Back when we conducted our Buffalo Sauce Tasting last Super Bowl season, the world's leading hot sauce brand—Tabasco—didn't have a true contender on the market. Their standard hot sauce is far too spicy and thin to be considered for a buffalo sauce taste test.
Well this year, they've come up with a competitor.
For the first time, Tabasco has expanded their lineup to include a Buffalo Style Hot Sauce, that is, a thicker, milder version of their flagship hot sauce specifically aimed to compete with Frank's (the winner of our tasting).
Like Frank's, its ingredient list is minimal, kept to peppers, salt, water, vinegar, and garlic. So how does it stack up?
As a diehard fan of Frank's RedHot cayenne pepper sauce, it's both a curse and a blessing that this particular taste test happened to land right in the middle of Vegan Month. A curse because I'd have to sit and watch my co-workers crunch down on crispy buffalo wings doused in the sweet, hot, buttery, vinegary stuff that dreams are made of. A blessing because it means that I can at least run this tasting from a detached, outsider's perspective.
Believe me, if I were tasting here, I'd fight for my Frank's to the last.
As it is, I acted as cook and vote collector only (yeah, I know—this wasn't a double-blind test, but it was single blind), frying up a couple pounds of chicken wings and tossing them in their respective sauces made from equal parts hot sauce and unsalted butter
Off the bat, the Tabasco is a deeper, darker red with a thicker texture that is slightly more difficult to emulsify (see the grease pools of butter?), but did a better job at sticking to its wings.
Flavorwise, the vote was tied.
Those who liked the Frank's preferred its cleaner, brighter flavor. "Tastes fresher," and "like real chilis," were most people's comments. Many also mentioned that it was exactly what came to mind when they thought of Buffalo wings. On the contrary, what came to my mind when I thought of Buffalo wings was simply how much I wanted to eat them. I compensated by taking deep whiffs of the vinegary-hot aromas drifting up from their bowls (I suppose that actually counts as cheating in my veganism).
The Tabasco, on the other hand, had its own group of supporters who found that its flavor was richer and fruitier. "There's something going on in there," was the way Ed put it—as if it had been aged longer, perhaps.
After the wings were gone I personally tasted the hot sauces side-by-side straight out of the bottle (since I can't have the butter in the mixed sauces) and found myself torn. On the one hand, I really appreciated the complexity of the Tabasco version—it had fruity, almost raisin-like flavors to it and a nice, gentle heat. The Frank's, on the other hand, is like an old friend to me. Simple, but reliable in his tanginess.
It's a dead heat (or should I say tangy heat?). You can't really go wrong with either, it's just a matter of personal taste. Better yet, how about you get both and let your guests decide.
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Managing Editor of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.