An Interview with Bigfat's Hot Sauce
For how long have you been making hot sauce?
I’ve been making hot sauce since 1997. Before that I would make really hot salsa for myself so the transition wasn’t much of a leap but it did take some fine tuning.
What are your most popular products?
It really depends on the day which one is most popular but on a steady basis our 3o8 garlic ginger, 4o8 jerk style and 8o8 naga jolokia seem to do well. The 5o8 chipotle is our newest sauce and is gaining in popularity too.
How did you get started making hot sauce?
As I mentioned above, I used to make really spicy salsa for myself but also for roommates and family, mainly to see the reactions. Soon I decided to try a hot sauce, so I got a basic recipe online and started to experiment. After that I was hooked.
When did you go commercial?
Well, there are two stages to this answer. I started the business for the first time while I was living on the Big Island of Hawaii in March of 2009. Back then I was doing everything by hand in a commercial kitchen making very small batches once a week and selling at a monthly local street fair. After we moved back to Chicago I restarted the business entity in April 2010 and hooked up with a co-packer.
How many bottles of hot sauce do you produce a year?
It varies. In 2010 we were able to have 3 of our sauces done which gave us around 4,500 bottles. In 2011 we were able to do another 3 sauces with about the same numbers but we are going to production in November for our second run of the 8o8 naga jolokia sauce so that puts us around 6,000ish. We still have our 6o8 and 7o8 sauces to do but we won’t get to those until next year.
Do you have a preferred chili pepper as an ingredient?
As an ingredient I really like habaneros because they have a nice fruity flavor and the heat isn’t ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong, for my personal consumption I’m all over the ghost, scorpion and 7 pot chilis. Most people can handle habaneros these days and we have different levels of heat in our sauces so people can find a level they like.
Aside from chili peppers, what do you feel is the key ingredient(s) in making the perfect hot sauce?
I know everyone says it but flavor, to me, is a key ingredient. There really is no one perfect hot sauce. It’s very subjective. Everyone likes what they like and that’s what makes being in this business fun. If I had to pick one ingredient though, I would say garlic because it is so versatile; it goes with both savory sauces and sweet sauces and can be used in such varying amounts as to pull out certain flavors or push others back. Not to mention it’s really good for you health wise.
Is there a special process you follow in making your hot sauces?
I usually visualize, in my head, all the ingredients first and how they might taste together. I write them down and go get what I need and start to play. After I narrow down what works and what doesn’t I make a small test batch and unleash it on a group of friends that has become my tasting crew.
Do you follow a particular philosophy to making hot sauces?
I like to keep it simple, fresh and natural. I always say, it’s easy to put the heat in a hot sauce, so I try to build good flavor first and have the heat compliment it. Many peppers have great flavor of their own and they are such an integral part of the process that they aren’t something to overlook when working towards the finished product. That being said, it is fun to really jack up the heat on some sauces but they won’t see the light of day unless the flavor is there.
Do you have any other favorite spicy foods?
You better believe it. Being from Chicago I am a huge fan of giardiniera. I put it on everything. Of course, Indian and Thai cuisines are high on my list. Pretty much anything that has some heat to it I’ll try though.
Do you have any advice for would-be hot sauce makers making sauces at home?
First, make a sauce that you will like and want to eat. Secondly, always experiment, have fun with it and make sure you write down the ingredients and amounts. That’s key. There’s nothing more frustrating than finding the flavor you’ve been looking for only to realize that you don’t know what you put in it.
Do you have any basic/favorite hot sauce recipes to share?
A real basic one is just 1 oz. habaneros, .5 oz lime juice, ½ tsp salt, .5 oz garlic and an oz. or 2 water. It’s really simple but it’s a nice heat.
Imagine this sad reality: If you could have only one chili pepper the rest of your life, which would you choose?
I would have to go with the habanero. Part of me wants to say 7 pot but I keep picturing myself on a desert island with nothing in my stomach and only 7 pots to eat.
If your life could be turned into a movie, who would you like to have play YOU on the big screen? What might the movie TITLE be?
This is a tough one and I’ve given it lots of thought. I think Sam Rockwell or Val Kilmer would be a good choice. They are great, versatile actors that look like they have a lot of fun and seem like they’re a little out there sometimes. I can relate to that. As far a title goes, those are always difficult to come up with. How does, “Bigfat and the Search for the Forbidden Chile” grab ya? I don’t know. We’ll call it a working title for now. Ok, I thought of a better one, “From Buddah to Bigfat.” Not to steal any of Al “Buddah” Goldenburg’s thunder but my older brothers used to call me that when I was little.
Any other parting thoughts?
This is a business I truly enjoy and the chilehead community that surrounds it is made up of tons of great people that support each other, give each other honest feedback and truly want everyone to succeed. I am grateful and happy to be a part of it. I’ve made some very good friends and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
Contact Bigfats Hot Sauce and Check Out Their Products:
P.O. Box 480304
Niles, IL 60714
You can also follow on facebook (Bigfat’s Hot Sauce) and twitter (@bigfatshotsauce)
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