After a year in the wilderness (New Jersey), the NYC Hot Sauce Expo returned to its rightful place (Brooklyn) over the weekend for its 10th annual iteration. Held for the first time in Industry City in Sunset Park, the event featured dozens of mom-and-pop vendors from all over the country and Canada sampling their flaming wares.
For the truly brave, there were the competitive eating showdowns. There was the Spicy Tacos of Hell contest, the Burning BBQ Pork challenge, the Chicken Wing of Death competition and the Spicy Pizza of Doom challenge — each loaded with diced Carolina Reapers. There was a dancing cow advertising free milk for the suffering, and there was Swedish death metal in the air.
“I love spicy food, and we wanted to put people with the same passion together,” Steve Seabury, the event’s organizer and founder of High River Sauces, told Brooklyn Magazine. “There are different vendors and challenges every year.”
A few standout vendors for us this year included Queen Majesty Hot Sauce out of Long Island City; Old Bones Chili Co. out of Houston; Boulder Colorado’s Seed Ranch Flavor Co.; Funky’s Hot Sauce from Bellingham, Washington; Dirty Dick’s Hot Sauce out of Norwell, Massachusetts; and Chef Heatley’s Hot Pepper Farm from, fittingly, Sandwich, Illinois. Each offered small tastings of their individual flavors on disposable spoons — though some of the more advanced attendees brought their own spoons, pretzels and chips.
For the truly expert connoisseur, Diane and Stephen Lucas were selling their handmade hot sauce holsters. “When we first started, we were doing farmers markets,” said Diane. “Half of the people laughed, and others thought it was great. We help people carry their favorite sauce. When people find the flavor they love, they understand why they have to carry it.”
Outside the venue were food vendors selling dumplings and barbecue, but most popular was the small Ample Hills Ice Cream booth. A cash bar offered adult libations (the on-site ATMs charged an extortionary $9.99 service fee), though Farmland Fresh Dairies distributed small milk cartons for free — and as the day progressed it was difficult to tell whether the booze or the moo juice was in greater demand.
“We save people,” Farmland’s vp of sales and operations Michael Malave told Brooklyn Magazine. “They come run over to us because their mouths are burning.”
One gentleman in much need of the palliative powers of the cold, coating milk was Pablo Baizan, who took home first prize in the agonizing Spicy Tacos of Hell eat-off. On the face of it, the competition sounds simple enough: Whoever of the six volunteer contestants can finish three tacos first wins the prize (lots of Modelo). But when the tacos come laden with the world’s hottest pepper, things get more complicated.
We caught up with a recovering Baizon after taking first place. “I didn’t feel much eating,” he said, still sweating. “I feel it more now.” Which is exactly what we said ourselves once we got home.