Cowboy Cooking Essentials: Hot Sauce

Sponsored post in partnership with El Yucateco Hot Sauce

Do you love hot sauce?  Well, a lot of us do, especially cowboys. Perhaps, though, you’d like to learn more about the background behind this delicious, flavorful, and exciting condiment?  If so, everything you need to know about hot sauce is right here, so read on! 

Used as a seasoning or salsa, hot sauce is made from chili peppers and other ingredients. And, while many different varieties of hot sauce exist, personal preferences really determine how they are used. Hot sauce is sometimes called “chili sauce,” but the latter has a thicker texture and viscosity, and often comes in sweeter or milder varieties.


Humans have used chili peppers and other hot spices for thousands of years. Inhabitants of Mexico, Central America, and South America had chili peppers more than 6,000 years ago. Within decades of contact with Spain and Portugal in the 16th century, the American plant was carried across Europe and into Africa and Asia, and altered through selective breeding. In fact, one of the first commercially available bottled hot sauces in America appeared in 1807 in Massachusetts. Few of the early brands from the 1800s survived to this day, however. Tabasco sauce is the earliest recognizable brand in the United States hot sauce industry, appearing in 1868. A hundred years later, El Yucateco, the #1 habanero sauce in the U.S., was founded by Priamo J. Gamboa in Yucatan, Mexico.



Many recipes for hot sauces exist, but the only common ingredient is some variety of chili pepper. Many hot sauces are made by using chili peppers as the base and can be as simple as adding salt and vinegar. Other sauces use some type of fruits or vegetables as the base and add the chili peppers to make them hot. Manufacturers use many different processes from aging in containers to pureeing and cooking the ingredients to achieve a desired flavor. Because of their ratings on the Scoville scale, spicier peppers such as the Ghost pepper or Habanero pepper are sometimes used to make hotter sauces. Alternatively, other ingredients can be used to add extra heat, such as pure capsaicin extract or mustard oil. Other common sauce ingredients include vinegar and spices. Vinegar is used primarily as a natural preservative, but flavored vinegars can be used to alter the flavor.


There are so many different types of hot sauces used throughout the Americas, with the extremely hot use of habaneros, carrots, and onions as primary ingredients in hot sauces found in Belize, to milder and more flavorful hot sauces found in the Caribbean, to the flavor blitz that comes from countries like Mexico. 


Now, don’t be mistaken.  Mexico has some of the hottest hot sauces around, but also some of the most flavorful because when hot sauces are used, they are typically focused more on flavor than on intense heat. Chipotle peppers are a very popular ingredient of Mexican hot sauce. Vinegar is used sparingly or not at all in Mexican sauces, but there are some particular styles that are high in vinegar content similar to the American Louisiana-style sauces.

Some hot sauces may include using the seeds from the popular achiote plant for coloring or a slight flavor additive. The process of adobos (marinade) has been used in the past as a preservative but now it is mainly used to enhance the flavor of the peppers and they rely more on the use of vinegar. Mexican-style sauces are primarily produced in Mexico but they are also produced internationally.

The Spanish term for sauce is salsa, and in English-speaking countries usually refers to the often tomato-based, hot sauces typical of Mexican cuisine, particularly those used as dips. There are many types of salsa which usually vary throughout Latin America.

Cowboys eating in New Mexico. Photo: University of North Texas

And, it is the Mexican style (or often New Mexican style) hot sauces that are most popular with cowboys and cowboy culture. The closer you get to the border in the Rio Grande Valley, almost every traditional cowboy dish is served with red or green chile sauce.

The sauce is often added to meats, eggs, vegetables, breads, and some dishes are, in fact, mostly chile sauce with a modest addition of pork, beef, or beans. You’ll find both red chile sauces we’ve talked about, as well as their cousin the green chile sauce prepared from any fire roasted native green chile peppers.  The skins are removed and peppers diced. Onions are fried in lard and a roux is prepared. Broth and chile peppers are added to the roux and thickened. Its consistency is similar to gravy, and it is used as such. It also is used as a salsa.

Heat v. Flavor

So, let’s talk heat and flavor. The heat, or burning sensation, experienced when consuming hot sauce is caused by capsaicin and related capsaicinoids. The burning sensation is not “real” in the sense of damage being wrought on tissues. The mechanism of action is instead a chemical interaction with the neurological system.

The seemingly subjective perceived heat of hot sauces can be measured by the Scoville scale. The Scoville scale number indicates how many times something must be diluted with an equal volume of water until people can no longer feel any sensation from the capsaicin. The hottest hot sauce scientifically possible is one rated at 16,000,000 Scoville units, which is pure capsaicin.

Popular hot sauces from El Yucateco. Photo:

When flavor is more important than heat, you can find hot sauces like El Yucateco’s Jalapeño Hot Sauce at a flavorful 1,270 on the Scoville scale.  A classic Jalapeño sauce done the right way with fresh peppers that pack a ton of rich flavor and gentle heat. Want to move up the scale in both heat and flavor?  Opt for El Yucateco’s Green Chile Habanero Hot Sauce at 9,000 on the Scoville Scale.  Fresh green habanero peppers, garlic and fine spices blend into this flavorful sauce.

The best way to estimate the heat of a sauce is to look at the ingredients list. Sauces tend to vary in heat based on the kind of peppers used, and the further down the list, the less the amount of pepper.

  • Cayenne – Sauces made with cayenne, are usually hotter than jalapeño, but milder than other sauces.
  • Chile de árbol – A thin and potent Mexican chili pepper also known as bird’s beak chile and rat’s tail chile. Their heat index uses to be between 15,000 and 30,000 Scoville units, but it can reach over 100,000 units.
  • Habanero – Habanero pepper sauces were known as very hot natural pepper sauces, but also some of the most flavorful.
  • Jalapeño – These sauces include green and red jalapeño chilis, and chipotle (ripened and smoked). Green jalapeño and chipotle are usually the mildest sauces available. Red jalapeño sauce is generally hotter.

So, there you have it, everything you wanted to know about hot sauces.  Give them a try in your cooking, and enjoy the gentle heat and exceptional flavors that come from blending hot sauces and traditional cowboy cooking.

And, since I believe no discussion about the ubiquitous hot sauce is complete without a few recipes to try in your kitchen, below I have two delicious recipes that use a very popular brand of hot sauces made from the whole fruit of the pepper, non-vinegar based and use no added capsaicin.

Until next time, mis amigos, happy trails! ★


Barbequed Quail Tamales with an Avocado Cream

Recipe inspired by Grady Spears

For this recipe, you can substitute chicken leg and thigh meat if quail isn’t available in your area, but don’t skip the avocado cream. It provides just the right balance to the barbequed quail and the flavor from the red chile sauce you’ll make here in a bit.

So, here’s what you’ll need for the barbequed quail filling:

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 pounds of boneless, skinless quail meat, well diced
  • ¼ cup of red chile sauce made with hot sauce from El Yucateco
  • ¼ cup of your favorite barbeque sauce
  • 3 roma tomatoes, that are diced up
  • ¼ cup of chopped cilantro
  • And kosher sea salt

And, you’ll dress these tamales with an avocado cream sauce, which is

  • 1 cup of crème fraiche or sour cream
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 4 ripe avocados, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • Juice of one lime
  • And, again some kosher sea salt

Prepare the quail by heating the oil in a large skillet over high heat. Sauté the quail meat for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the meat begins to brown, stirring occasionally.

While you’re waiting on the meat to brown, you can make your red chile sauce, which is

  • 8 tablespoons of El Yucateco’s Black Chili Habanero Hot Sauce
  • ½ white onion, peeled and diced
  • 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 5 teaspoons of packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons of honey
  • And kosher seat salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.

Combine all the ingredients together in a bowl and whisk until smooth.

Once that’s done, you’re ready to add the chile sauce, the barbecue sauce, and the tomatoes to the quail meat.  Cook this for 5 to 6 minutes more, or until the liquid starts to thicken. Add the cilantro, season with salt, and remove from heat.

Next, prepare the avocado cream by combining the crème fraiche, heavy cream, avocados, and lime juice in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process on a low speed until smooth and creamy. Season with salt and refrigerate for 10 minutes.

Prepare each tamale by making a slit from one tied end to the other. If you don’t know how to make tamales, find any easy, basic recipe. Using both hands, push each end of the tamale toward the middle to form a pocket in the center. Spoon the filling evenly into each tamale, top with the avocado cream, and serve.

Cast Iron Finished Beef Tenderloin Bites with Hollandaise Diablo

Hollandaise Diablo inspired by the book, The Texas Cowboy Kitchen

This is a very easy, and tasty dish that will impress your guests! Here’s what you’ll need:

  • ¼ cup salt
  • ½ cup coarsely ground black pepper
  • 4- to 5-pound tenderloin, cut into bite sized chunks
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • One stick of unsweetened butter
  • 2 cups hollandaise diablo, which we are going to make here in a minute

To cook these bites, preheat a cast iron skillet.  Although, if you’re not comfortable with using a cast iron skillet you can also prepare this in a non-stick skillet.

In a mixing bowl, combine the salt and pepper and pour it onto a baking sheet. Roll the tenderloin pieces in the pepper and salt mixture, so that they are completely covered.

In the skillet, add the vegetable oil and butter.  Add the tenderloin bites and cook on all sides for about three minutes for medium-rare bites.  While they are cooking, spoon the butter and oil mixture over the bites, which will infuse a savory butteryness into the tenderloin.  Once they’re done, remove them from the heat and from the cast iron skillet to rest for about 10 minutes while you make the Hollandaise Diablo. Now, you’ll want to be careful not to overcook the meat because it will continue to cook a bit while we’re making the hollandaise sauce.

The Hollandaise Diablo is quick and easy to whip up in a blender, but you have to serve it immediately.  And, don’t worry about the egg yolks, they are basically getting cooked by the very warm butter and citrus acids. So, here’s what you’ll need:

  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 1 ½ cups butter, melted and very warm
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • 2 teaspoons of tomato paste
  • Kosher salt
  • And, El Yucateco Chili Habanero Sauce to taste.

In a blender or food processor fitted with metal blade, pulse the egg yolks on low and slowly add the melted butter, lemon juice, tomato paste, El Yucateco Chile Habanero Sauce and salt.  

Give it a try and adjust the flavor by adding more hot sauce to your taste.  Once it’s how you like it, serve this over the tenderloin bites and you’re done!