Now that it’s september, summer is practically over but I reckon that we can still eek out a just a touch more time from our british barbecue season. Which is great because I just got my hands on two new sweet and sticky sauces from Hot Headz:
But, if I’m wrong and the recent rain is here to stay, they should still pack enough smoke of their own to bring the barbecue indoors, metaphorically speaking.
I love sauces from this genre over ribs, chicken, baked beans and macaroni cheese, to name just a few uses, so they certainly won’t go to waste. Not even out of season.
And, after how much I enjoyed Hot Headz’ medium barbecue blend, I am super excited to see what they do with their mild and extreme versions.
I have very high hopes for today’s review items. Let’s see if they can hold up to them, shall we?
First up, the company’s Pineapple Smoky BBQ – The mild one of the pair, since that’s the most logical order to try them in.
It’s bold and black and yellow on the front, with the classic, silver Hot Headz brand logo off to the right. All enclosed between that and the vertical name on the other side.
The label design on this one is simple, to the point and entirely text-driven. Yet its colour scheme matches the smoke and fruit within, while also further drawing attention by just so happening to be some of nature’s favourite warning colours.
And, while it appears to be art-free from the front, there is also a second side to it:
A brighter back third with an image of the fruit and a blurb.
Again, it’s basic and I wish that it were in a more visible location but I do appreciate its presence. As well as the presence of that pineapple.
I love me some acidic, tropical fruit and, while Sierra Nevada’s Chipotle Piña still makes me a little wary of anything attempting to blend it with smoke, I’m sure that Hot Headz know what they’re doing, here. They aren’t, after all, trying to mix sweet and savoury in this sauce, like Sierra Nevada were in theirs.
So, sure, maybe there is a tiny bit of trepidation in my pour but I’m still excited to give this spoonful a go, too.
And indeed, when it hits my tongue, all my worries are gone. Smothered in a thick, dark blanket of relief.
There are no chunks in today’s product and nor is it jellied. It’s simply sticky and smooth, like any good barbecue should be. Sweet, yet far from sickly, with none of that jarringly savoury, roasted garlic.
At least, not as major flavour. Garlic is listed in the ingredients:
Water, tomato paste, pineapple (10%), sugar, glucose, sugarcane vinegar, molasses, smoke artificial flavor, salt, cornstarch, spices, garlic, onion, passion fruit juice, xanthan gum (thickener)E415, caramel color, citric acid (acidity regulator)E330.
But that list only raises more questions than it answers. What actually is the spice in this sauce?
It hits with a mild
all over my tongue, yet it lists absolutely no chilli. Nor even any flavourings, beyond that of smoke.
If there was chipotle or ancho in here, like I first thought, I know that Hot Headz would want to list it. So perhaps there’s hot paprika in the spices, instead?
I really don’t know.
What I do know, though, is that I’m enjoying the flavour.
It’s sweet, yet tempered with a good deal of slightly woody smoke. Rich and molassesy, yet with just a little brightness from its fruit. As well as a pleasant tang in the tail.
Then it trails out with an undertone of smooth, cooked down tomatoes.
The pineapple isn’t anywhere near as prominent as I’d expected but it definitely helps to balance out the rest, will make the sauce work oh so well over burgers and pizzas (fight me) and tenderise any meats that you might choose to marinade in it, by breaking down their long protein chains with its enzymes.
Personally, I’m thinking pork but I also reckon that you’ll be hard pressed to make a wrong decision with this one. It’s an all round good barbecue sauce.
So what about our other item of the day? The reaper version?
That one bears redder text, a redder back to its label and an image of a kind of questionable quality version of its namesake chilli, in place of the pineapple. All to reflect its change in key ingredient.
Honestly, I don’t find it quite as impressive.
It’s ominous, yes, yet still less eye-catching than the black and yellow. Despite how well it works with the redder tones of the sauce, itself.
And, while it does tell us, visually, that there are superhots in this version, it’s that difference in the sauce’s colour, not the packaging, that really sells the increased heat. By showing us just how much red pepper is in Hot Headz’ Reaper BBQ.
Here’s my spoonful for a closer look:
One which appears almost identical in every other respect.
The thickness, the stickiness and the smoky aroma are all the same but there’s a sharper scent to this second sauce, as well. A fragrant, peppery quality that isn’t particularly offensive, on the nose, but clearly signals the presence of a gentle-tasting superhot. A good quantity of a chilli which I know is going to hurt.
Yet it doesn’t do so right away.
The sauce comes in with a subtle sweetness, followed quickly by smoky top notes, which rest upon the usual rich, molasses base. It’s a solid start but then I discover why the sugars in this sauce were more subtle and it’s all down hill from there.
It isn’t because all of the pineapple version’s sweet and tangy fruit is missing but because the sharpness in its scent is echoed by that equally sharp, not-quite-sour taste which I sometimes find it reaper products.
One that not everyone seems to experience but that I get from this sauce in the extreme, mere moments after it touches my tongue. And then it’s obvious that any apparent absence of sugars was just them holding back the near-sour flavour that has since hit me.
A flavour which overpowers most others, ending my enjoyment of the molasses pretty much instantly and masking even the reaper’s own red pepper taste. All that manages to survive is the product’s artificial smoke. Now tasting harsher, faker and more like mock-hickory than ever.
A shame, since I rather enjoyed that same smoke before.
The reaper has changed the taste of this sauce suddenly and completely. And I can’t say that I like what it’s done.
But, when it comes to the burn, that pepper acts far slower, taking its time to creep in out of its unwanted flavour element. Building and building. First on my tongue and then across the roof of my mouth and the back of my throat, where it seems that the sugars have glued it in place.
By the time that it finally peaks, its intensity is about the same
And it stings, too. Like acid. Or maybe even a knife.
This isn’t the kind of sauce that I’d use for its taste. It’s the kind that I’d use to mess myself up, on the rare occasions when I’m in the mood for such suffering.
The spoonful that I’ve had for this review has left my heart racing, my nose running and my breathing heavy, so it’ll certainly satisfy, if that’s what you’re after. But I’m not usually into that and I can’t help going back to today’s earlier item for some sweet, sweet, smoky relief.
It’s not a must buy, to me, but I enjoyed Hot Headz’ Pineapple Smoky BBQ a great deal more than their reaper version. So, if you’re in the market for something mild and smoky, with a subtle fruit twist, that’s one which I’d actually recommend.
Whereas the Reaper BBQ I can only hope tastes better to those among you who don’t experience its world record chilli in the same way. I honestly found it quite unpleasant.
Here’s what it’s made from:
Water, tomato paste, sugar, glucose, sugarcane vinegar, Carolina Reaper Chili (5.3%), molasses, salt, artificial smoke flavour, modified corn starch E1422 and xanthan gum E415 (thickeners), spices, garlic, onion, passion fruit (citric extracts, Vitamin C E300), caramel colour E150d (colour), citric acid E330 (acidity regulator).
And hey, if you are into record-level pain and anguish, you might want to check out what else the carolina reaper has to offer, over on its encyclopedia page.
I won’t judge.