Hot Sauce Makers Are Out To Prove That It Isn't Just About The Scovilles

Hot sauce has long been the domain of the South. Heat begets heat, as it were. But the warmer side of the Mason-Dixon is not the only place good hot sauce can be found. Out to prove Yanks can handle their spice are the nearly 40 participants from around the country in the first annual New York City Hot Sauce Expo, to be held April 20 and 21 at Brooklyn's East River State Park. The event will feature the first ever Screaming Mi Mi awards, crowning the best sauce, plus a chicken wing cook-off, Bloody Mary showdown and a whole lot of mouths on fire.

Jimmy Carbone, one of the organizers, who has put on such feed-fests as Pig Island and is the owner of East Village institution Jimmy's No. 43, says the event is a reaction to the current craze for craft hot sauce. "A few years ago, there were a lot of local, artisanal pickles on the scene. Then it was kimchi. Now, it's hot sauce," explains Carbone. "It was a natural progression."

For a long time, the hot sauce market was dominated by a certain big brand based in Louisiana and a bunch of small manufacturers with jokey-named products like "Fire in the Hole" and "Kiss My Bhut" (made with the notoriously fiery bhut jolokia pepper). Heat has long been the hot sauce pissing contest and the goal was to make something as face-melting as possible. Nowadays, artisanal hot sauce makers are taking a more culinary approach. Heat is a factor, but it's not the only factor.

"People think it's all about the Scoville units," says Carbone. "But I'm not really into blowing people away like that."

He hopes the NYC Hot Sauce Expo will highlight the local talent. There are big hot sauce shows in places like New Mexico and Texas, but none on the East Coast – until now. Participants are coming in from as far as Ohio and Oregon, but the majority hail from the Northeast. These include Carbone's partner in the event, Steve Seabury, a music industry veteran who wrote Mosh Potatoes, a cookbook of recipes from heavy-metal bands. He will be showing his Long Island-made Hellacious Hot Sauce, which blends different peppers. The husband-and-wife team behind NYC Hot Sauce Co. source their peppers locally from urban rooftop gardens, like the Brooklyn Grange.

Seabury isn't the only rock guy to check out, either. Bumblefoot, the lead guitarist of Guns 'N' Roses, will be in attendance signing bottles of his CaJohns, Bad Brains will sign bottles of their hot sauce, and Eddie Ojeda of Twisted Sister will debut his sauce at the event.

Here are five more to look out for:

1. Jacky's Jams & Jellies

Out of Pine Beach, NJ, Jacky Hagenbach holds her own in the male-dominated sector of hot sauce. She makes 10 different pepper jams and jellies, using fresh fruit and herb flavors like cranberry, raspberry, peach, strawberry, blueberry and mint. Intensities range from mild to "Ass Kickin'."

2. David Rosengarten

The one-time Food Network personality and prolific cookbook author seeks out tasty foods and wines to promote on his website. In Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, he found Henry Family Farm's Varietal Chili Extracts. They come in Green Jamaican Lime, Red Naga Jolokia and Yellow Fatali.

3. Jordan Brenner's Hot-Cha Waa-Cha Sauce & Spice Co.

The story goes that this company was officially started last year by eight-year-old Jordan Brenner and his dad Kendell in New City, NY. They'd been making hot sauces from chilies grown in their garden for years when they decided to go pro. Flavors are more complex than straight heat, such as Garlic Lime and Maple Mango Habanero.

4. A&B American Style Pepper Sauce

Childhood friends Ariel Fliman and Brian Ballan also preach the "flavor; not just heat" gospel with their New York-made pepper sauce. The recipe is pretty straighforward: white vinegar, red Fresno chili pepper, carrot, habanero pepper and salt. They recommend using it for everything from Bloody Marys to raw oysters.

5. Piñata Hot Sauce

David and Renee Pardo relocated from Phoenix, AZ to Brooklyn and brought with them some of the heat of the Southwest. You'll find their hot sauce at a handful of restaurants and markets around New York City. A blend of pineapple, honey, garlic and red habanero pepper, they suggest you try it on eggs, pizza, even white fish.

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