A little before one in the afternoon the ponytailed emcee grabbed the mic to address the crowd. “I SAID, WHO’S READY FOR A SPICY PIZZA EATING CONTEST?!” A few hundred people, with cameras in hand, were ready to witness contestants as they tried to eat the most slices of Grimaldi’s pizza topped with scorching peppers. Welcome to the Third Annual NYC Hot Sauce Expo. It was quite the scene.
More than 40 vendors filled the Brooklyn Expo Center in Greenpoint over the weekend, showcasing sauces, rubs, spicy horseradish, and a wide array of spices. The eclectic crowd of attendees included gentlemen wearing Guy Fieri–esque shirts, local three-day-beard types, and many who looked like they might also attend Star Wars conventions. One thing everyone had in common: Attendees seemed to be very well informed when it came to peppers, sauces, and the history of the expo. “Didn’t this bottle win for best artwork two years ago?” one attendee asked a gentleman manning one of the booths. “Yes, it did,” came the reply.
Contests dominated the stage — in addition to the pizza-eating contest, there was a chicken-wing-eating contest, a burrito-eating contest, and the world’s hottest pepper (the Carolina Reaper) eating contest — and cool products dominated the tables.
One of the biggest lines was for Benny T’s Vesta Dry Hot Sauce. Essentially a non-concentrated version of a hot sauce, the simple dry seasoning is made up of ground chiles. Imagine your favorite hot sauce in powdered form, but with over a third of a pound of chile going into each jar. This was the only booth at the festival where products were geared toward application in real cooking — most were meant to serve as a topping on a pizza or burger. I sampled Benny T’s “hot” varietal — which is made with jalapeño, serrano, and Devil’s Tongue chiles — on a steak just last night, and I can attest to its tastiness.
The best local hot sauce came from The Bronx Hot Sauce, which offered up its green jalapeño sauce, sourced from chiles grown in the South Bronx.
One thing that was almost entirely missing? Food on which to drizzle your newly acquired goodies. I was hoping for a veritable onslaught of wings and pizza and a variety of sandwiches and medium-rare burgers, but the pulled pork and cornbread plate from an outside stand was less than memorable. “They had way more wings last year, bro,” one attendee said to another. And the festival needed a lot more than just more wings — the pretzels from Bronx Baking Company were passable, but it’s hard to sample hot sauce for two hours when the only substantial food available is chips. Perhaps next year someone will make a killing, serving just the kinds of foods hot sauces are meant for. That would make this a great expo.