Southern Pepper Sauce

Souther Pepper Sauce

Pepper sauce, or “peppa sauce” to use the Southern parlance, is a dead-simple Southern staple. The recipe couldn’t be easier: peppers and vinegar in a bottle. But don’t let the simplicity fool you. Pepper sauce can elevate a bland bowl of collard greens to something truly special.

For us Pacific-coasters pepper sauce is a much lesser known thing. Tabasco® sauce—a whole different animal—is about the closest we get here. But venture South and you’d be hard pressed to find a table, at home or in a restaurant, that wasn’t topped with a bottle.

A Million Uses

A splash or two of this can bring a bland dish to life. I can’t eat collard greens or black-eyed peas without it. Most Southerners wouldn’t either. Try it in soup, or as the acidic component in a vinaigrette or caesar dressing, or mix it into your favorite pan sauce at the end. Because of its simplicity the uses are endless.

Making the ‘Peppa Sauce

To make, it’s as simple as heating enough vinegar to fill your glass bottle (an old rum bottle is traditional), stuffing that bottle with peppers and filling with white wine vinegar. Garlic is frequently added, as are black peppercorns. That’s how I prefer it.


Tabasco peppers can sometimes be harder to find, but any small(er) peppers will do. Red ripe peppers are the best, but green work too. As long as you can get them through the neck of your bottle, you’re golden. Feel free to experiment by adding other whole, dried spices of your choosing or swapping the white wine vinegar for apple cider vinegar.

For an Asian-inspired twist you might try rice wine vinegar, Thai chili peppers, garlic and star anise.

Now here’s the best part: when your bottle is nearing empty, just top it off with more vinegar. No need to heat the vinegar. The peppers will lose their potency over time, however, I’ve been working with a bottle for more than a year and have yet to replace them.

I’m fairly certain that those of you who make this will be making it for the rest of your lives. 

Pepper Sauce
  1. 1 glass bottle with cap or cork
  2. 1 handful of tabasco or your choice of peppers
  3. White wine vinegar, or vinegar of your choosing
  4. 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns (optional)
  5. 4 cloves garlic, smashed (optional)
  1. In a non-reactive pot bring enough vinegar to fill your bottle to a simmer, being careful to not boil.
  2. While vinegar is heating, set aside enough peppers to fill the bottle. You may remove the stems if you prefer, but it's not necessary.
  3. Using a knife, make a small slit in each of the peppers. This slit allows the vinegar to more easily penetrate the peppers and soak up it's goodness.
  4. Stuff all of the peppers into the empty glass bottle. If using the garlic and peppercorns, smash the garlic cloves and add those along with the peppercorns.
  5. Fill the bottle with the heated vinegar
  1. Because of its acidic nature it is not necessary to refrigerate. Garlic and black peppercorns are natural additions. Feel free to experiment with adding other dried spices, or just keep it simple.
  2. When the vinegar gets low top it off with more. Pepper sauce will last indefinitely.
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19 Responses to “Southern Pepper Sauce”

  1. Anne March 12, 2014 at 12:48 pm #

    Yum… thanks for the recipe. Will be using homegrown Hawaiian chili peppers.

  2. Wendy Brunson May 17, 2014 at 3:53 pm #

    I remember my sister asking someone how to make this years ago. The reply was “It’s really hard. You put peppers and vinegar in a jar.” Thanks for confirming that it’s just that simple AND adding a couple of great suggestions!

  3. Wendy Brunson May 17, 2014 at 3:54 pm #

    P.S. My mama says “peppa”. :)

    • Kyle Hildebrant May 17, 2014 at 4:28 pm #

      Glad to be able to confirm it’s simplicity. And your momma sounds like my kinda’ lady. Thanks for the feedback!

  4. Denise June 27, 2014 at 9:17 am #

    yep, “peppa” sauce is a staple down here in southwest georgia! i made several bottles last summer with my husband’s abundant pepper crop but it’s not hot! wonder what might cause that? especially since the raw peppers would lift the hair off your head. my grandmother used to make pepper sauce using tiny ornamental peppers that were blazing hot. any thoughts you have will be appreciated.

    • Kyle Hildebrant July 1, 2014 at 10:42 am #

      Thanks for the comment, Denise. Peppers are often inconsistent in heat. This is one of the reasons chefs always stress tasting your peppers before you add them. But as to why that heat would subside in the vinegar, I have no idea. That doesn’t seem feasible. Vinegar will tame the heat a bit, and if you cooked it, that can also tame the heat a little, but going from very hot to not seems unlikely. Sorry, no idea.

  5. Pam July 24, 2014 at 8:38 am #

    I was so excited to find your recipe :) I’m from Florida and we LIVED on this stuff. I put in on beans and greens and spinach. Now that I’m pregnant, meat disgusts me so I’ve been trying to plan things that are higher in proteins, but I’ve been so bummed not to be able to find this sauce. We live in Virginia now and they don’t know what they’re missing :) Unfortunately I couldn’t find any tobacco peppers, but I still went for it and made some with red finger peppers. I will be bringing some tobascos home as soon as I find them or the next time I visit Florida :)

    • Kyle Hildebrant July 25, 2014 at 2:51 pm #

      I’m happy to hear that, Pam. It’s pretty hard for me to have any sort of beans, hot or cold, without it. Any small pepper will do. It’s all a matter of heat and flavor preference. Tabasco peppers are pretty hard to get ahold of here on the West coast too.

  6. Pat Adams July 27, 2014 at 11:39 am #

    So simple! Can you add other veggies yo this?

    • Kyle Hildebrant July 28, 2014 at 11:24 am #

      It is! You could, I don’t know to what benefit that would be. You’d simply pickle you veg and would probably not impart a lot of flavor. I guess it would really depend upon what you are adding.

  7. Noel August 7, 2014 at 6:23 pm #

    I’m from GA and my mama always added little slivers of carrot to hers. Don’t know if that made it so good or if it was just cause it was mama’s cooking. Hope that helps, Pat. Thanks, Kyle, for a great read and recipe.

    • Kyle Hildebrant August 8, 2014 at 10:31 am #

      Noel, that makes sense. Carrots and peppers are a natural combination in pickles. I’d be interested in tasting the sauce difference and seeing if they actually impart any of their flavor. They’re certainly good eaten when pickled that way. THanks for taking the time to share.

  8. Pat C Adams August 8, 2014 at 6:14 am #

    Thanks for that tip! I have 3 containers of Peppa Sauce already….2 in little decorative bottles I bought at Michaels….we only have two pepper plants!

  9. Kyle Moseley August 8, 2014 at 10:04 am #

    I started a quest today and picked 2 1/2 gallons of peppers from the garden. Imagine my surprise to find Mr. Hildebrant’s suggestion at the top of my search. Thanks for bringing me back to simple pepper sauce because I was working way too hard. Of course I do have high hopes for my jalapeño slices in a modified bread and butter quick pickle brine.

    • Kyle Hildebrant August 8, 2014 at 10:29 am #

      Kyle! great to hear from you. I hope all is well. Glad to hear that I came up first. As for peppers, 2 1/2 gallons is quite a hall. Nice work. I’ve tried, but I have little success growing peppers here in the NW. I’ve got two small bushes, but rarely get more than a handful of peppers. As for jalapeños, I’ve been making lacto-fermented jalapeños like crazy lately. There’s done in a week. Here’s what I would suggest: a 5% brine. Easiest way to calculate is by weighing. So put a jar on a kitchen scale. Weigh out 1kg of water, zero the scale, then add 5% of that weight in salt (5% of 1,000 is 50g). I like to add coriander seeds, as they go perfectly with jalapeños. Put jalapeños and coriander seeds in jar, then cover with your brine. You will have naturally fermented (pickled) jalapeños in a matter of days. You should try it. I bet you like them much better than the vinegar pickled variety. Hope to see you around here more often.

  10. willie forehand August 9, 2014 at 8:15 am #

    ju st made my first batch of pepper vinegar thanks for telling me the instructions ,all we now is collards and mess of turnips

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