Some guidance from the guy who helps pick the sauces for Hot Ones
Noah Chaimberg lives and breathes hot peppers. He’s turned what started as a teenage fascination with spice into a lifestyle. As the brains behind Heatonist, Noah is something of the secret sauce of the Hot Ones, the wildly popular chicken wing talk show hosted by Sean Evans on First We Feast. Noah consults with the show to select the gauntlet of ten hot sauces that guests are faced with on every episode. We asked Noah to put a little of the thought he puts into selecting those stingers into helping us design the ultimate home hot sauce collection for the Whalebone HQ (aka, presently, our homes).
What is a good number of hot sauces for most home collections?
Noah: Personally, I’ll have at least a dozen sauces open in my active rotation at home at any time. For a typical dinner, I’ll have five sauces out on the table (at least). I think that starting with three to five sauces and building from there is a good way to think about starting a strong home selection.
How would you break up the categories of hot sauces?
Noah: We think about sauces in terms of four main spectrums: heat (mild to wild), sweet (savory to sugary), vinegar (splashy to thick), allium (garlic and onions). Playing with these dials you can get thousands of flavor combinations and limitless creativity for sauces.
If we got three to five hot sauces, what is a good range of heat and styles?
Noah: The foundations of a good home selection are a solid table sauce (medium heat, pairs well with everything) and a sauce to light you up at the hot end. Then fill in the gaps with a flavor-packed sauce good for cooking and a sauce you love on pizza and burritos, and bingo, your baseline is set.
Which pepper base is the most versatile?
Noah: I love ghost pepper. You can make it sweet or savory, you can dial it up or down for different heat levels, you can play it off against other peppers, it’s got it all.
Should we have pastes, jams and jellies in our collection?
Noah: Some people get down with spicy jellies but they never really got me going. However, hot honey is something I’ve used for years—amazing with everything from pizza to fried chicken to cereal or tea. We’re working on something cool at Heatonist for later this year.
Hot honey is something I’ve used for years—amazing with everything from pizza to fried chicken to cereal or tea.
What are the three essential hot sauces everyone should have?
Noah: These sauces are all medium heat, super versatile, and three of the tastiest and most unique sauces going. You will not be disappointed:
- Secret Aardvark Habanero
- Hot Ones: Los Calientes Rojo
- Heartbeat Hot Sauce HEATONIST #4: Lion’s Mane Piri-Piri
What’s the most underrated hot sauce?
Noah: Tough question. I’d say Adoboloco Fiya! Fiya! is one of the more overlooked bangers. This sauce is made with an incredible pepper blend, but I think some people are turned off by the apple cider vinegar. I love it though.
Should we get fruit ingredients involved in our collection?
Noah: Absolutely! Fruit sauces trace roots back to the Caribbean origins of hot sauce, where there was plentiful tropical fruit like pineapple. The acidity and sweetness of the fruit can be a great pairing to tropical habaneros or scotch bonnets. I tend to like fruity sauces for grilling with, so the high heat of the grill can caramelize the fruit sugars and give a great texture, too.
What type of hot sauces go best with what cuisines?
Noah: A lot of our favorite cuisines have a spicy sauce tradition that goes hand in hand (think Thai, Sichuan, Assam, Oaxacan). But a lot of the fun of hot sauce is that there are no rules, so feel free to mix and match and just have a good time with it.
Three things to do with hot sauce we probably haven’t thought of?
Noah: Definitely spicy cocktails—a bit obvious by now. I like to use a mild, splashy hot sauce as salad dressing. And hot honey in my breakfast cereal.
How important is color in the type of hot sauce?
Noah: A lot of sauce makers I know are color-obsessed. I’m kind of open-minded about it. I think flavor definitely comes first, and if you can also have an appealing color, that’s a bonus.
Do any hot sauces get better over time?
Noah: Hmm. Sauces can definitely change in heat and flavor as they oxidate (after you open them and let oxygen into the bottle). For some sauces that can round out the flavor or mellow it a bit.
Do we need to refrigerate our hot sauce?
Noah: The age-old question. I always tell people this: the most important thing is to not let your sauces get warm, then cool, then warm, then cool. So definitely don’t keep them next to the stove, or on a windowsill where the sun will get them. The fridge is safe, but most sauces will be fine if stored in a cool cupboard.
What have you learned about hot sauce selecting the Hot One’s lineups?
Noah: Celebrities are just like us! And just like us, a bunch of them have allergies, so when planning the lineup we need to be mindful of ingredients celebs might have issues with. Otherwise it’s about balancing flavors and labels to make the whole experience fun for the guests and the fans watching.