Recap: 1st Annual NYC Hot Sauce Festival

Hey southern folk, what if I told you there is one day a year when Brooklynites and other New Yorkers come together to eat the stuff our dreams are made of? Need more detail? Numerous wing sauces, jalapeno popcorn, fiery flavored jerkies, grilled cheese sandwiches and absolutely not least, biscuits and gravy. If you’re not salivating, you’re obviously not from where I’m from…but you should go there.

Photo credit to

Photo credit to

To celebrate two birthdays this weekend, my roommate and our long-time friend and all around awesome dude decided to spend the day at the 1st Annual NYC Hot Sauce Expo in Williamsburg’s East River Park. Best. Decision. Ever. Let me start from the beginning.

From my first cube of cheese to biscuits and gravy to chicken nuggets, my path was much easier to trace than the kids from Family Circus. Cheese is cheese, but dear God, let’s talk about these biscuits and gravy. As you may, or may not (shame on you) know, I hail to our great city from the deepest depths of the American South: Texas. Where I’m from, we don’t fuck around with our biscuits and gravy. I shed multiple tears every time someone here asks me what biscuits and gravy are. I’m crying now just thinking about it. That said, I have NEVER in my life tasted biscuits and gravy like the masterpieces from Empire Biscuits. Blessed with their very own booth in the VIP portion of the expo, Empire Biscuits spent the afternoon informing satisfied customers of when their store in the East Village will open and serving up delicious taste tests left and right. It was a hot sauce expo, but the biscuits and gravy were best in show, hands down.

Before heading out of the VIP shelter and into the hot sauce wild, we also got hooked up with some awesome, hand-brewed popsicles courtesy of Brewla Bars. Brewla Bars may not yet be well-known for their delicious combinations, but they will be soon. Personally, I’m certain I couldn’t have survived the likes of this expo without a hefty supply of “The Doctor,” a root beer float popsicle which proved perfect for taking the bite out of the fire demons I subjected my tongue to. As drinks weren’t allowed out into the hot sauce area, these popsicles quite literally saved my life…and my taste buds.

All that awesome stuff mentioned, let’s talk about SAUCE! Featuring kitchen gurus from as far down south as Austin, TX ….mmm yeah…and Jacksonville, FL, the 1st Annual NYC Hot Sauce Expo was nothing short of amazing and provided a wealth of flavors, even for the weak at tongue. My friends who can barely handle mild wings would have missed out on some yummy sauces for sure, but they would have also found their fair share of hot sauce soaked more in flavor than heat. From ghost pepper hot sauces (yeah…I didn’t try those, because there wasn’t a 55 gallon drum of milk nearby) to savory barbecues to tasty garlic, NYC Hot Sauce Expo had it all. Obviously some sauces were more memorable than others, but almost all were among the ranks of the greats.

Photo credit to Mike Martin a.k.a. Dirty Mike

Photo credit to Mike Martin a.k.a. Dirty Mike

Even without the presence of Twisted Sister’s Eddie “Fingers” Ojeda, Abingdon’s Rippin’ Red would have had the expo on lockdown. The original Rippin’ Red Wing Sauce was easily the best sauce I tasted all day. Were it not for the biscuits and gravy, it would have been the best substance I had all day. Sure, it was awesome that Eddie Fingers came to hang for the day and my drunk-ass friends took photos with him, but the wing sauce was the real feature without a doubt.

Belcastro’s NYC Hot Sauce wasn’t too shabby either. A New York City based hot sauce company that can keep up with the southern boys? Fine by me.

Though I was too afraid to try the actual hot sauce from Pucker Butt Pepper Company (a decision which, according to my roommate was probably a good idea, since the experience came equipped with a sticker of bravery) the jalapeno popcorn was nothing short of poppin’. No pun intended, but that worked out nicely. The massive amounts of hot sauce already stinging my mouth led me to underestimate the heat this twisted traditional snack was packing, but my repeated attempts to return to the bag I purchased since then have been a constant reminder that jalapenos are like…hot…and stuff.

Other awesome and creative treats at the expo included variously heated flavors of beef jerky (food of the gods), hot sauce taffy (yes it’s a thing), a delicious Tito’s Vodka cocktail including elderflower, jalapeno tequila, pulled pork on a bed of slaw that even I liked, and plenty of other things I’m forgetting, mostly with the Tito’s cocktails to blame.

I could literally gush all day about how much fun the 1st Annual NYC Hot Sauce Expo was, but there’s really no efficient way to explain it. The good news is, you guys have a year to start saving up the money for next year’s VIP tickets, and now you have a trusted source to confirm that it’s damn worth it. If I wasn’t obsessed with hot sauce before (and I was…) I’m considering proposing to it now. Hot sauce is serious, guys, and the NYC Hot Sauce Expo doesn’t mess around.

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