At Chile Pepper magazine, we're experts on hot sauce tastings, especially after taste-testing 300 plus hot sauces in two weeks one December (which isn't something I would recommend to anyone). So based on that, here are our tips for how to conduct your own hot sauce tasting party:
Shop, shop and shop some more for hot sauces. Check out ethnic grocery stores for hot sauces to come up with a good variety, as well as websites like Hot Sauce World. Round up a group of people and have each one contribute a certain number of hot sauces.
Pour the hot sauces into cups so the judging doesn't reflect bias about certain brands. You might be shocked to find out what you like when the brand isn't apparent. Even better, add homemade hot sauces to the mix and see who can pick them out.
Set the parameters. Is there a vote at the end? Who is the tie-breaker? Or, is each person just writing down descriptives about each hot sauce like a wine tasting?
Decide the best way to taste the sauces. Guzzling a spoonful isn't optimal because your taste buds will burn out quickly. For hot sauce tastings, we use toothpicks to dip in the hot sauce. Then, we also dip a small piece of bread or crackers into the sauce too. Cubes of chicken or deli meat works well also. We've found that the taste of a hot sauce changes when paired with food, as opposed to by itself.
Test all hot sauces the same way. It's not equal footing to taste-test one hot sauce on a chicken wing and another on a celery stick.
Cleanse your palate in between hot sauce tasting with a sip of milk or spoonful of sour cream to neutralize the taste buds.
Have you ever participated in a hot sauce tasting?
Laura Dankowski contributed to this article.
About the author: Andrea Lynn is senior editor for Chile Pepper magazine, where she not only creates a wide range of zesty recipes for readers, but also participates in numerous tastings for hot sauce, salsa, and other spice-laden products (even chocolate!). Her favorite chile? A tie between the mild yet flavorful poblano and the mighty, reliable fire of the serrano.