Homemade Hot Sauce

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chiltepin hot sauce recipe in a ramekin
photo by Holly A. Heyser

I’ve always wondered about who makes money on all those hot sauce bottles arrayed in the condiment aisle of the supermarket. Especially when it’s easy to make homemade hot sauce.

Think about it: My local Raley’s carries several dozen varieties of hot sauce, and there are thousands of brands of hot sauce out there, ranging from the venerable Tabasco (one of the only hot sauces I still buy) to the ridiculous Dave’s Insanity Sauce, which is so hot it really ought to be a controlled substance. It’s simply a case of too much choice, and not enough difference in the sauces to matter.

I think one of the reasons there is so much hot sauce on the market is because it is so easy to make at home.

(If you’re looking for more of a challenge, I have a recipe for a fermented Tabasco-style hot sauce, too.)

I am imagining all these inspired home cooks in Texas or Florida or New Jersey who were happy making their own sauce, when someone said: “You oughta bottle that!” They do, hemorrhage money, then promptly go out of business a year or so later. Mercifully, I’ve never been tempted to sell my own hot sauce. But if I did, it’d be this one.

chiltepin chiles next to a quarter
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

And since I am about to give you my recipe, I guess I won’t be making my fortune (or bankrupting myself) on “Hank’s Cray-zey Hawt Sauce” anytime soon. What makes my rendition of homemade sauce so special is the chile — I use wild chiles for this recipe.

Now before I go on, know that any chiles you want to use will work, fresh or dried. But my advice is to make your homemade hot sauce with a single type of chile at first, so you can really enjoy the nuances in that variety, whether it’s serranos, habaneros, poblanos, or any other type, even wild.

Yep. Wild chiles. They exist. Known mostly as chiltepin, pequin or bird’s eye chiles because, I suppose, they are small and round like a bird’s eye, these grow wild in much of Central America — and have the distinction of being the only chile peppers native to the United States. You can forage for them in southern Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, and they reportedly live in southern Florida as well.

I’ve known about chiltepins for years — I am a serious chile head — and I now finally grow them at home, so I have a stash now. You can buy them in Tucson, or in some Mexican markets, too. I’ve found fresh chile pequins in Mexican markets in Brownsville, Texas, for example. You can also buy chiltepin chiles through Gourmet Sleuth. Apparently when the harvest is on, locals drop what they’re doing to gather the little chiles because they bring such a high price — up to $30 a pound in some years.

You can also buy seeds online and grow your own, although the seeds are really hard to germinate; soaking them in chamomile tea for 2 days first will give you a better germination rate.

As for flavor, it’s smoky, hot and rich all at once. The closest store-bought equivalent I can come up with in flavor is Cholula hot sauce, which is another of my favorites. The chiltepin chiles whack you right up front, but then go away — it’s the opposite of a red jalapeno, whose heat can sneak up on you a few minutes later.

I use this hot sauce on pretty much everything: Eggs, Mexican food, cold chicken or pheasant, in tomato sauces, on clams… you get the point. Use it wherever you would use any normal hot sauce.

chiltepin hot sauce recipe
4.96 from 24 votes

Homemade Hot Sauce

While I use wild chiltepin chiles in this recipe, you can use any small, red, hot chile. Thai and cayenne are good substitutes. Smoked salt is not strictly needed, but it does add a lot of flavor. Ditto for the xanthan gum in this recipe. Again, not strictly needed, but it really helps the sauce hold together. Xanthan gum is, oddly, becoming very easy to find in places like Whole Foods, because the stuff is used in gluten-free baking. Bob's Red Mill makes it.
Course: Condiment
Cuisine: American
Servings: 2 cups
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 0 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients 

  • 6 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chiltepin chiles, or 2/3 cup Thai chiles
  • 1 teaspoon smoked salt
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sweet paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum mixed with 2 tablespoons cold water

Instructions 

  • Put everything except the xanthan gum (if using) into a blender and puree for 1-2 minutes. You really want everything blitzed here, so if your blender heats up too much in 2 minutes, stop, let it cool, and continue.
  • Pour the xanthan gum that's been mixed with the water into the blender, cover and buzz for another 30 seconds.
  • Pour into a bowl or large jar and let this settle for 1 hour to allow all the trapped air you introduced into the sauce while blending to escape. If you skip this step your sauce will not hold together as well. Bottle and store in the fridge for up to 9 months.

Notes

If you are interested in a full-on, fermented, Tabasco-style hot sauce, here is my recipe for that.

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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103 Comments

  1. Good Morning from Tucson, AZ. As of today we have been picking our versions of Chiltepin for months now. Our Chiltepins look very close to Tepin chilis. Ours are not peferct little balls, they are small as those however ours are mini green chili pepper shaped. I will tell you they are just as hot or hotter than the round ones we get from Magnalena, Mexico. Ours love to grow inside of other bushes and plants and grow up to 6 feet tall. One problem with these is keeping the birds from stealing them onve they ripen and turn red. I get up every morning early to pick before the birds swoop in and have breakfast. At the end of the season which is our first freeze I leave the peppers for the birds to spread the seeds if you klnow what I mean. We have 6 large plants that at at least 6 to 10 years old and our neighborhood have plants too here and there. This years was a great years we started picking red chilis around November and are still going strong. We have about 6 or seven mason jars filled. Our friends and family laugh when the come to our house because we have platters and bowls spread out in the kitchen with chilis drying…. Oh by the way my wife will probably use all these by the end of this year…..she is a Bigtime Chilihead… FYI for growers, you have to use regular dirt to grow these, the stuff you buy in the store (potting soil) dies not let these germinate. We tried for years to grow these in pots and they grow easily in old dry dirt. Thanks and Have a Great Chiltepin Day

  2. I planted 18 (4×4 in. pots) with two seeds each this past spring. I managed to get three plants to germinate, they have done well and now have quite a few chilles. Always heard when I was growing up that a mocking bird needed to pass the seeds before they would germinate !! We do have some mocking birds here. Hmmmm.

  3. We have native chiltepins growing as a border along our retaining wall. They survive North Texas winters nicely. I picked a pint yesterday. Will let the rest turn red before harvesting.

  4. I germinate the chile petines (Pequines) all the time. All I do is go pick some mature red ones (they grow wild here in Texas), let them air dry on a paper towel in some sort of open container, in a single layer. Once dry I break them open, to get the seeds out. If you plant the whole tiny pepper the seeds grow a fungus, never germinate. I love them fresh green or red with a bite of crisp bacon!

  5. Cool, want to try. But I’ve been around the web and “pequin” is clearly a different species than “Chiltepin” … both are small and fiery, but pequin is more elongated, while Chiltepin is berry-like in its robust roundness. Such a berry-like roundness it has, that a bird might eat it readily, thinking, perhaps that it was a pyrancantha berry … thus spreading its seed far and wide by the dropping of much feces upon the land.

  6. Rich Hardesty I appreciate your Middleton, PA viewpoints. I am originally from Central Texas but have lived in Maine now. I posted here in 2012 that i had 2 plants in Texas but the are now all over my Texas yard. Our son lives in out Texas house & the last 2 years mailed me my chiltepins when they ripened. But I would like to try to get some plants started in pots & grow indoors in our basement. It would probably be a lesson in futility but i so miss being able to pick them fresh, they are the best. I’ve never had enough peppers at one time to make sauce but this is a great recipe, I hope to try it one day with these or with cayennes.

  7. Found this site searching for info on Chili Tepins. Looking forward to trying your hot sauce recipe. We have many plants that have come up from volunteers over the years. I have a friend who would like to grow some plants. Would she be able to grow them by planting our chilis? If so, would she plant red or green ones? Thank you!

  8. I have been able to germinate seeds from my pequin peppers this year. I managed to get 17 plants to grow out of hundreds of seeds planted. I have a plant that was given to me in 2002. I have kept it for 13 years so far and it is not showing any signs of giving up. Being in Wisconsin, I bring it in in the late fall and take it back outside in the spring when the weather is warm enough. Most of the pepper plants I started this spring are producing peppers already. These are the best peppers in the world, in my humble opinion. There is a Mexican restaurant in Dubuque that makes a salsa/sauce from the pequin pepper. Yours seems like it could be similar to theirs. I can’t wait to try it. Thanks for the recipe!

  9. We have used Chiltepin Peppers for three generations. We sometimes buy it in powdered form. This way you can measure the dose to your own liking. I started two plants this spring and I have harvested about a quart jar of the peppers. Can’t wait to try your recepie. Thank You for posting/sharing it with us.

  10. Great Hot Sauce recipe! I love it and I get alot of compliments on it! People have told me they would pay me to make them a bottle! Thanks

  11. I bought a couple of pequin plants at my local HEB (Texas grocery chain) this Spring for a dollar apiece. Had no idea what they’d taste like, but liked what I tasted. My bush (now three feet tall and wide) is covered in peppers in varying colors – green, yellow, purple, orange, red. Red seems to be the last stage. They’ve never gotten past it on the plant – birds eat them. We pick them. Now I have a good idea what to do with them. Thank you!

  12. My mom owns a ranch in Arizona close to mexican border. She started out with one chili tepine plant that someone gave her and over the years they now just grow wild on her land. I’m not sure if this is true but she tells me that the reason they call the tepines “birds eye” chili is because birds eat them and when and where they poop out the seeds a plant grows. The seeds go thru the digestive track of the bird which sort of ferments them and allows for the seeds to germinate. . She sends them to me dried every year. This year I was there when they were ripe and ready for harvest so I took home a butt load of fresh ones. They are hot but so very tasty!

    1. Nothing. But you can leave it out. The sauce will just separate like salad dressing, that’s all. You’ll need to shake it up before you use it. And no need to can it. I just bottle it and leave it on the shelf. Never had a problem.

  13. I am going to try this recipe but was wondering if you have canned this recipe using water bath method.. I have tons and tons of hot Apache peppers and want to can some hot sauce

  14. Made this yesterday and tried it today and is very good and has a flavor and hottness I really enjoy. The only problem is it has a strong vinegar flavor to fix this can I put in less vinegar and more water? What would your suggestion be.

    1. You could do that. But if you do, increase the salt a bit — vinegar is the main preservative in this sauce, and a salt brine can help, too.

  15. Thank you for the recipe. I’m growing McMahon’s Bird from Burpee Seeds again this year. No problem germinating, keeping the temperature in my mini greenhouse 85-90 degrees 24/7- only takes a lightbulb or two. I grew them last year (started in April) but only got a few peppers. Started ’em much earlier this year (February) and am looking forward to a better harvest.

    I’ve learned some things by reading some of the other posts- that pequins and tepins are not just different names for the same pepper. And now I’m surmising that they are called bird peppers because birds like them. I’ll plan on using netting, too! I’ll look for authentic chiltepins to grow next time. Thanks to Rich Hardesty for the tip about Vinland Valley Nursery for plants.

  16. Holly: Yes, you can leave it out, but the sauce will separate pretty quickly. You’ll need to shake it up every time you use it without the xanthan gum. If this doesn’t bother you, got for it!

  17. Thanks for sharing the hot sauce recipe. I’m wondering if I can leave out the xanthan or substitute something else. ??

    Thanks!