"You may want to get a glass of water," I warn my colleagues. It's 10 a.m., and I've dumped a bag of old white bread on the counter to use as the vehicle for testing 10 vinegary hot sauces, each waiting in a bowl marked with just a number. This is an old-fashioned blind taste test of the most beloved hot sauce brands out there, from salty, smoky Louisiana Hot Sauce to garlicky Huy Fong Sriracha.
The contenders: Tabasco, Louisiana Hot Sauce, Texas Pete, Valentina (both regular and extra hot), Cholula, Frank's RedHot, Crystal, Huy Fong Sriracha and Huy Fong sambal oelek.
We taste each, one by one, with a bit of dry bread, water and a lot of courage. We laugh (when one nameless video editor keeps trying to guess each sauce). We cry (a spoonful of Tabasco is intense). And then we narrowed those 10 to our top three favorites. But before we divulge the trifecta of hot sauce perfection, here are the best one-liners from the tasting.
On Texas Pete: "This is actually weak sauce."
On Tabasco: "I feel like it destroyed all my senses."
On Sriracha: "Can we say it's great for salads?"
So many a painful dip later, we have found our favorite cult hot sauces. Drumroll, please . . .
3. Valentina (and extra hot!): Tangy and bright, this thick sauce from Guadalajara, Mexico, won over our team with its viscous, versatile texture. "So good," said everyone.
2. Louisiana Hot Sauce: The original slogan for this New Iberia, Louisiana, sauce is "not too hot, not too mild." And may we add "very delicious?" We love the salty, smoky finish of this long-fermented, cayenne-based sauce.
1. Frank's RedHot: Some serious Frank's fans in the office could ID the sauce just by the color and vinegary consistency alone. However, looks didn't win it for this Cleveland original. It's complex in flavor compared to the others, thanks to a slightly herbal, celery-like taste. "It tastes like America," one editor said.