What’s A Good Hot Sauce Substitute?

Have a recipe that calls for a few dashes of hot sauce, and there’s none in your cupboard? Or are you simply looking for alternative heat sources that don’t contain chili pepper? What are your options when you need a hot sauce substitute? There’s very good news: you likely already have the best alternatives to hot sauce ready and waiting in your spice rack and refrigerator.

Your best bet for cooking: Make a “makeshift” hot sauce

The thing about hot sauces is most of them follow the same simple recipe at their core: part chili pepper, part vinegar, part water, and part salt. You likely have all of those ingredients sitting in your kitchen, so throwing together a hot sauce on the fly that’s good enough for cooking use is very doable. If your recipe calls for generic “hot sauce”, then this works very well.

Use these proportions to get a proper mix:

  • 5 parts vinegar (e.g.: 1/3 cup or 5 tablespoons)
  • 3 parts water (3 tablespoons)
  • 2 parts cayenne pepper powder (2 tablespoons)
  • 3/4 part salt (1 tablespoon)

Know that this will be one vinegary hot sauce without a lot of pepper complexity. It’s meant for cooking use, not for dashing as a condiment. If you want to make your own hot sauce for condiment use, check out this homemade Louisiana hot sauce recipe.

An easier hot sauce alternative: Cayenne pepper powder or red pepper flakes

For soups, stews, marinades, and other sauces, simply adding a chili pepper heat source may be all you need. Oftentimes recipes call for hot sauce as an easy way to add some spice. The other flavors in the recipe mask the vinegar tang. If that’s the case for your recipe, then lean on cayenne pepper powder or red pepper flakes as alternatives. A few dashes of hot sauce (three or four) equals about an eighth of a teaspoon of powder or flakes. Increase or decrease to meet your spiciness needs.

Non-pepper heat sources: Horseradish, wasabi, hot mustard, ginger, cinnamon

If your need for a hot sauce substitute draws from breaking away from chili peppers, you have many options as well. The world of spicy foods goes well beyond the boundaries of the pepper scale. Some of the most well-known are horseradish, wasabi, hot mustard, ginger (particularly ground ginger), and cinnamon. All of these can be used to create spicy sauces and complement many meals. 

Careful with hot sauce to hot sauce substitutions

If your recipe calls for a specific hot sauce, think through the ingredients carefully. While there are a few basic ingredients to nearly all hot sauces, there are some definite differences in flavors.

As an example, Tabasco and Sriracha come from two different families of hot sauce. Tabasco is a Louisiana-style hot sauce, with a ton of vinegar tang. Sriracha is a chili garlic sauce with subtle pungency and little vinegar in the flavor profile. They don’t make good substitutions for each other if the recipe is relying on the hot sauce as part of its flavor distinction.

Think it through before swapping one for the other. Otherwise, you could have an overly vinegary dish when a more garlicky flavor was in order.

Must-read related posts

  • Our Hot Sauce Rankings: Discover our rankings of over 100 hot sauces. Search by name, flavor, maker location, peppers used, and more!
  • Basic Jalapeño Hot Sauce Recipe: This is a simple green jalapeño-based sauce that’s perfect for experimentation with additional ingredients.
  • Homemade Sriracha Powder: Yes, you can make your own Sriracha seasoning that makes an excellent alternative to hot sauce!

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on June 30, 2022 to include new content.
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