The holidays and cold weather have officially arrived, and few items can take care of both like hot sauce — especially if you have a certified Philly chilihead in your life.
You could try to find that limited edition Mountain Dew hot sauce released in partnership with Sixer and fellow spicy food lover Joel Embiid. But we’re betting you’re not going to be able to, considering the initial run was only about 500 bottles and single bottles on eBay are going for as much as $250.
That doesn’t mean you can’t bring home some Philly-connected fire. The Philadelphia area is home to a whole crew of hot-sauce makers who offer everything from mild, flavorful sauces to ones that stand a good chance of really lighting you up if you’re not careful.
We’ve rounded up the best Philadelphia-area hot-sauce makers worth checking out:
Burning Bush Foods
Price: $15/bottle or $24 for a pair
Born in Elkins Park, Burning Bush keeps it simple with its vegan, Kosher sauce offerings, which are infused with “ancient herbs from the Holy Land.” The Essential Sauce is milder and more approachable, while the Hot Sauce is kicked up a level or two in terms of heat. Both, however, go with a wide range of foods, from burgers and wings to hummus and egg salad. Currently, the easiest place to find this brand is through its Amazon store. (Order online for shipping, firstname.lastname@example.org, facebook.com/burningbushfoods)
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Fishtown Ferments is known for fermented delicacies like kimchi and curdito, but it also happens to make great hot sauce (and hot hoagie spread. Its Kimchi Hot Sauce features a base of kimchi brine mixed with fermented chiles (including red jalapeños and cherry peppers), adding up to a complex, not-too-hot sauce that will keep you coming back. (Order online for pickup at Christ Church in Old City or Dickinson Square Park in South Philly, email@example.com, fishtownferments.com)
This maker is a seed-to-sauce operation run out of Goshenhoppen Run Farm in Montgomery County, and its sauces are so good it’s even won a Scovie Award (which is like the Oscars, but for hot sauce). That winner, Haunted Harvest with Ghost Pepper, is hot enough to maybe make you question your judgment, but other sauces are more reasonable. Pipicha Verde, for example, is a great all-day sauce, and features the unique addition of the herb pipicha for a citrusy, minty hit. (Order online for shipping, 215-486-4038, firstname.lastname@example.org, goshrun.farm)
You’ve probably seen Hank Sauce on the shelves of your local Acme, Giant, or Whole Foods, but did you know it’s coming straight out of Sea Isle City? These guys put more of an emphasis on flavor than heat, so feel free to run wild — the cilantro-infused Cilanktro sauce, for example, is a good place to start. If you’re looking for a step up, though, their Honey Habanero is a good option without being regret-inducing. (Order online for shipping, 609-602-4663, email@example.com, hanksauce.com)
Price: $8-$12/bottle; dose extracts $45 for a set of four
These folks grow all their own peppers in Kutztown, and every sauce is vegan and non-GMO, so this is about as farm-to-bottle as it gets. They have something for every spice-lover, ranging from mild (Mix Tape) to why-did-I-do-that-hot (XXXXX Scorpion). For the pepper-obsessed, check out the dose extracts, which are extracted peppers like the dreaded Carolina Reaper. If you go that route, remember: A dab’ll do ya. (Order online for shipping, 610-780-3756, firstname.lastname@example.org, homesweethomegrown.com)
Hot Heads Official Hot Sauce
This Carlisle, Pa.-based company is reportedly a favorite of comedian Bert Kreischer, and it’s easy to see why. There are plenty of interesting options here, like Hot Slice (think angry pizza or pasta) and Lemon Drop Pop (an equally angry citrus medley). But the most unusual may be the fruited sauces — like That’s My Jam! and Peach Cobbler — that are marketed as dessert sauces, so try spicing up your ice cream. (Order online for shipping, 717-579-7519, email@example.com, hotheadsofficial.com)
Rocky’s Hot Sauce
Slinging heat out of the Philly ‘burbs, Rocky’s Hot Sauce packs in flavor with “just enough heat,” as its tagline goes. Most options are appropriate for budding hot-sauce aficionados and include flavors like lime, pineapple, garlic, and even bacon. But if you want something with a … different kind of kick, there’s also a CBD-infused option, which is a little more mellow than the rest. (Order online for shipping, 215-264-2248, firstname.lastname@example.org, rockyshotsauce.com)
Featured on multiple seasons of the popular YouTube series Hot Ones, this Mechanicsburg, Pa.-based sauce maker is something of a staple for chiliheads. Offerings like Reaper Evil are masochist-level hot while still managing to be tasty. Others, like Habanero Evil, ease you into the climb up the Scoville scale with garlicky, oniony overtones. And if you’re really addicted, some sauces are even available by the case. (Order online for shipping, 717-697-3568, email@example.com, torchbearersauces.com)
Delco native Jacob Trinh launched TrinhEats from the back of an auto tag shop on Passyunk Avenue and is known for his killer XO sauce, which has a bit of heat with a savory, salty punch. He’s also begun experimenting with fermented hot sauces. Past flavors have included Lychee Thai Chili and Garlicky Finger Chili — so be on the lookout for future releases. (Order online for pickup, 6204 W. Passyunk Ave., firstname.lastname@example.org, trinheats.square.site)
Witching Hour Sauce Co.
This Philly-based maker’s hot sauces have gone goth with Wiccan-inspired names like Cauldron and Coven. But don’t worry — its motto is “Creepy and Delicious. Never Too Hot,” so these won’t melt your face off. Although, if you want something hotter, check out the limited edition Ember sauce, which packs more of a punch thanks to a mix of jalapeño, habanero, and cayenne peppers. (Order online for shipping, 267-963-7041, email@example.com, witchinghoursauce.com)
Craig LaBan is The Inquirer’s food and restaurant critic, covering how the food industry and its culture help define Philly’s identity.