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3 March 2019

What’s a good substitute for hot sauce? If you’ve run out of hot sauce or simply need an alternative, here is a list of hot sauce substitutes you can refer to.

Has this ever happened to you? You’re in the middle of a recipe that calls for hot sauce. You turn to grab your favorite bottle and – GASP! – you’ve run out of hot sauce.

Another scenario. You’ve arrived at your lunch spot, expecting to douse that wonderful sandwich with the bottle of hot sauce you keep in your purse and – GASP! – you forget it at home!

The horror. As a hot sauce lover, I can relate. I’ve been there. It can be saddening and quite depressing to realize you have no hot sauce. In this case, we can only look to alternatives.

This can present an issue because, as hot sauce lovers know, no pepper sauce is the exact same as the next. Hot sauces are filled with nuance and character, specifically created by each artisan to achieve a specific flavor profile. Plus, there are so many different types of sauces out there.

Some are more vinegar based, some are milder, some are designed to set fire to your tongue. There’s a big difference between a tomato-based sauce and a fruit-based sauce. Because of this, there will be no perfect substitution, but at least we can try.

Here are some of my suggestions to use if you’ve found you’ve run dry.

List of Hot Sauce Substitutes

  • Chili Powder. If you’re looking mainly for a bit of heat to drizzle over your meal, a good chili powder or chili powder blend will work in a pinch. Cayenne pepper has a nice level of heat and is easy to find. Paprika is milder but will offer some flavor and heat. You can always bring in your own favorite blend, like this homemade ghost pepper powder. It offers some excellent heat. If you’re using it in a recipe in place of hot sauce, don’t forget to account for the amount of liquid the sauce brings.
  • Chili Flakes. Chili flakes are easily found and can be sprinkled over foods to introduce a touch of heat. You’ll find them at pizza joints everywhere, but they work to spice up any food. Like chili powder, if you’re using in a recipe, don’t forget to account for the liquid difference.
  • Sambal Oelek. Sambal Oelek is a chili paste made with chili peppers, vinegar and salt. It’s sort of basic hot sauce mixture, just much thicker. It is a great substitute for cooking into recipes.
  • Harissa. Harissa is another chili paste with lots of flavor and character. It is is the ultimate chili paste with dried chili peppers, including ancho and guajillo, cumin, caraway, coriander and more. It will work for many recipes.
  • Sriracha. Sriracha is a hot sauce, but many restaurants confuse it and consider it in a category of its own. Sriracha can often be sweeter than many hot sauces, but it still has great flavor and will definitely bring flavor with a touch of heat. Ask for it as restaurants if they don’t offer hot sauce options.
  • Gochujang. Gochujang is a Korean fermented red chili paste made from chili powder, glutinous rice, fermented soybean powder, barley malt powder, and salt. It is thick and pungent in flavor, adding a zingy depth to your dishes. It is both spicy and sweet. I love it for cooking and making quick glazes.
  • Curry Paste. Depending on your recipe, a good curry paste will add flavor and heat. It may change the flavor of the final dish, but can still work in a pinch.
  • Chili-Garlic Sauce. You may have seen this Huy Fong product in stores. It’s usually easy to find and good to keep on hand. It will work wonderfully for you in many recipes as a substitute. Try this homemade chili garlic sauce recipe.

Some of these suggestions are for cooking and some are for enhancing an already finished meal. Hopefully it helps satisfy that spicy craving.

Check out my Homemade Hot Sauce Recipes section of the site, as well as my post on How to Make Hot Sauce.


Got any other suggestions? Drop me a line. I’m happy to add new ideas to the list! What’s your favorite hot sauce substitute?

— Mike H.


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