Published on March 4th, 2014 | by Joe Lawler

Pour on the heat with 6 house-made hot sauces

What is it that makes us eat hot food? Craig DeDecker, owner of Cactus Bob’s and big fan of hot sauces, has a theory: “Eating a habanero pepper can’t do you any physical damage, but the body reacts like it’s being burned,” DeDecker said. “Your body starts pumping out endorphins and painkillers to compensate.”

So the sauce tricks your body into thinking you’ve been hurt, and you get a natural high as a result. Of course, some hot sauces can do actual damage.

Here are some of the tastier hot sauces to top dishes around town, ranging from “This makes my sandwich delicious” to “Every orifice on my body is now a volcano.”

We featured these hot sauces — all house-made at local restaurants, plus one legendary sauce — so you can pour on the heat even in early March.

Enjoy, but don’t hurt yourself.


When Tacopocalypse got started, Sam Auen was making two sauces, a Tomatillo habanero sauce and a roja sauce. But regular customers started bugging him for something hotter. So he gave it to them, 187 sauce, named after the California penal code for murder.

“I thought I would make something way too hot, which I’m good at because I don’t like measuring things,” Auen said. “So I looked around the kitchen and put every hot pepper I had into the pot, blended it up and added a little salt.”

On the first bite, Auen didn’t think it was so hot, but when the sauce hit his stomach, that’s when the murder happened. “Evidently, a lot of people like murdered stomachs.”

But that didn’t stay as Tacopocalypse’s hottest sauce for long. A friend gave Auen some ghost peppers, and he put them into a sauce similar to 187, but made way hotter thanks to the ghost peppers. Tacopocalypse cook Joe Tschetter dubbed it Murder Death Kill, taking its title from the complicated name for murder in the Sylvester Stallone movie “Demolition Man.” You won’t always find Murder Death Kill available at the restaurant, because the ghost peppers can be hard to get at times, but when you do, it will hurt.


Where: 621 Des Moines St.

Sauces to try: 187 and Murder Death Kill

What to eat it on: A Bulgogi and kimchi fried rice and fried egg burrito or a seitan andouille taco

Info: 515-779-8403;


You’ll find hot barbecue sauce on your table at any of the Jethro’s locations. They have hotter sauce available, but you have to ask.

“Our servers will tell people ‘Here’s regular and here’s hot, but we’ve got hotter if you want to try it,’” said Wes Dorsch, manager at the Drake-area Jethro’s. “Our hot is extremely hot.”

The hidden hot sauce is the Ghost BBQ, made with ghost peppers. It was the hottest pepper in the world until Trinidad Moruga scorpion peppers dethroned it in 2012. It’s the same pepper used in many pepper sprays.

Dorsch said most people try a pin-sized dab first to make sure they can handle the heat. If you douse your sandwich with it, it might be ruined.

“But we do have people who tell us it’s not hot enough,” Dorsch said.

It’s possible those people have tongues of steel.

There’s no challenge associated with the Ghost BBQ sauce, it’s just for thrill-seekers looking to (literally) spice up their meal. Dorsch said no one has attempted to tackle Jethro’s Adam Emmenecker Challenge with Ghost BBQ.

“Either one is a bit much,” Dorsch said.

But now that we’ve put the idea out there, don’t you kind of hope that someone does try it?

Jethro‘s BBQ

Where: Multiple metro locations

Sauce to try: Ghost BBQ

What to eat it on: A sliced pit ham or shaved turkey sandwich


Tasty Tacos

“Nada Es Imposible.” That’s Tasty Tacos’ motto. If you skipped out on high school Spanish, it translates as “Nothing is impossible.”

But what if you already make the perfect taco? Is it possible to improve on perfection?

It is if you have the perfect hot sauce to put on it.

Tasty Tacos’ hot sauce has the consistency of a salsa, with plenty of heat to kick things up a few notches. The sauce won’t cover up the flavor of the taco or turn the crunchy shell soggy too quickly. What it will do is give you a nice, lingering burn that’s way better than any taco sauce you’ll find at Taco Bell. While Tasty Tacos is fast and not too expensive, almost everything is homemade, including this sauce.

Tasty Tacos locations don’t stay open late enough to cater to the bar rush, which is unfortunate because a few tacos with this sauce would be awesome at 1:30 a.m. So this can be your morning-after hot sauce. Or you can get some to go, it’s only $1.25 for a 12-ounce container. It can be there for you when you get home.

Tasty Tacos

Where: Multiple metro locations

Sauce to try: Hot sauce

What to eat it on: Flour taco


Woody’s Smoke Shack

The secret weapon at Woody’s Smoke Shack is the smoked meat. Owners Woody and Cheryl Wasson don’t want the flavor of their ribs, brisket, pork chops or wings being drowned under a sea of heat.

But that’s not to say the hot sauce at Woody’s isn’t hot. You’ll feel the burn, but not at the expense of your rib dinner.

“We don’t sauce any of our meats, and we don’t put any meat flavor in the sauce,” Cheryl Wasson said. “We want them to be complementary to each other. The sauce is part of the ‘wow’ factor. You need to wow people with the first bite.”

Before Woody’s was a restaurant, the Wassons would travel around the country entering barbecue competitions. They started with their regular barbecue sauce, but as they started doing more events in the South, judges wanted more heat.

Their solution: Add Tabasco sauce to the regular barbecue sauce. And it works. Simple, but effective.

The Wassons don’t want to burn you, but they do want to make you sweat. You can find Woody’s Smoke Shack barbecue sauce in stores, but if you want to take the hot sauce home, you’ll have to stop into the restaurant to buy a bottle.

It’s sweet, but midway through a pulled pork sandwich you’ll notice it also has some bite.

Woody’s Smoke Shack

Where: 2511 Cottage Grove Ave.

Sauce to try: Hot barbecue sauce

What to eat it on: Pulled pork or ribs

Info: 515-277-0005;

Bottled heat by Big Daddy’s

Heat runs in Ike Seymour’s family.

Seymour’s father, the elder Ike Seymour, was known as Big Daddy and operated Big Daddy’s BBQ until his death in 2004. He had a standing challenge to anyone who could eat a sandwich slathered in Are You a Survivor? sauce.

Big Daddy’s restaurant has been closed for years, but Seymour continues his father’s legacy selling Big Daddy’s BarBQ Sauce in local grocery stores and farmers markets, but he’s also taken his dad’s sauces in some new flavor directions.

For the last two years Seymour has been making sauces like Flamin’ Lemon, Cherries Flambe, Painful Mango and Applelicious.

“They taught me how to make the basic mild sauce as a teenager, but I decided to take it to some different levels of heat,” Seymour said. “People seem to like it, that’s what they want when they come see us at the farmers market.”

Applelicious came in second place at the American Royal BBQ Sauce Contest last fall in Kansas City. Flamin’ Lemon came in first place in the tomato (spicy) category at the Gettin’ Sauced Festival in Austin, Texas last year. Big Bad Trinidad, made with Trinidad scorpion peppers, placed first in the Hot Pepper Awards in Brooklyn late last year and was also named best barbecue sauce overall.

But if you want really hot, you can still get one of the remaining bottles of “Are You a Survivor?,” which were bottled up by Big Daddy himself.

“It’s still the hottest sauce we have,” Seymour said.

Big Daddy’s BarBQ sauces

Where: Available at Hy-Vee and Fareway locations, also at and

Sauce to try: Applelicious

What to eat it on: Pulled pork

Cactus Bob’s

If you want a hot sauce, Cactus Bob’s has that. If you want something hotter, Cactus Bob’s has that. If you want a sauce so hot that the cooks have to wear respirators while they make it, Cactus Bob’s has that too.

You’ll find Revenge on the tables at Cactus Bob’s, and it’s a hot sauce. But if you’re looking for something hotter, just look to your right when you walk in the door. The Johnston restaurant has a Wall of Flame with seven sauces ranging from “Last Stand at the OK Corral” up to “Blackbart’s Desert Death.” The description for the latter is “Burial expenses are not covered by us.”

And that’s still not the hottest sauce.

“I have the hottest stuff in the city,” owner Craig DeDecker claims.

Heat is measured on the Scoville scale. A jalapeno pepper falls between a 2,500 to 8,000 rating on the scale. Cactus Bob’s Showdown Sauce, made with the Trinidad Moruga scorpion pepper and some capsaicin extract, ranks at more than three million on the scale. That’s stronger than some pepper sprays.

“My sauces’ names came out of the idea that I want people to be careful,” DeDecker said. “I wanted people to think about it before they stick it in their mouth.”

DeDecker thinks Des Moines is ready for a “chilihead revolution.” He was inspired by the hot sauces that made Big Daddy’s BBQ famous, and sees himself as carrying on that tradition for the city. There are fans of hot food who travel around the country trying it, and DeDecker sees the potential to draw those fans to Des Moines with his sauce.

“If we can have Bacon Fest, why not a Chili Fest?”

Cactus Bob’s BBQ

Where: 5955 Merle Hay Road

Sauce to try: Rattlesnake Venom

What to eat it on: Beef brisket, smoked chicken or pork butt

Info: 515-331-0057;

About the Author

Joe Lawler covers music and more for Juice Magazine. E-mail him at or follow his updates on Twitter @JoeLawler

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