I spent Sunday afternoon basking in cool, sunny weather in Williamsburg’s East River Park, enjoying the involuntary tears that come when you’ve tried about 50 of the hottest sauces available on the market today. Thankfully there was plenty of beer and tequila to wash it down. Oh wait, the beer was splashed with hot sauce and the tequila was infused with jalapeños. 

The 1st Annual NYC Hot Sauce Expo over the weekend celebrated one of the 10 fastest growing food industries in the country, a craft not every artisanal chef may be willing to take on. I had to give it to every one of the vendors, especially the ones who have to wear gas masks and elbow-length gloves to handle their products. I especially liked the samples from Evil Seed Sauce Company, Heartbreaking Dawns and local New York-made A&B American-Style. But the belles of the ball had to be Defcon Sauces, handing out samples of delicious hot sauce, spectacular Buffalo wing sauce and their most coveted and hard-to-obtain product: Zero Sludge. Is it black and ominous-looking? Yes. Are you hesitant — as you are with most black sludges — to put it in your mouth? Absolutely, and you should be.

Defcon currently has the only all-natural habanero extract on the market, using no chemicals to extract or enhance the flavor or heat. There’s no bitter, metallic taste to Zero Sludge, just a pure, clean hot burn. Then more burn. And then, well friends, your eyes will look one way and your legs will go another in the most genuine attempt to cool the fire you’ve ever experienced, because you just tasted 15 pounds of orange habaneros compressed into a half-ounce jar. That’ll weigh in right around 3 million Scoville units and run you about $50 if you can get it. Those batches sell out the second they hit their website.

Defcon was the last stand with a line as others began clearing out at the end of the day. One girl lay crying on the concrete. (Overheard: “You killed that Indian girl!”) Another guy jumped up and down as his friends recorded his reaction. Then Food Republic beer writer Jonathan Katz, our friends and myself quickly followed suit. We’d brought along someone who famously stocks his fridge door with no fewer than 20 hot sauces at any given time — Naga Jolokia and Trinidad Scorpions are his favorites — and who has “no heat limit.” He bravely accepted the tiny spoon of black stuff. We started recording. Around minute two I bought the suffering bastard an ice cream sandwich. We found his heat limit. And the girl on the ground may have found God.

“I knew I’d met my match when I tried Defcon’s Sludge. It was almost too intense, like some Area 51 government grade heat weapon,” says Katz. “I watched as the tiniest spoonful ignited Bucho’s face into a fiery redness, which he took admirably well at first, but minutes later he was enveloped in a pain that no other sauce, even those with Naga Jolokia or Trinidad Scorpion peppers could even hold a torch to.” 

Then, if you can believe it, we took our wide assortment of goodies back to Bucho’s and conducted a second hot sauce tasting with more people, more hopping around, more cursing and even more tears.

Huge thanks to Jarlsburg for providing the small mountain of cheese cubes I personally ingested, and Jimmy Carbone of Jimmy’s No. 43 for organizing an event the city has been craving for a long time. Same time next year? 

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