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Decision Procedure For Hot Sauce Quality: Kevin and I have tried hot sauces from all over this fair planet, and I'm here to tell you how to find a hot sauce that is worth your money without having to buy it. 99% of the time you can tell whether a hot sauce is good or not without trying it. I would say 100% of the time, because my decision procedure has never let me down, but I want to leave room for improvement. I've bought a lot of hot sauce in my day, and all the sauce that passed this decision procedure was good and all the sauce that failed it was not good.

The bad news is that at that roadside stand in Gilroy or wherever that has a whole shelf of hot sauces, there are probably only a couple, if any, which will survive this decision procedure. The good news is that you won't waste your money on that shelf of hot sauce.

To run this decision procedure, you must ignore the funny graphic on the front of the bottle and the "This is the hottest damn thing you've ever tasted in your life! Not for sissies! This will blister your tongue and the tongues of your ancestors!" bravado on the back of the bottle. Those things are a constant on every bottle of hot sauce, no matter how un-hot or foul-tasting it actually is. Instead you must look at the ingredient list on the side of the bottle, where by federal law an honest reckoning of the contents will be found, and answer the following questions:

  1. Is the first ingredient habanero peppers? The first ingredient should be habanero peppers, or be somehow based on habanero peppers. If it's some other kind of peppers but all other conditions are met, then it might still be good (if you like that kind of pepper), but it probably won't be as hot.
  2. Is the second ingredient some kind of vegetable matter? The second ingredient should be a non-pepper member of the vegetable kingdom, such as carrots, or mangoes. This is the 'base' of the sauce, a nonreactive substance which prevents it from being merely a habanero relish. Note that the base must be something you like: if you don't like mangoes, you won't like a mango-based sauce.

    "Why do you have this rule?", you might ask. "What non-member of the vegetable kingdom could possibly be the second ingredient of a hot sauce? Venison? Drywall? The set of all natural numbers?". No, I refer to that scourge of this decision procedure: vinegar. If the second ingredient of your hot sauce is vinegar, this means you have what we in the business call "a vinegar-based hot sauce", which is no good. Most hot sauces I've seen are vinegar-based, for some reason I cannot comprehend, so you need to be careful about this.

    Now, some of you may like vinegar-based hot sauces, and at this point you are probably seething with vinegary rage. "You'll get my vinegar-based hot sauce when you pry it from my cold dead hands!", you might be saying. Well, THAT'S JUST FINE, because NOBODY WANTS your lousy vinegar-based hot sauce, and if we did we could just BUY SOME FROM THE STORE, so stop being so touchy.

    It is okay for vinegar to show up later in the ingredient list. All hot sauces I've seen contain some vinegar. If you like incredibly hot sauces there might be no hope for you but to go with a vinegar-based sauce.

    NOTE: Sometimes the non-pepper member of the vegetable kingdom comes first in the ingredient list, and the pepper comes second. In my experience, this is fine. It just means that there's more base by weight than there are peppers. If there are a bunch of vegetables in the ingredient list, and then the pepper, then what you probably have is a salsa rather than a hot sauce, which is fine. In fact salsa is generally better than hot sauce because the vegetables are fresher.

  3. Does it contain the bonus ingredients? The bonus ingredients are garlic, lime juice, and onion. They are not neccessary for a good hot sauce, but they make it taste better.
  4. Does it not contain the malus ingredients? The malus ingredients are things like sugar, corn syrup, cornstarch, and drywall. Most of these are put into a vinegar-based sauce in the misguided hope of thickening it. This is misguided because 1) they should have given it a vegetable base in the first place, and 2) it just makes the sauce taste worse. If you have these ingredients you probably also have a vinegar-based sauce. If nothing else, try to find a vinegar-based sauce that doesn't have this junk in it.

The following sauces are known to pass the decision procedure, and meet with the approval of Kevin and myself:

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