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.

Variations

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
Ingredients
  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)
Instructions
  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
Notes
  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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45 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.

    • Kyle Hildebrant March 13, 2014 at 3:45 pm #

      That sounds excellent, Anne.

    • Wheelchair Bob September 14, 2014 at 11:14 pm #

      You can use a bottle of Trappeys hot chili pepper sauce to get it all started. I used to use the 4.5 Oz bottle on the dining room table, now I just fill a Qt. mason jar snugly packed with various chilies like Tabasco, Thai hot and pequin and fill to the top with simmered rice wine vinegar. The rice wine vinegar or Mirin is a bit milder than regular distilled white vinegar and adds depth and sophistication to your final flavor. It doesn’t just hit your palate and burn away on your tongue. Nor is it excessively hot or have a long life span on your tongue. You can get fruity , citrusy, garlicky and creamy all in one jar. And I use about an 8 to 1 ratio of peppers to crushed cloves of fresh garlic. When the peppers are ready to retire after several vinegar changes, I just eat them straight out of the jar or on my favorite comfort food, Chicago Dogs!!!! Even the garlic has mellowed and is also quite tasty too.

      • Kyle Hildebrant September 16, 2014 at 7:18 pm #

        Mmm… Chicago dogs. One of my absolute favorite things in life.

  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.

      • Wheelchair Bob September 14, 2014 at 4:29 pm #

        After several vinegar changes over about a year the peppers lose most of their fire, So I just use the peppers to add to hot dogs or just eat them out of the jar and replace them with fresh peppers and fresh hot (but not boiling) rice wine vinegar and start over. The chilies are delicious straight out of the jar or on a good ole sausage dog. I have three bottles of pepper sauce I rotate so that I always have a supply of eatin peppers as well as enough sauce to season a 10 gallon pot of greens or peanuts. There’s no red in the peanuts, but the flavor is great!!!! and I can re-use the jar to start a new batch immediately!!!!! There is nothing like having a bottle of hot pepper sauce on the dining room table all the time. Just be careful because it will strip the finish off of an Oak tabletop in no time at all……..Don’t ask me how I know, but the table did get refinished and coated with polyurethane…

  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.

    • Wheelchair Bob September 14, 2014 at 4:35 pm #

      Pam, Thai hot chili’s also work very nicely and taste just the same as Tabasco. My tabasco plants failed this year or I would send you a big ole bunch and enough seed to keep you growing your own forever. I grow my own peppers for sauce every year.

  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.

      • Linda Lewis September 7, 2014 at 5:50 pm #

        Love this too! Thanks for the tips.

  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

  11. Nancy August 24, 2014 at 6:37 am #

    Hi or, as we say here in the south, Hey,
    My pepper plants – Dragon and Tabasco – are really slow producing this year, this morning only three little peppers. What is the best way to preserve them while waiting for more to ripen? Can I prepare my vinegar and add peppers as they ripen? In the past I have had plenty of peppers to make the sauce in batches but this year the garden is playing by its own rules ;) The Jalapeno and Cayenne peppers are doing great though and I have been dehydrating them for crushing and powdering. Glad that I found your site!

    • Kyle Hildebrant August 24, 2014 at 10:20 am #

      Hey, Nancy. I can totally add them as they ripen. The vinegar essentially pickles the peppers, so they will last a long time (a year or more) in the vinegar. Just add them as you go. I’m in the Northwest and I just cannot seem to get peppers to grow.

    • Wheelchair Bob September 14, 2014 at 5:02 pm #

      Just toss em into the vinegar and keep adding peppers till you fill the jar with a snug pack. I re-use 1 qt mayonnaise and dill pickle slice jars to make my sauce in.

  12. Owen August 24, 2014 at 10:03 am #

    Hi Kyle,
    Great site!
    Any concerns with peppers sticking out of the vinegar at the top of the bottle?

    Also, moar posts plz!

    • Kyle Hildebrant August 24, 2014 at 10:22 am #

      Thanks, Owen. I appreciate that. No concerns with them breaking the surface. In most ferments this would be an issue, but because peppers are so acidic and they are in an acidic bath (the vinegar), it’s pretty difficult for any spoilage bacteria or mold to grow on them. As for more posts, I just posted a primer for cooking sous vide this morning. Lot’s more queued up! Thanks for commenting.

      • Michael Williamson August 25, 2014 at 8:15 am #

        I made some peppa vinegar last night, but didn’t see this recipe until this morning. I did NOT heat the vinegar, or slice the peppers. Do either of these steps do anything more than speed up the process of the vinegar taking on the pepper’s flavor?

        Thanks!

        • Kyle Hildebrant August 26, 2014 at 3:28 pm #

          Michael, You’re fine. No harm there. It will likely take longer for the flavor of your sauce to develop. Slicing the peppers will allow them to distribute more flavor into the vinegar quicker and more fully. Heating speeds up this process too.

      • Owen August 26, 2014 at 6:57 pm #

        Went with rice wine vinegar, Thai chilis, garlic, and coriander!

  13. DDtidwell August 26, 2014 at 2:46 pm #

    I am convinced that southerners are smarter cooks. It took me forever to find this site. I add a little sugar and umh….it is so good. Are we(southern cooks) the only ones who eat turnip greens and hot sauce. My husband puts mayonnaise on his with cornbread. Dpn’t knock it until you try it. He also makes turnip green sandwiches with mayonnaise. The mayonnaise, ofcourse, adds calories!

    • Kyle Hildebrant August 26, 2014 at 3:30 pm #

      Well, I can’t argue with you there. I love good, true, Southern food. Turnip greens are great. As are beet green and so many other greens that many often discard. And as for mayonnaise, even I, as a Northwesterner, know that Duke’s is the gold standard.

  14. Michael Williamson August 26, 2014 at 3:39 pm #

    Thanks Kyle!

  15. Brian August 29, 2014 at 7:11 pm #

    I’m from NC and my dad has several bottles of hot vinegar that are old enough to vote. I make mine with small red and greens i grow myself, in apple cider and salt. No heating, just stuff and pickle.

    • Kyle Hildebrant August 29, 2014 at 7:12 pm #

      Nice. Heating not totally necessary, but it does speed up the process of infusion.

      • Brian August 30, 2014 at 7:56 am #

        Really? See i always thought heating the vinegar messed up the acid levels.

        I forgot to mention: I prefer to put my sauce in old soy sauce bottles, since they already have that nice stopper in the top. Keeps the peppers in, lets the vinegar flow.

        • Brian August 30, 2014 at 9:14 am #

          One last southern thing: during summer at the dinner table we usually have a bowl of fresh sliced cucumbers. In white vinegar, a little salt and pepper. They’re not pickled, just maybe an hour or two in the mix.

  16. JonPope August 30, 2014 at 10:08 am #

    Hey Kyle. I remember those bottles on every table when I worked in Lake Charles LA 30 years ago. Great stuff. Just made my first batch using my over-abundance of Serrano and Guatemalan peppers from our CASE shares. Half liter of vinegar plus the peppers just fit into my 700 ml rum bottle. However the neck of the bottle was too narrow for the Serrano so I quartered them lengthwise. Also, an hour after bottling the green ones are fading in color, though the red ones look great. Can’t wait to try it out though, smells great!

  17. Nancy August 30, 2014 at 12:00 pm #

    Thanks for the recipe Kyle! My husband got a tabasco pepper plant for his garden by mistake and you talk about producing! We had no idea what to use them for. Found neat vinegar bottles at the Dollar Tree. The peppa sauce comes out a little fast, but I used pliers and squeezed the straws in the cap and that helps. We will be sharing with all our friends. Oh yeah…they make my hands burn…my next buy will be food prep gloves at a kitchen store! :)

    • Nancy September 14, 2014 at 5:38 pm #

      Hey Nancy,
      I bought six of those neat vinegar bottles at my local Dollar Tree store and found, as you, that the sauce came out a little fast. Great idea to pinch the “straws in the cap”. They really are neat bottles. Currently using one for a delicious balsamic vinegar salad dressing! As for gloves, I purchased a humongous supply of Nitrile gloves (100 ct per box) at Amazon. I use them to cut peppers (oh my goodness, try removing contact lenses if you haven’t been protected- NO, don’t …you WILL never ever NOT use gloves again! The boxes have 100 count and I bought a huge case of them. The gloves are perfect for many kitchen chores, cutting up chicken, ground beef, etc. I am waiting for my Tabasco peppers to turn red. Have made jars of pepper sauce using Jalapeno Pepper, Dragon Pepper and Cayenne Pepper (separately) – interested if any taste difference using different peppers. Planted collards a couple of weeks ago…can’t wait to experience southern goodness!

  18. Eugene September 16, 2014 at 6:49 pm #

    Hi Kyle,
    Pepper vinegar was something that ALWAYS stayed on my grandma’s table. When I was a kid, cayenne peppers was the prevalent hot pepper here in southwest Georgia. I can still see those peppers in the decorative bottle on the table. Funny how something like that leaves an indelible impression on you.
    You say an old rum bottle is traditional, but rum comes in all sizes and shapes of bottles, right? Got to ask you, is the picture you used of the bottle featuring the pepper vinegar the same rum bottle that you mentioned in the blog? If so, where might I score a bottle like that one? Is it an antique? Thanks so much, your blog is excellent and I will try the garlic and peppercorns. Never heard of adding other ingredients besides the peppers and vinegar.

    • Kyle Hildebrant September 16, 2014 at 7:15 pm #

      Eugene — (Looks like you got the comment to work). Honestly, any old bottle is traditional. As for the one in the photo, it’s not vintage. I cannot recall the liquor, but I think it’s a Scotch bottle. There’s tons of cork-topper bottles like that for modern spirits. As other have mentioned, those bottles with the metal spouts are particularly nice too, as it makes dispensing an easier task.

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