5 Ways to get a smoky flavor into a hot sauce


A smoke flavor is a strong flavor that can be used in many different food applications. This flavor fits nicely within the flavor profile of a hot sauce and this combination works great with flavoring other foods. There are several ways to create, blend and infuse a smoky flavor into a hot sauce.

A smoke flavor can be added to a hot sauce using smoked hot peppers such as chipotle, adding natural smoke or liquid smoke flavoring, or by using smoked flavored seasonings. A finished hot sauce can also infuse a smoke flavor into it if it is placed on a wood smoker.

1 ] Smoke the hot peppers

Smoking is a slow cooking method that uses the smoke from a fire to “cook” at a very slow pace and very low temperature. It is the smoke, not the flame that infuses flavoring into the hot peppers. Typical wood chips used for smoking are cherry and hickory because these woods will produce a deep flavoring.

Smoking the hot peppers themselves will give a strong smoke flavor to any style of hot sauce. Peppers can be cold smoked or hot smoked on a wood or pellet smoker to get a varying degree of flavor. Cold smoking uses a temperature of about 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37o C) and will take longer than hot smoking. This will keep some of the hot peppers “life” and keep them from getting dried out completely. Hot smoking will generally use a temperature that is not above 200 degrees Fahrenheit (93o C) and can to 3 to 4 hours depending on the amount of product you are smoking.

The flavoring results will depend on the type of peppers used but also will depend on the type of wood chips used. Don’t smoke anything over wood with a high sap content such as pine. The peppers will become acrid and bitter.

2 ] Use ancho or chipotle peppers

Ancho peppers

The ancho pepper is a dried poblano. These peppers have a low level of heat to them with a SHU of about 2,000. They are a common pepper used in Mexican cuisine and when dried have a smoky flavor to them.

A poblano pepper is left to ripen and becomes red. It then turns red and is dried to deepen the color further. These peppers are often reconstituted and used in a chili sauce that becomes a rich red-colored sauce.

Chipotle peppers

A chipotle pepper is a ripe jalapeno that has been smoked and turn a dark brown color. It is this process that dries the pepper and gives it a rich flavor. Reconstituted and mixed in a hot sauce they will produce a deeps rich dark red colored sauce.

Like the poblano, the jalapeno is ripened to its fullest where it becomes red. These red peppers will be hotter than their green counterparts, but the smoking process can diminish the heat level slightly. A chipotle will be slightly hotter then a ancho at about 5,000 SHU.

3 ] Add liquid smoke

Liquid smoke is a process of capturing the condensation from smoke that comes from burning wood. Like smoking peppers, the species of wood used has a lot to do with the flavor. The liquid is then concentrated and filtered into a potent brown smoky flavored liquid.

By itself, liquid smoke will have a bitter flavoring to it so do not judge your finished sauce flavor by the taste of it. Generally speaking, 1 teaspoon to every 24 ounces of sauce should be adequate for a deep smoky flavored hot sauce. However, add a little at a time so the smoke flavor does not overpower the sauce.

Because of the concentrated flavor, only small amounts are needed in a hot sauce and because of its umami flavor profile, it will present nicely in a hot sauce with any level of heat. These flavors will hit certain areas of the tongue at different times. A smoky flavor has a nice aroma, and this is as important to how it tastes.

Some brands of liquid smoke can have other ingredients added to them but there usually isn’t any added nutritional content and there isn’t anything that would raise or lower the calories. It is also vegan-friendly.

Liquid smoke is often frowned upon when used in the barbecue and slow-cooked meat community. It is kind of an easy way out to get a rich smoky flavor out of something by just dumping smoke flavor into a sauce. However, it is commonly used in a hot sauce under many different associated names.

Natural smoke flavoring, smoke essence, and artificial smoke flavoring found on an ingredient list can all mean the same thing and are all similar to liquid smoke. These additives can be purchased having individualized flavoring based on the type of wood used. Mesquite and hickory are common types used in hot sauces.

4 ] Use smoke infused seasonings and spices

These spices and seasonings will not have as strong of a flavor as smoking hot peppers and using them in a hot sauce. They are commonly used with ancho and chipotle to highlight the smokiness. Common smoked ingredients found in hot sauces are smoked garlic, onions, and paprika. Hot sauces using smoke flavoring are common for barbecuing meats.

There are many spices and other ingredients that have a smoke flavor added or infused in them. This is done in the same manner as smoking peppers but many of these ingredients can be purchased where the process has already been done. My favorite is smoked paprika. This will also complement a deep brick red-colored hot sauce.

5 ] Put the finished sauce in a smoker

Smoke flavoring can be infused into a finished sauce much like the process in which liquid smoke is made. This will take a smoker with the right selection of wood chips to produce the best flavor.

There will need to be some condensation from the process and this will need to be captured to get back into the sauce. The sauce will need to get hot enough to steam and this will create smoke-infused condensation.

Maximize the surface area of the sauce in a large saucepan or deep baking sheet. Stir often because the smoke flavor may only be on the surface. This process will cause the consistency of the sauce to fluctuate slightly so don’t try this as an afterthought if you have created the perfect hot sauce.

Does a smoky flavor affect the color of a hot sauce?

Any spices or seasonings added will alter the color of a hot sauce as well as the flavor. Liquid smoke has a caramel or brown color to it but because it is used in such small quantities does not have much effect on the overall color. Selecting a hot pepper such as an ancho or chipotle will give a hot sauce a dark red to brown color.

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