14 Hot Sauce Substitutes [Best Options]

One of my kids started college this year. They moved from Texas to Vermont and the major culture shock came in form of food.

Two weeks into the semester, I got a call “Mom, can you send taco seasoning and cumin and hot sauce?” Of course, I could.

Now there’s a little bottle of hot sauce in their backpack so everything can have a little more heat. (They need it in all that snow!) When you run out of hot sauce, or you just want to try something new you can try one of these substitutes.

You can add heat and flavor to a recipe by making your own hot sauce, adding chili powder, crushed red peppers, sambal oelek, gochujang, Thai red curry paste, or harissa. If you like to have a hot sauce on the table so you can add a little flavor and heat to your own plate, try sriracha or chile-garlic sauce. Other good options that have a little heat and a little sweetness are barbecue sauce, spicy ketchup, and sweet chili sauce. 

Keep reading for recipes to make different kinds of hot sauce at home, suggestions for replacing hot sauce in cooking recipes, options for condiment substitutes, and choices for sweet heat.

Hot Sauce Substitutes

1. Quick Homemade Hot Sauce – Best Hot Sauce Substitute for Flavor in a Recipe

This quick and easy recipe is good for substituting in a recipe, but it is not as good for use as a topping or a condiment. 

Whisk together:

  • 5 tablespoons of vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons of water 
  • 2 tablespoons of cayenne pepper powder
  • 1 tablespoon salt 

You can mix up this simple blend and use it in recipes that you will cook. A good hot sauce needs to be cooked in order to be stable for storage and to mix properly for a topping or condiment. 

2. Chili Powder

If you are looking to add a little heat to your recipes, you can add a variety of powdered chiles to the spices you use.

Read our breakdown of various chile powders and which ones are the best substitutes for each other.

Powdered cayenne pepper is a staple item in many spice racks. Cayenne peppers rate about 30,000 Scoville units which place them as a medium heat pepper.

It has about the same heat as a tabasco pepper. So if you are replacing Tabasco brand hot sauce, cayenne pepper powder is a good choice.

Start by adding a ½ teaspoon to your recipe and taste as your cook. You can always add a bit more if you want more heat.

Ancho chile powder is made from dried poblano chiles. It rates about 1000-1500 on the Scoville scale, so it is a mild pepper, but it has enough heat to taste it.

Perhaps you like the flavor of peppers without the heat. If so, try adding a teaspoon of paprika. It is smoked red bell pepper, so it has the pepper flavor without the heat. 

Create Your Own Blend

You may also have other powdered chiles at home or a blend of powdered chiles. Try out your favorite combinations to add just the right depth of flavor and heat to your dishes.

When you create your personal blend, consider adding in some garlic powder, onion powder, and cumin.

If you add salt, remember to reduce it in other parts of the recipe.

3. Red Chile Flakes or Crushed Red Pepper

You have surely seen this ingredient in the store, in your cabinet, or at your local pizza place.

Essentially, these products are made from dried coarsely ground red peppers. Red chile flakes are made from the peppers after the seeds are removed.

Crushed red peppers are the whole pepper including the seeds, so they tend to be hotter than the flakes. 

But, what kind of red peppers are they made from? Many of the bottles you will find at the supermarket are made from cayenne peppers.

If you have an amazing spice aisle, you may find a variety of crushed dried peppers like Anaheim, chipotle, or others.

You may also be able to find a variety of whole dried peppers. If they are available, you can make your own crushed peppers by running them through the blender or food processor.

You can also chop them and grind them in a coffee grinder or a pepper mill. Since you are making it yourself, you can make it coarse or fine. 

You can also just sprinkle crushed red pepper on top of each serving like salt or pepper so each individual diner can adjust the heat to their liking.

4. Sambal Oelek (Chili Paste)

Sambal Oelek is an Indonesian chile paste. It has excellent chile flavor because is it made of crushed chiles, vinegar, salt, and some stabilizers.

When you try to determine how hot this is, you get ratings all over the scale.

Some people find it very hot while others say it is on the milder side. The best comparison was that one tablespoon of Sambal Oelek has about the same heat as one fresh jalapeno. 

Try using a teaspoon to a tablespoon of sambal oelek in a stir-fry or chicken adobo. Remember you can always add more, but it is hard to tone down the heat once it is in there.

5. Gochujang 

Another red chili paste you need in the kitchen is Gochujang. When you substitute it for hot sauce, you get an additional hit of umami flavor in addition to the heat.

This Korean sauce is traditionally made from chili powder, sticky rice, fermented soybeans, and salt.

When you buy a commercially made product, check the ingredients. Some have wheat derivates. 

Use ½ to 1 tablespoon of gochujang in a marinade for your steaks or ribs. You can also add some pop to your roasted winter squashes or sauces for noodle dishes.

6. Thai Red Curry Paste 

Thai Red curry paste is a combination of various dried chiles, turmeric, coriander, cumin, oil, garlic, ginger, and lemongrass.

There are many different varieties of curry paste, so be adventurous and try several!

Curry paste will give your dishes a distinctly different flavor than what you started out with, but you will still get the heat from red curry paste.

Use it in sauces and marinades for red meat or dark meat chicken.

Start with One tablespoon of curry paste and work your way up from there.

7. Harissa

Harissa paste is a chili-based paste from Tunisia in North Africa. You can use it as a dip, mix it in with hummus, or add it to soups, stews, or marinades.

Harissa is made from dried red chiles (try a combination of New Mexico Chiles and Chiles de Arbol), caraway seeds, cumin, coriander, paprika, salt, garlic, lemon juice, tomato paste, vinegar, and olive oil.

You can easily make your own harissa in your food processor so that you can adjust the flavor and heat to your liking.

There are also plenty of commercial options available online and at supermarkets.

Use 1-4 tablespoons of harissa paste in your recipes. If you are new to the flavor, start with 1 tablespoon and add more as you taste it. 

8. Homemade Hot Sauce – Best Hot Sauce Substitute for a Condiment

If you have never cooked with hot chilis before, you might want to take a few precautions — especially if you are going to using a lot of chilis.

Wear disposable kitchen gloves to keep the oils from the chiles off your skin.

You don’t want capsaicin on your hands the next time you blow your nose or rub your eyes!

Also, if you are processing lots of chiles and you wear contacts, you may want to switch to glasses for the rest of the day. 

Homemade hot sauce stays good in the fridge for 1-2 weeks. In fact, it reaches the best flavor after 3-5 days.

If you have more than you will use in 2 weeks, pop it in the freezer. Just remember to leave room in the container for the sauce to expand. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound fresh red chili peppers cayenne, red jalapeño, Fresno, tabasco (Choose your favorite pepper or combination of peppers)
  • 2 cups distilled white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon salt or to taste
  • Up to 3 tablespoons minced garlic (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Cut the stems off the chilies, but do not remove the seeds.
  2. In a large pot, start heating the vinegar. Add the chiles, salt, and garlic. Bring to a simmer. 
  3. Continue simmering for 5 -10 minutes or until the chilies are soft. Remove from heat.
  4. Let it cool for 10-15 minutes then put the mixture in a high-powered blender. Blend until extremely smooth. There will still be seeds in the mix.
  5. Pour the mixture through a mesh strainer. Press any remaining pulp to ensure that you get all the liquid through the striner. Discard the pulp. 
  6. Let it cool to room temperature. Store in glass jars in the refrigerator.

9. Sriracha

Sriracha (sometimes referred to as Rooster Sauce) is a thick red hot sauce you often find on the tables in Asian restaurants. It can be pretty hot but also has a slightly sweet flavor.

Sriracha is a fermented sauce made from sun-ripened red chili peppers, garlic, vinegar, salt, and sugar.

This delicious product does not need refrigeration due to the fermentation process. You only need to use a little bit to add a lot of flavor to your food. 

10. Homemade Sriracha

If you love sriracha, and you are a die-hard DIY-er, you should try making it at home. Check out the instructions in this video.

It takes 3-4 days due to the fermentation process, but it is worth it.

You will need 1 pound of red jalapeno peppers and ½ pound of red serrano peppers, 4 cloves of garlic, 3 tablespoons of light brown sugar, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, ⅓ cup of water, and ½ cup of distilled white vinegar.

You will also need a high-speed blender, a glass pitcher to ferment the sauce in, a mesh strainer, and glass jars to store the final product in.

You will want a glass jar on the blender as well.

The reason for using glass is that plastic containers will absorb the smell from the ingredients and it will be impossible to get the scent and stains out. 

11. Chili-Garlic Sauce (Huy Fong brand)

The Huy Fong Chili Garlic sauce is similar to their Sriracha sauce. It is a coarser blend that has pieces of peppers and seeds and a distinctive garlic taste.

You can use it as a dipping sauce or add a little to your Pho. It is also good in a stir fry sauce or a marinade.

12. Sweet Chili Sauce – Best Hot and Sweet Substitute

If you are looking for a hot sauce substitute for your favorite fish dishes, try using Thai Sweet Chili Sauce. You can buy it at Asian markets, and supermarkets, or make it at home.


When you make it at home, you can adjust both the heat and the sweetness to suit your taste. 

  1. Combine the following ingredients in a saucepan:
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar (or white vinegar)
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sherry (or cooking sherry)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 to 1 tablespoon dried crushed chile pepper (red pepper flakes)
  1. Bring the pot to a rolling boil. Reduce heat and continue to boil for 10 minutes or until reduced by half. 
  2. In a separate bowl, mix the cornstarch and water to make a slurry.
  3. Reduce the heat to low and add the cornstarch slurry. Stir well until it is completely incorporated, and continue cooking until the sauce thickens (about 2 minutes). Remove from heat.
  4. While it cools, taste-test it. If you want it to be sweeter, add more sugar. For more heat, add crushed red pepper. 

Store your sauce in the refrigerator in a glass jar for up to a month.

13. Spicy Ketchup

You can add some spicy ketchup to your stash of condiments for people who love ketchup but still want more spice in their life.

It is generally less spicy and sweeter than hot sauce. (As a Texan, I have to say that Whataburger’s Spicy Ketchup is the best. Sorry for all of you who don’t live here.)


14. Barbecue Sauce

You can find a wide variety of barbecue sauces ranging from sweet to hot and everything in between. Barbecue sauce is a great substitute for hot sauce when you want a thicker sauce.

You can use it as a topping, a sandwich sauce, in a marinade, or a dip. I don’t want to start a debate about the “best” barbecue sauce . . . so I’ll just say give this one a try.

Absolutely World Class Mildly Wild Barbecue Sauce. (Yes, it’s made in Texas. Yes, there are 3 bottles in my pantry.)

Frequently Asked Questions

Which are the Milder Commercially Made Hot Sauces?

Some of us like a little bit of heat, but still want a lot of flavors. It can be hard to stand in front of a wall of hot sauce bottles and make a decision.

If you like the milder sauces, try Tabasco Green Pepper Sauce, Cholula Chipotle, or Cholula Original

Which are the Hottest Hot Sauces?

Caribbean-Style Hot Sauces may seem like they won’t be as hot because they have pineapple or mango as an ingredient.

However, many of them are made with scotch bonnet peppers which is one of the hottest peppers on the Scoville scale. If you like it hot, try this one.

Other options for hot, hot sauce are  Texas Pete, original Tabasco, and Louisiana Hot Sauce.

What’s the Difference Between Major Brands of Hot Sauce?

Cholula is a Mexican hot sauce that has a milder flavor overall. It is great on migas and breakfast tacos. 

Original Tabasco and Louisiana Original hot sauces have explosive heat that you might feel for hours if you eat too much of it.

So, go easy if you are new to this burst of flavor. Due to its stronger flavor, it is good on . . . everything. Try it on shrimp, in gumbo, or on cornmeal battered catfish.

Frank’s RedHot Original is THE sauce to reach for if you are making buffalo wings. In fact, It is the “secret” ingredient in the original Buffalo Wing Sauce created in 1964.

What Makes Hot Sauce Hot?

Capsicum and compounds called capsaicinoids are what make chile peppers and therefore hot sauce hot.

The seeds of the peppers have the highest concentration of capsaicinoids, so you can control the heat in homemade sauces by removing some or all of the seeds.

What if You Want Flavor, but the Only Hot Sauce is Too Hot?

Hot sauce, like the rest of cooking, is about chemistry. First, you can try adding a bit of acid to the sauce to lighten up the heat.

Use a dash of lemon or lime juice, a splash of pineapple juice, or some tomato sauce. If you have a thicker sauce or salsa, you can blend in some cooked potato or hummus to mellow out the heat.

A little bit of sugar or a drizzle of honey may also help. If you have already taken a bite that is burning your mouth, take a tiny bit of honey and hold it in your mouth. It will help cool it off.

Final Thoughts

Hot sauces make a great flavor addition to your recipes and are also great condiments.

If you want to use a substitute in a recipe, try chili powder, red chili flakes, sambal oelek, gochujang, Thai red curry paste, or harissa.

For a topping or dipping sauce, try sriracha or chili garlic sauce. You can also use sweet chili sauce, spicy ketchup, or barbecue sauce for sweetness and heat. 

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