Whether you stash one in your bag (swag), keep one on the table in an unnecessarily fancy decorative holder, or store in the console of your truck, Southerners never stray far from their beloved bottles of hot sauce. It has been our time-honored secret weapon to help out a helping of under-seasoned collards or to add vinegary verve to fried chicken. Such devotion often leads to fierce allegiances. Are you a Tabasco traditionalist? Do you crave Crystal? Or have you joined up with the hot sauce revolution for a new-school brand? Your hot sauce of choice can indeed become an extension of your personality. While our staff can’t agree on just one, these are the bottles we regularly reach for.
Tabasco Sauce: Avery Island, LA
Bottled in 1868
In the same way “Coke” is a catch-all word for any number of sodas in the South, Tabasco is synonymous with hot sauce. One of the oldest brands still in production today, the company continues to operate from Avery Island, Louisiana, a junglescape paradise where Edmund McIlhenny first sewed his special pepper seeds from Central America, which was named after an indigenous Mexican word for “a place where the soil is humid.” While Tabasco has expanded its line to include Chipotle, Jalapeno, and Habanero versions, we prefer the original recipe, still aged in white oak barrels with white wine vinegar.
Crystal Hot Sauce: New Orleans, LA
Bottled in 1923
If anyone threatens Tabasco’s reign as hot sauce supreme, it is Crystal. Take a tour of New Orleans’ classic restaurants, and this is the bottle that sits on most tables. The recipe for Crystal came with the sale of Mill’s Fruit Products, a sno-ball syrup company purchased by Alvin Baumer, who in turn made it a hot sauce staple in Gulf Coast households. Hurricane Katrina destroyed Baumer Foods facility near Tulane, but the company relocated their facility that also produces other condiments and marinades to Reserve, Louisiana, nine feet above sea level. Fun fact: Crystal is also the official hot sauce of the New Orleans Saints. Who dat to that.
Texas Pete Hot Sauce: Winston-Salem, NC
Bottled in 1929
What Crystal is to Louisianans, Texas Pete is to our friends in the Carolinas. In fact, it burns some to find out that Texas Pete doesn’t hail from the Lone Star state, but was rather created by Sam Garner and his three sons in North Carolina. The family wanted the brand to represent the Southwest-style flavor despite its more Northern origin and, as a result, chose Texas as part of the name. The Pete part? That came from Sam’s son Harold, who's nickname was, of course, Pete. The company is still run by the Garner’s descendents, and the sauce is still standard for pimiento cheese.
Louisiana Hot Sauce: New Iberia, LA
Bottled in 1928
Louisiana is the sleeper of the old faithfuls. Maybe not as well known to city slickers, this hot sauce is a Cajun country commodity with a more direct heat, and rather light on the tang found in other Louisiana-style hot sauces.
Yellowbird Sauce: Austin, TX
Bottled in 2012
These squeeze-bottle thick, Sriracha-style sauces are made with bright, bold citrus juice instead of vinegar so their taste delivers all the heat with none of the twang. We like them so much that we gave them one of our Southern Living Food Awards in 2015.
Subiaco Abbey Habanero Hot Sauce: Subiaco, AR
Bottled in 2003
Made at a fully-functioning abbey in rural Arkansas, this “Monk Sauce” was created after Father Richard Walz returned from Belize with habanero pepper seeds that he had gathered while stationed there. But if you think Monk Sauce might be for the mild mannered, you would be mistaken. This sauce clocks in at 250,000 on the Scoville Heat Unit Scale. To provide some perspective, Tabasco’s Habanero sauce is a mere 7,000. If you ask the monks, they’ll tell you they think their sauce is “absolutely heavenly.”
Southern Art Co. Hot Sauce: Atlanta, GA
Bottled in 2013
Our Southern Living Food Awards 2016 winner, this hot sauce is rounded out with herbs, aromatics, and a smidge of sugar, which makes it a crowd-pleaser.
Cackalacky Spice Sauce: Salisbury, NC
Bottled in 2001
From the same town that gave us our sweet Cheerwine, Cackalacky’s Spice Sauce is made with sweet potatoes and has a closer resemblance to BBQ sauce in terms of ingredients including honey, garlic, onion, apple cider, crushed tomatoes, and even key lime juice.
Frankie V’s Orange Label Habanero: Dallas, TX
Bottled in 2012
When we aren’t dashing Frankie V’s pepper vinegar on our field peas, we’re adding his habanero sauce spiked with paprika to our scrambled eggs and buffalo wings.
Red Clay Hot Sauce: Charleston, SC
Bottled in 2014
If the original recipe made with locally grown Fresno peppers isn’t hot enough for you, turn to Red Clay’s Carolina Hot featuring the mythical, mystical Carolina Reaper–a pepper so hot (over two million Scoville heat units to be exact), it often comes with warning labels.