4th Annual NYC Hot Sauce Expo – Wrap-up


I have been doing spicy events since 2007, so you know that while I have seen many, I have also not seen them all. So my point of view can only be compared to what I have witnessed personally. I have been to 5 Fiery Food & BBQ Shows, 5 Weekend of Fire Shows, 5-6 Bowers Chile Fests, 4-5 North Market Fiery Food Festivals in Columbus, Ohio, 3 New Orleans Shows, 3 Houston Hot Sauce Festivals, and countless other venues that tried real hard to make it work. This Expo this past weekend might have been one of the best put together event that I have been too. It only rivals those Fiery Food & BBQ Shows in Albuddahquerque, NM which pull in a large attendance over a 3 day period, but I think NYC supported the vendors more because of the amount they purchased.

I did speak to many of the vendors, but not all on how they did. Only a couple of the vendors did not do well, but that might have something to do with their price point, their products and/or salesmanship. You can make great products, but if you do not know how to be charismatic then you will never reach your full potential as a company. For the companies that shined this past weekend, they were thrilled with their sales. Some products were sold out the 1st day to their surprise. Some of these returning companies told me they were going based on sales from the previous year on what they stocked for the event. That is a great sign, but a disappointment for them that they were not prepared because in the end, it is lost sales.

For the 1st 3 years of the Expo it bounced from venue to venue, going from Brooklyn to Manhattan and then back to Brooklyn. Now for the 1st time in the 4 years of the event the Expo stayed in the same location – the Brooklyn Expo Center. That has a lot to do with the increased sales because people know where it is now. The real reason behind the increased attendance is promoter and hot sauce maker, High River Sauces’ Steve Seabury. Steve brought the media spotlight to the event, marketed the heck out of it and the people came like the baseball movie Field of Dreams. Build it and they will come. They came all right. Many events deliver the patrons, but many also fail because of the grazing vs buying ratio. Grazing is basically sampling the wares from the vendors and not buying. The vendors always talk about grazers at the events when they do not have a great show. Brooklyn showed much love, so the grazing discussion was not an issue.

While Steve Seabury deserved the credit for bringing the crowds and putting on a very entertaining event- which I will discuss as I go on- Steve can’t make people buy. That credit goes to the vendors and their delectable, spicy craftsmanship. Whether you agree or not, spicy food enhancers like hot sauce, salsa, mustard are luxury items. People do not need them to survive. So when the consumer does make that purchase it is because it is within their budget and it is because they love it. The vendors that got space at the event are some of the very best small market companies that are in our industry. The other great ones will be lined up to appear at Steve’s other Expo shows in California, Portland and Arizona. Not to be mistaken by the other Expo shows that you might see out there. My advice to you interested vendors and attendees, you best check to see if it is a High River Sauces’ Expo before you sign any contract and fork over any hard earned dollars. Otherwise you might be in for a hard weekend of loss investment. As others can attest to from previous events.  Calling it a Hot Sauce Expo, doesn’t guarantee success.  Riding Steve’s coattails instead of blazing their own trail just shows that their lack of confidence and creativity.

Lets talk about the fun-filled event itself. I won’t talk about each and every eating event because frankly there were many. If you want to know what the schedule of events were, then you can click on my Preview column. I was directly involved with the Fiery Pizza Challenge with Tim Bader of Volcanic Peppers and Grimaldi’s Pizzeria. Much thanks to Grimaldi’s owner Frank Ciolli who has been supplying us with free pizza each year of the NYC Hot Sauce Expo. The crowd was very enthusiastic, cheering the competitive eaters the entire challenge. Defending Champion Wayne Algenio placed 2nd this year, and 1st year champion John Andrews fell out of the running early and announced his retirement soon after the challenge was over. The new winner Ken Walter, was the only competitor to finish the pizza in the 10 minute time limit. Wayne stuffed the rest of the pizza in his mouth at the buzzer, but it was way too much to swallow.  Ken also was the Spicy Taco Challenge champion.

Let us talk about the 2nd most talked about eating challenge of the event outside of the Guinness Book of World Records Carolina Reaper Challenge. This was the Jersey Barnfire’s Spicy Meatball Challenge. The reason it was the most talked about challenge is what happened to those people who outside of the challenge had a tasting of said spicy meatballs. The peppery enhanced Italian balls of meat were not only ultra-hot, they caused much tummy discomfort. I ate one and I suffered for nearly 2 hours after swallowing the evil Jersey ball. I had one brief episode where I heaved out some stomach fluid, but no sign of meatball came forth. Thanks to John Andrews and Ed Currie for supplying the Tums antacid relief. Ed also gave me some fruit which I think ultimately did the trick. An hour or so after the pain finally subsided, I peed out fire in the bathroom and that burn stayed in my groin for another 15+ minutes after. That I can assure you was quite real and painful. That has only happened to me twice before after eating super-hot peppers. There was a lot of chileheads that were ruined by said ball of fire that will remain nameless to save their reputations. Unless they decide to come forward and come clean to admit that the meatball was mightier than thou. I have no fear of reprisal, the meatball bettered me. I hope Jersey Dickfire will make the necessary adjustments next year and make the meatballs tummyache free next year.

Now that you know what those meatballs are like, imagine eating 1 dozen of those evil bastards. Now imagine a 12-year old boy finishing all the meatballs before 9 other adults could. This boy is Errol Currie, the nephew of Ed Currie, and although he had to empty his stomach after the contest it did not affect his dinner plans, as he ate a plate of spicy chicken wings later that day. Is there such a thing as a spicy prodigy? We might be seeing the making of the next Babe Ruth of spicy challenges. Congratulations Errol, you became a man this Sunday.

The last event I will discuss before I talk about some of my favorite new spicy goodies at the Expo, is the Guinness Book of World Records Carolina Reaper Challenge. Kudos to the Brooklyn Expo Center cleaning crew for staying on top of the bathroom clean-up throughout the 2-day event. They were kept very busy. Especially after this challenge. The rules for this record breaking challenge was to eat as many peppers in 1 minute and they would be weighed in grams to determine who ate the most. Every plate served to the challenged were weighed in advance and weighed again after the minute was over to determine the actual consumed weight. Simple enough, right? Well to cut to the chase, the winner was Wayne Algenio who consumed 119 grams shattering the old record 70 grams.  That by the way is the same Wayne who the previous day was bites away from winning his second Fiery Pizza Challenge. Congratulations Wayne, and condolences to your stomach. May the Chile Gods bless you with a healthy life.

Hot Sauce Hall of Fame Class of 2016

One of the great moments of the Expo was watching the Hot Sauce Hall of Fame Induction ceremony on stage. The Class of 2016 as you can see above is filled with the pioneers of the hot sauce industry.  Sam Garner of Texas Pete and Jacob Frank of Frank’s Red Hot are long gone, but their legacies live on in many markets across the country.  David Tran has taken the world by storm the last 2 years with the Sriracha trend and is what is hot (pun intended) now more than any other form of spicy flavor.  Huy Fong Foods’ Sriracha is the original and the flavors still are superior to those that choose to mock it.  In attendance were both Marie Sharp and Blair Lazar.  Marie who is from Belize, is the creator of both Melinda’s and Marie Sharp’s Hot Sauces and is the first woman to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.  She had a mouthful to say and deserved every second she got to say it on stage.  New Jersey raised Blair wasn’t as vocal, but he is a special pioneer in his own right having sold his Death Sauce products presently in 31 countries and was given the Guinness Book of World Records for having created the hottest sauce in the world.  If you have never tried his branded spicy potato chips, you are missing out.  The Ghost Pepper one is truly spicy.

I want to tell you about some of my new favorite products that I discovered at the Expo. I bought way too much at the show, mostly some of the products that I love from previous years that needed restocking and also fit into my new Paleo friendly diet. That diet does eliminate many of my favorites that I have always bought previously. Needless to say, these great vendors have so many awesome products. The few new products I name are not to discount some others, but these are just the ones that wowed me. I handed out my Best of 2015 Lenny Awards prior to the Expo and some of these companies did not disappoint with their newbies.

Starting with Tom’s Roid Rippin’ Hot Sauce who won Best Product of the Year with their Tapestry hot sauce and previous Lenny Award winning Cherry Pepper & Garlic, came out with a couple more delicious winners. First was their Hermey’s Revenge which is Thanksgiving in a bottle. All the flavors are their to remind you of said holiday – nutmeg, cloves, cranberry, cinnamon. The ingredients do not overwhelm each other, but blend beautifully instead. Their RR Citrus BBQ Sauce won a Screaming Mi Mi Award and is a wonderful sauce I envision on ribs and chicken.

Culley’s Hot Sauces from New Zealand won 2 Lenny Awards this past year for their Green Verde Sauce and Chipotle Reaper Sauce. Now they have a wonderful Wing Sauce which brings me back to my youth where I had my first chicken wings in a deli around my Long Island neighborhood. Nice vinegary bite. They have a mild and a hot that uses Scorpion peppers but wasn’t too hot for me at all. Their Sriracha sauce might be some of the best I have ever tried. I will compare it to some when I get home to see where it lies in my favorites.

The Screaming Mi Mi Awards introduced a new category for Grand Champion for highest scored product by the judges and it went to Matt Sisson of Ghost Scream Hot Sauce. It is a great sauce that I will have fun with. Despite the scary name it is not too hot at all.  You can tell Matt is a guy with much passion for this business and I expect big things from his in the years to come.  I will be bringing this with me at the NFL draft party for my Vikings’ fan club tomorrow. I can’t wait.

Ron Menin from Hell’s Kitchen Hot Sauce won a Screaming Mi Mi Award for his Retro Jalapeno Hot Sauce, and for me it was the best new green sauce I had all weekend. Ron has a Kickstarter going on right now if you wish to support him and try out some of his delicious sauces.  CLICK ME for details on that.

The Best new BBQ Rub I had at the event hands down went to Angry Irishman Hot Sauce with their Gob Waterin’ Rub. Not sure what it means, but it was good and I look forward to smoking some piggy with that stuff.

I was so happy to see that Big Daddy’s Hot Sauces from Austin, TX finally made it to a show up North. They have so many great unique flavors in their product line. Their first attempt at a BBQ Sauce is a winner. It is called Orange Show Fire Blossom BBQ Sauce. It is made with no High Fructose Corn Syrup which is always a plus. If you ever purchased at iBurn.com, these are one of the many companies they carry and I urge you to go try their product line out on your next purchase. In fact you might find many of the companies from the Expo there.

New company, Bocas Hot Sauce out of Panama has only one product, it is $5 and it is worth every penny. This is a chicken hot sauce if I ever tried one, and it is not very spicy at all, so it could be a nice sauce to share with the family.

Bonfatto’s Wings Sauces & Marinades has a new BBQ Sauce, it is weird and wonderful at the same time. You literally can have this stuff on chicken, ribs and on ice cream. Yes, I said it…ice cream! When you have their new Gooney Bird Chocolate Raspberry BBQ Sauce you will immediately think you are drinking out of a chocolate raspberry fountain. Then as you think of ice cream sundaes and dipped strawberries, in comes a BBQ sauce flavor. Then you start thinking of chicken and ribs. They brought only 50 bottles and sold out midway through the 1st day. They underestimated the reaction on that one. I brought many people over to their booth to try and everyone smiled after trying it. Winner winner Gooney Bird dinner or dessert.

Born to Hula Hot Sauce has always been one of my favorite companies and I always hope for a new hot sauce, and creator Ed Bucholtz did not disappoint with his new Smokin’ Pineapple Hot Sauce. Everyone knows that I love pineapple spicy products, so I think Ed made this one for me. 😉 This is his 2nd delicious pineapple product.

Another great Pineapple Hot Sauce is from Bravado Spice Co. I never bought it before, but I had to get me some once I got a chance to sample it again. Last time I could not buy it because I was flying in a plane home, but I forgot just how good it was. The Green Apple is also quite good, and I have that one from a Kickstarter I supported last year.

One of the best salsa companies in this industry to me is Deception Salsa, and they got a new spicy Verde Salsa that is packed with the cilantro I love, so it was on my check list to try and buy. Another solid salsa company that was there was Cajun Tex Salsa. They had a nice deal for 3 jars and a bag of Cajun Gluten-free Chips for $20 that I could not turn down.

Elijah’s Xtreme with their new Reaper sauce might have created one of the great black cherry hot sauces that I have ever tried. Right up there with Bigfats’ Double Dark which won a 2014 Lenny Award for Best Product of the Year. It will be interesting to compare the 2 at home.

I might have mentioned these guys at last year’s show, but they are worth mentioning since they are the only horseradish company at the Expo. Holy Schmidt’s Homemade Horseradish is really really good. They have several flavors including mustard and cocktail sauce which are my favorites.

While Jersey Barnfire destroyed me with their meatball, the sauce or gravy as they call it in Italian neighborhoods in NY/NJ was actually quite delicious. With the name, Death By Primo, you might need to fear it because the peppers involved grown by Troy “Primo” Primeaux are quite spicy, yet I thought the base of it was very good and actually not overwhelming. This should be jarred with less heat to be sold to the masses. I will also note that I finally got to taste the Roasted Peach Habanero and Strawberry Scorpion hot sauces and these 2 fruit sauces are excellent additions to the Jersey Barnfire product line. A product line that has some amazing flavors that I think are some of the best in the hot sauce community. If you look back at what I wrote last year, you will know how I feel about these guys. An up-and-comer for sure.

New company out of Ottawa, Canada has a strange name, but their labeling is really good and stands out from across the room. Meow! That’s Hot has some pretty good flavors using a lot of different pepper, fruit and spice blends. Two of their products were worth me opening up my wallet for. The first is an Asian sauce with Thai Peppers and a wonderful orange flavor that makes you wonder why more companies do not highlight the orange more in their products. This was one of the best new products at the Expo. Their Ghost Cat is their hottest in their lineup, but it really is quite tempered in heat and the flavors pop through wonderfully. They represented Canada quite well this weekend.

Sam & Oliver Handcrafted Heat made their debut this weekend, and they have some great flavors, and we got a sneak peak at an amethyst-colored new fruity white chocolate hot sauce that will be a must have for you spicy dessert fans. The award winning Molten Gold BBQ Sauce and Mind Flay Strawberry Reaper Sauce are money makers. Simply delicious. I haven’t had many mustard-based BBQ sauces that I have liked, but my eye brows were instantly raised once this sauce entered my mouth. Mind Flay is a great strawberry sauce that will elevate your sundae or fruit.

Strawberry must be trending because there was a third strawberry hot sauce at the Expo worthy of mentioning and that comes from Lenny Award winning Sweet Heat Gourmet.  Strawbango hot sauce mixes strawberry and mango with the heat of habaneros in such a nice delicious way. Sauce maker Shellie Mierwald continues to show why she is one of the best sauce makers in this industry.  She sold more hot sauces this weekend than any other event she has ever attended.  Need I say more?

Multiple Lenny Award winning Volcanic Peppers is at it again with some great new spicy products. Their LAVA Ghost Pepper Curry Hot Sauce has an Aleppo Pepper Blend with Curry powder and my love for Thai Food makes me want to get some drunken noodles and try this sauce with it.  Next is their Darth Sambal which continues to show how much creator Timothy Bader loves to take on international flavors with the flair of a trained chef. This is simply garlicky, spicy goodness. Quoting the Volcanic Pepper website product information page for this product, here is the explanation about Sambal:
“Sambal is a chile pepper based condiment that originates in Indonesia. There are many versions of this condiment, Darth Sambal is our interpretation. Cayenne, Aleppo, Red Jalapeno, Bhut Jolokia (Ghost Pepper) and 7-Pot Douglah peppers give a nice range of flavor and a heat in the upper range.”

Last, but not least, my Leesburg, Virginia homeboy Thom “Veux Deux” Toth of Voodoo Chile Sauces is like a California fire that can not be put out. He has his hands in everything, and now after securing the bacon lovers’ market with his bacon hot sauce product line, he has his sights set on being the innovator of beer hot sauces having secured deals with many microbreweries to create hot sauces that blend beers together, each unique to each other. This is much like pairing food with beer or wine, but Thom is merging the beer and hot sauce in a fusion of flavor and heat. People that know me, know that I do not like the taste of beer, but I do enjoy the flavor incorporated in products like BBQ Sauce. After tasting Thom’s new Dank Drops, Bloody Roots, Winter Angel, Black As Your Soul (B/A/Y/S) and my personal favorite Fever Dream Mango Habanero IPA, I am convinced that this fire is going to be burning for a very long time. With Hop Sauce Fest on June 4th on Long Beach Island, NJ and Leesburg’s Beer Fest on April 30th, Voodoo Chile Sauce might be the star attraction at these events.

There is a lot more I can say about some of the great vendors I did not mention, but anyone looking at the list can see that there is quite a number of great makers I left out. I assure you there is no slight on anyone of those wonderful food enhancing geniuses. Much love to them. Please check out the Screaming Mi Mi Award list of winners on my other post HERE, and be sure to give them another award with a purchase. Congrats to Defcon Sauces for sweeping the Wing category for the 2nd year in a row.  Quite the achievement.  It was fun watching Steve Seabury tease the Creator, John Dilley with each announcement, as he walked up and down the stairs of the stage.

Thanks for reading my wrap-up of this year’s show. Thank you very much Steve & Lisa Seabury for putting on a show for the ages and letting me be a part of it. I look forward to seeing some of you at Hop Sauce Fest and if you are in the neighborhood for Leesburg’s Beer Fest, give me a hollar because I will take ya to my favorite burger joint in town.


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