They came seeking heat, seeking something to match that burning fire in their bellies, something to give them that euphoric feeling and leave them on the precipice of pleasure and pain in a whimpering pile of salty tears. Who are these people?! They are the pilgrims of the @NYCHotSauceExpo, back for a second year of that good stuff.

Organizers moved the festivities from their first year’s waterside outside-inside Brooklyn location to the stripped down, raw space of Pennsylvania Pavilion in Manhattan. It was a good move with the weather we’ve had, but still, no amount of rain could put the fire out in the mouths of attendees.

The two-day festival started on Saturday and was packed with contests—chicken wing eating, lollipop lick-a-thon, pizza eating, etc. Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong! This is the Hotsauce Expo, son! “Easy” is packed with brimstone and fire. Those contestants were soldiers going to battle.

For the other less competitive attendees, they enjoyed sampling hot sauces from over 40 makers from across the country, each with its own unique characters and stories. The little, white sample spoons put in some serious work as inquisitive palates pushed their limits, asking, “How hot is this one?”

Sunday’s schedule brought the spicy knish eating contest (only in New York, right?) and the Stoli Vodka (@Stoli) and Murph’s Bloody Mary mix (@TheMurphsFamous) Bloody Mary Mixdown Championship where winners from each of the five boroughs plus Long Island competed for the trophy and title. And what would a hot sauce expo be without a Guinness Book of World Records challenge? Look out, ghost pepper, there is a new hot pepper in town that needs a’handlin’. It’s the called the reaper pepper.

Honestly, I couldn’t even watch the reaper pepper contest for fear of a zombie apocalypse! Instead, I took shelter in the VIP section with an Arrogant Swine (@ArrogantSwine) Cuban sandwich, a fine grilled cheese from the soon-to-open Mrs. Dorsey’s Kitchen (@DorseyKitchen) with homemade sweet and spicy onion jam and @No1Jarlseberg cheese, and Lagunita’s (@lagunitasbruhws) Little Sumpin, Sumpin brew to wash it all down.

Walking around the expo was so inspirational. The vendors are varied but all really passionate about their product and hot sauce in general. I started with Ariel and Brian of New York City’s locally made, natural A&B American Style (@ABAmericanStyle) It had a clean, bright taste that would heighten anything you can put it on.

There were plenty of family operations at the expo too. I fell in love with Scotty O’ Hotty (@ScottyOHotty2) chipotle beer bacon hot sauce at the press preview. Suzi, wife of Scotty, said her hubby came up with the flavor, but it was their habanero sauce that got them one of the expo’s Screaming Mi Mi awards.

Screaming Mi Mi congrats also goes to one of my favorites last year, NW Elixers (@NW_Elixir) for their jalapeno sauce (aka No. 2) and to one of the nicest men in sauce, Eddie McCarthy of Hoboken Eddies, for his win in the chipotle category. Man, that sauce is right! Thick and multilayered.

Making my way through the throngs of hot sauce vendors, I came across a bottleneck. It led straight to a sweet reprieve surprise at my Harlem Harvest Festival favorite, Southern Belles BBQ (@SBellesBBQ), where owner Jacqueline Brooks was using every limb of her body and a big Southern smile to sell her grandmother’s delicious barbecue sauces.

The good people at Baron’s International Kitchen had my favorite Caribbean sauces. Owner Terry Baron was generous to offer a quick digest of her road to entrepreneurship. Her Antiguan family recipes are packed with flavor, spices and a whole lotta peppa!

Another hot year, New York City Hot Sauce Expo! Keep on keepin’ on!

Weather permitting, check out the first ever Harlem Food Truck Rally this Saturday, April 5, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Frederick Douglass Boulevard at 117th Street. There will be lobster rolls, empanadas and more. See you there!

Happy eating and thanks for reading!

Kysha Harris is a food writer, culinary producer, consultant and owner of SCHOP!, a personalized food service offering weekly and in-home entertaining packages. Questions? Comments? Requests? Feedback? Invitations? Email her at, follow her on Twitter and Instagram @SCHOPgirl and on Facebook For even more recipes, tips and food musings, subscribe to her blog at