As humanity’s savior of flavor, I believe there is no more beautiful specimen on this planet than the super-hot pepper. Though they are shriveled and unsightly to some, it’s only because they are puckering under their own Scoville count.
I see them for their vibrant colors and fascinating flavor profiles. They range from sweet to smoky, from floral to fruity. They offer a different burn, some on the tip of your tongue and some in the back of your throat. But most of all, they are unabashedly, unapologetically hot.
I’ve put together a crash course on each pepper I use in my sauces and what makes it special. I consider each to be a “Top Shelf” pepper, perfectly balancing searing heat and subtle flavor. With practice and a high pain tolerance, you too can become a Hot Sauce Sommelier.
Jalapeño. Cayenne. Habanero. These are the base of hot-pepperdom. But do not mistake “base” for “basic.” Each of these classic peppers has a special place on my shelf, and a special purpose in my quest for flavor.
These are the poster child for heat, and the most popular hot pepper on the planet. And why shouldn’t they be? I frequently use Jalapeños as a bulk pepper in my sauces, as they have a pleasant burn that isn’t too overwhelming, leaving plenty of room for me to turn up the heat where it really counts.
Maybe the reason these peppers are so skinny is to show how healthy they are. Of course, all peppers are pretty dang good for you. But cayennes in particular have been renowned for generations for improving blood pressure, metabolism, pain relief, digestive health, and much more. Into the sauce they go.
Red Savina Habanero
All habaneros are staple peppers. But when the Captain chooses a habanero, he chooses the hottest he can get his hands on—and this one’s twice as hot as the rest. It’s a bit rarer and harder to grow than most habaneros, but it’s well worth the floral, fruity flavor that can only come from a Red Savina.
The sunken, stinger-like tip is what gives these peppers their name, but boy, do they live up to it in every other way. Known for their intense, explosive heat, they are among my go-to peppers for any hot sauce.
Red Trinidad Scorpions
Though many Scorpions have been engineered to be hotter than this, the Red Trinidad Scorpion has the honor of being several hundred thousand SHU naturally. Probably the most versatile of my super-hot pepper collection, it provides a nice baseline heat to any sauce in a way that only a red can.
Yellow Trinidad Scorpion
It’s actually a bit less hot than the Red. But when we’re talking about hundreds of thousands on the Scoville Scale, does a few thousand really matter? The yellows offer more of a fruity, tropical flavor underneath all that heat, giving it the most distinctive flavor profile of all the Trinidad Scorpions.
The Moruga Scorpion
This little atom bomb was engineered by genius Wahid Ogeer to be the hottest thing in existence. And for several years, it was, registering at some 1.2 million on the Scoville Scale. I typically use this pepper in ever-so-delicate portions as a heat modifier. Just enough to incorporate its signature fruity burn.
It was said that just one of these little guys could heat seven pots of stew. The heirloom variety has roots in Trinidad, like its Scorpion cousin, but its plumper body and fruitier profile give it a whole new identity.
This lumpy devil is a fiendish blend of a Trinidad 7 Pot and a Naga Morich pepper. There are red and orange varieties of the Primo, but I am quite partial to the unassuming yellow. It’s hot. Let’s not understate that. But it also adds an interesting color and a much-needed tropical fruitiness to whatever sauce it’s a part of.
Underneath the one-million-plus SHU is a delectable hint of chocolatey smokiness. Underneath the one-million-plus SHU, it’s pretty savory—one of the savoriest peppers around. But that one-million-plus SHU is one hell of a hurdle. I temper this pepper to get just enough of the flavor to sear the back of your tongue.
Its very name strikes fear into the hearts of the uninitiated. But for us Chile-heads, they’re par for the course. Where Scorpion peppers are a firework, Ghosts are more like a bonfire—slow, but unstoppable.
The quintessential Ghost Pepper, this is one of the most infamous peppers in existence. In Northern India, they are enjoyed as spicy snacks with dinner. This Heirloom pepper adds a tinge of mango to the overall product. It’s somehow both subtle and overpowering, and is the not-so-secret weapon in many of my sauces.
Jay’s Peach Ghost Scorpions
The Jay in question who saw the word “Ghost” and the word “Scorpion” and said to himself, “only good things could happen if I mix these together”? That guy is my personal hero. Peach in hue only, this pepper packs a punch at just under 1 million SHU. I use it both for its spice and for its unique coloring.
Sugar Rush Peppers
This is not something I say lightly: this may be my all-time favorite pepper. Though it is a medium-heat—habaneros are spicier—its fruity profile of peach, apricot, and citrus is phenomenal, and it reacts with apple cider vinegar in such a profound way. It is truly the case-in-point for why heat is useless without flavor.