

Tapatio Hot Sauce
Cheapism

Tapatio Hot Sauce

$2 from Target

Shop Now

Heat rating: 4 out of 10

Best for: Cheese-covered Tex-Mex 


Tapatio is a simple, unassuming sauce. The first ingredient is water, followed by "red peppers," and indeed it tastes like the generic ideal of a red pepper. It's also very light on acidity and vinegar, which in combination with it being a pepper puree and not much else, makes it very reminiscent of Mexican salsa. 


Related: 15 DIY Sauces to Liven Up Multiple Meals

Frank's RedHot Original Cayenne Pepper Sauce
Cheapism

Frank's RedHot Original Cayenne Pepper Sauce

$4 on Amazon

Shop Now

Heat rating: 3 out of 10

Best for: Anything Buffalo flavor


This sauce has become the standard buffalo flavoring for anything you can think of — but especially chicken wings. It's pretty mild, but the heat that it does have sneaks up on you after the initial vinegar acidity. Cutting it with melted butter for wings is ideal since it tempers both the tang and saltiness. It's also got a slight hint of garlic thanks to garlic powder. Lots of people really do put this on everything, myself included.


For more great taste tests and grocery tips, please sign up for our free newsletters.

Cholula Hot Sauce
Cheapism

Cholula Hot Sauce

$3 from Target

Shop Now

Heat Rating: 2 out of 10

Best for: Dipping French fries


Cholula isn't made with cayenne peppers like a lot of sauces on this list, but instead with Mexican chiles de arbol and piquin, both which are small, hot dried peppers. It definitely makes a difference in flavor, and this sauce has a deep, mellow and slightly smoky flavor, though it's a little bland overall. It's also pretty mild, but it has a smooth and viscous consistency that makes it great for dipping. 


Related: 19 Sauces and Spices to Keep Home-Cooked Meals Interesting


Cholula Chipotle Hot Sauce
Cheapism

Cholula Chipotle Hot Sauce

$3 from Target

Shop Now

Heat rating: 2 out of 10

Best for: Barbacoa or other barbecued meats


This is not a good alternative Cholula. The smokiness is acrid, and that hits your tongue instantly. It mellows out into a familiar chipotle flavor, but the lingering aftertaste is more like inhaling campfire smoke than delicious smoked chiles. 


Related: How to Make 24 Fast-Food Sauces With Copycat Recipes

Louisiana The Perfect Hot Sauce
Cheapism

Louisiana The Perfect Hot Sauce

$2 from Target

Shop Now

Heat rating: 4 out of 10

Best for: Cajun food


Compared to the other Louisiana-style hot sauces made with aged cayenne peppers, this one has heat that really lingers on your lips as opposed to your tongue. It's quite thin and drips through the holes in saltine crackers. But it's got a simple, classic, fermented-pepper flavor, and not too much vinegar.

Tabasco Pepper Sauce
Cheapism

Tabasco Pepper Sauce

$3 from Target

Shop Now

Heat rating: 2 out of 10

Best for: Gifting to your enemies


Tabasco’s popularity remains a mystery. It's so thin that it doesn't stay on a cracker at all, and it tastes more like vinegar than anything else, let alone a pepper. There are flecks of pepper throughout the thin sauce base like it's never actually pureed or emulsified all the way. If you're new to hot sauce, don't even bother with Tabasco despite the brand recognition.


Related: 24 Condiments From Around the World to Add Zing to Any Meal

Tabasco Cayenne Garlic Pepper Sauce
Cheapism

Tabasco Cayenne Garlic Pepper Sauce

$8 from Walmart

Shop Now

Heat rating: 2 out of 10

Best for: Gifting to your vampire enemies


While the garlic version of Tabasco solves the consistency problem because it's a much thicker sauce, it somehow tastes even more terrible than the original version. The garlic is acrid and sharp, and it's all you can detect on the lingering, relentless aftertaste. 


Texas Pete Hot Sauce
Cheapism

Texas Pete Hot Sauce

$3 from Walmart 

Shop Now

Heat rating: 2 out of 10

Best for: Adding acidity to rich foods


Texas Pete is vinegar-forward — it's the first ingredient, after all — and a little bitter, like the peppers weren't ripe when they were aged. It's also pretty bland, thin, and has little heat, making it unremarkable at best. At least it's still better than Tabasco, I guess?

Valentina Salsa Picante
Cheapism

Valentina Salsa Picante

$1 from Target

Shop Now

Heat rating: 2 out of 10

Best for: Enchiladas


This is a thick, smooth sauce, and it's easy to use in place of ketchup or other condiments. It's a Mexican hot sauce brand, and it has the familiar smoother and more rounded flavor than the Louisiana-style hot sauces. There's a sweetness and tang to it, but the heat level is quite low, so it's good for beginner hot-sauce heads and children. It reminds me of canned enchilada sauce.


Related: 21 Delicious and Inexpensive Mexican Dishes


Valentina Extra Hot
Cheapism

Valentina Extra Hot

$9 from Amazon

Shop Now

Heat rating: 5 out of 10

Best for: Taqueria-style tacos


Valentina extra hot, also called black label for obvious reasons, is Valentina's answer to those wanting a hotter sauce. The flavor and consistency is the same as the original, but it's much hotter. It doesn't seem that way at first, but the heat hits you in the back of the throat after you swallow, and lingers warmly for quite a while. I definitely recommend the black label over the original if you want a true hot sauce.


Huy Fong Sriracha
Cheapism

Huy Fong Sriracha

$3 from Target

Shop Now

Heat rating: 3 out of 10

Best for: Chinese takeout


Sriracha, in particular the Huy Fong Foods brand, is practically synonymous with Asian food in America. The sauce and its green cap that never really works right is so popular it's a pop culture icon. It's thick and full of sugar, which might contribute to its mass appeal, but adding a bunch of sugar to your food gets old fast if you ask me. Still, it's a comforting favorite for dipping  everything from eggrolls to pizza.


Related: Best Chinese Restaurant in Every State

Nando's Hot Peri-Peri Sauce
Cheapism

Nando's Hot Peri-Peri Sauce

$4 from Meijer

Shop Now

Heat rating: 3 out of 10

Best for: Grilled chicken or chicken finger dip


Nando's is a world wide restaurant chain that originated in South Africa known for its chicken basted in peri-peri hot sauce. This sauce, which is available in many supermarkets here, is one of the more complex on this list, with a big hit of citrus from 6% lemon puree, according to the ingredients list. You'll want to use this relatively mild sauce as its own flavor component instead of merely a heat conduit.


Related: Nando's Peri-Peri Chicken and Other Copycat Recipes You Can Now Make at Home

Famous Dave's Wilbur's Revenge Sauce
Cheapism

Famous Dave's Wilbur's Revenge Sauce

$4 from Menards

Shop Now

Heat rating: 7 out of 10

Best for: Smoked meats


I once made a mistake thinking Wilbur's Revenge was just a hot barbecue sauce and poured it all over a pork sandwich. It is very much a hot sauce, though — with a surprising intensity. It's based on Famous Dave's Devil's Spit spicy barbecue sauce, and like that sauce, it's heavy on the black pepper flavor in a tomato-based base. This is an excellent choice for heating up any too-mild barbecue sauce or dipping smoked sausages.


Related: 25 Finger-Licking Barbecue Sauce Recipes

Melinda's Original Habanero Hot Sauce
Cheapism

Melinda's Original Habanero Hot Sauce

$7 from Amazon

Shop Now

Heat rating: 3 out of 10

Best for: Mixing into the Papa John's Garlic Sauce


Though this one lists habaneros as the main ingredient, it's pretty mild and rather uninteresting. The ingredients list is similar to other great sauces, including carrots, onion, and lime juice, but it's the garlic that really pops out and sticks with you, similar to the aftertaste you experience the morning after you ate too much leftover garlic bread. 


Secret Aardvark Habanero Hot Sauce
Cheapism

Secret Aardvark Habanero Hot Sauce

$7 from Meijer

Shop Now

Heat rating: 5 out of 10

Best for: Nachos


Secret Aardvark has a devoted following, and it's one of the more interesting sauces on this list. The first ingredient is fire-roasted tomatoes, while habaneros don't come in until after carrots, onions, and other ingredients, so it's more like a tomato-based salsa than most of the other sauces. Mustard is also an interesting ingredient, giving it some tangy complexity. The aftertaste is heavy on garlic, though it's a much more pleasant fresh garlic flavor than the garlic powder so many of the other sauces feature. 


Related: Every Doritos Flavor We Could Get Our Hands On, Ranked


Yellowbird Habanero Condiment
Cheapism

Yellowbird Habanero Condiment

$5 from Meijer

Shop Now

Heat rating: 6 out of 10

Best for: Sandwiches and burgers


Yellowbird calls itself a condiment, and the thick, smooth texture (and the squeeze bottle it comes in) certainly reinforces that. The heat sneaks up on you and then burns your tongue for a few minutes. Carrots are the number one ingredient, which gives it its thick consistency but it doesn't have as much flavor complexity as its ingredient list — which includes tangerine juice concentrate — lets on. 


Related: 30 Wild and Wonderful Burger Toppings for Your Next Cookout

Dave's Insanity
Cheapism

Dave's Insanity

$5 from Meijer

Shop Now

Heat rating: 10 out of 10

Best for: Using a drop to heat up a chili 


Heed the warning on the bottle of Dave's Insanity which says it's a great cooking ingredient used one drop at a time. Unless you're a serious chile head, you're not going to be using this like a condiment. That’s good, because there's not much flavor to speak of that gets through the wall of heat. 


Related: 13 Regional Chili Recipes to Try This Fall

El Yucateco Hot Sauce
Cheapism

Runner Up: El Yucateco Hot Sauce

$2 from Walmart

Shop Now

Heat rating: 6 out of 10

Best for: Anything Mexican


El Yucateco is a habanero-based sauce from a Mexican brand on the Yucatan peninsula where habaneros are used extensively. This is a good choice to always have around because it's nice and hot with a good drizzling consistency for things like tacos and nachos. The habaneros give it a fruity sweetness without sugar. Because habaneros are so hot, tomato tempers this one out, though the chiles are the dominating flavor. 


Related: 30 Cheap, Delicious Ways to Fill Your Tacos


Runner Up: Crystal
Cheapism

Runner Up: Crystal

$6 from Amazon

Shop Now

Heat rating: 4 out of 10

Best for: Chicken wings 


Love Buffalo-flavored anything but don't want Frank's? Crystal is a good alternative that’s possibly better — and it’s also made with aged cayenne peppers, vinegar, and salt. It's got a pronounced, pepper-forward flavor that hits you right on the top of your tongue. The heat, which is relatively mild but hotter than Frank's, lingers at the back of your throat. This is a favorite all purpose hot sauce that's good for shaking on almost anything.


Related: 20 Chef Secrets for Crisp, Juicy Fried Chicken

Winner: Marie Sharp's Belizean Heat
Cheapism

Winner: Marie Sharp's Belizean Heat

$7 from Amazon

Shop Now

Heat rating: 5 out of 10

Best for: Carribean cooking


Marie Sharp's, a line of sauces from Belize, is extremely popular among hot sauce enthusiasts — and for good reason. It's chunky with a bright and fresh vegetal flavor from habaneros, carrots, and lime juice. The balance of acidic tang and sweetness from the carrots is just right. If any hot sauce could be called refreshing, it's this one. I had never tried Marie Sharp's before this taste test, and I'm definitely going to keep a bottle around all the time. I can see shaking this one on anything from Jamaican food to fancy cheeses. 


Related: 20 Dishes Every Meat Eater Should Try at Least Once