Plus, how to make your own liquid gold.

By Kelsey Ogletree
June 22, 2020
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There’s a lot to love about hot honey. After all, whose palate doesn’t salivate over the combination of sweet and spicy? This up-and-coming condiment making its way into pantries around the country can be served with just about anything, from pizza and fried chicken to seafood, grilled vegetables and even desserts. With its powerful flavor punch and versatility, it’s about to become your new favorite ingredient.

A few excellent brands on the market—Mike’s Hot Honey or Red Clay Barrel-Aged Hot Honey, for example—are easy to order online, but it’s also simple to infuse your own regular honey with a little heat at home. You can use whatever peppers you like, dried or fresh, says Chris Riley, a culinary expert and co-founder of The Daring Kitchen based in Rogers, Arkansas. To do it, add honey and chopped peppers (he recommends using at least two types for more complexity, such as fresh habaneros and dried Thai chilis) to a small saucepan; let it simmer for about 5 minutes to infuse flavor and spice, then remove from heat and let cool. You can leave the chopped peppers in the honey or strain them out using a fine mesh sieve.

Then, it’s time to get creative. Besides injecting flavor, hot honey can add great texture to your cooking as well. For example, it tends to make everything stick together better, from marinades to salad dressings, says Chef Gabrielle Watson of Honey River Catering in Columbia, S.C. Take note of these ideas from chefs to put your hot honey to the test.

Add it to pimento cheese.

Create a twist on the South’s signature snack by swirling a little hot honey into pimento cheese. Watson says this is a sure-fire way to make your dish the hit of any party this summer. “[Hot honey] goes well with the nuttiness of the cheddar, and a touch of heat that comes from the chilies adds to the smokiness of the chipotles in the pimento cheese recipe,” she adds.

To make her version, mix 1 pound extra-sharp shredded cheddar cheese, ½ cup Duke’s Mayo, 1/3 cup diced pimentos, 1 canned chipotle plus 1 tablespoon of its adobo sauce, 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard, and 1 tablespoon each of garlic powder, onion powder and coarse-ground black pepper. Once it’s come together, drizzle hot honey over the top and dig in.

Dress any salad.

Chef Joshua Smith, director of culinary innovation at New England fresh convenience market Alltown Fresh, says he has an obsession with hot honey. “It brings a nice balance of sweetness and heat—especially when you add in lemon or lime, which I like to do frequently as it really completes the package and you don’t need to add in much more.” Case in point: his chili-lime salad vinaigrette. This recipe works well for all green and grain salads, as well as for potato salad. Smith has even used it as a marinade for grilling chicken or pork.

To make it, combine 1 cup lime juice, ½ cup white vinegar, ¼ cup hot honey, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, 2 tablespoons Aleppo pepper and ¼ cup diced shallots in a blender on high for 1 minute. Add 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard and blend on low for 30 seconds, then slowly add in 2 cups of grapeseed oil (with the blender still running) until it’s fully emulsified.

Make an easy appetizer.

Shane Nasby, owner and pitmaster behind HoneyFire BBQ in Nashville, incorporates his own Habanero Honey into several items on the menu—including a spicy margarita, a pulled-pork sandwich and his famous Honey Hot Block appetizer. “As you can tell from our restaurant’s name, we love the way sweet and heat work together,” he says. “A little drizzle of hot honey over a dish adds a kick that we can’t get enough of.” To make an easy version of the app at home, simply let a brick of cream cheese come to room temperature, then top with hot honey and candied bacon and serve with buttery crackers. (A cool margarita to wash it down wouldn’t hurt.)

 Drizzle it over cornbread.

Is there any combination more perfect? Dan Jackson, culinary director at Fields Good Chicken in New York City, says he loves using hot honey to elevate simple dishes, such as cornbread. “It adds nuanced flavors that bring it to the next level,” he adds. Don’t be shy—pour it on thick (and maybe add a little butter, too).

Shake it up in a cocktail.

Who says food gets to have all the fun? Barman Jarrett Holborough keeps a bottle of hot honey at the ready at 12 Cocktail Bar at Ponce City Market in Atlanta for shaking up all kinds of cocktails. “The combination of sweet and spice creates an addictive feeling on the palate that leaves people thirsty for another sip,” he says. “The best part about hot honey is the progression of flavors: immediate floral sweetness followed by a slow but inviting burn.” He uses hot honey in an array of drinks, from whiskey sours to daiquiris, but one of his favorites is a simple cocktail called Jack + Hot Honey.

To make it, first whip up a batch of hot honey simple syrup (equal parts hot honey and water). Then shake together 1 ounce of the syrup with 2 ounces Jack Daniels rye whiskey, 1 ounce lemon juice, and ½ ounce each of pineapple juice and almond milk. Strain into a glass over a large ice cube. It’s a nutty, tropical, sweet and spicy drink, Holborough says.

One thing to keep in mind when using hot honey in cocktails is to understand the level of heat that it will bring to your concoction, says Emmanuel West, restaurant manager at The Ivy Hotel in Baltimore. “With all the chili peppers available on the market and their range of Scoville heat units, going in blind can lead to some 'uncomfortable' results,” he says. West likes using hot honey in Mezcal cocktails, taking care to balance both the smokiness and heat level as to not overwhelm the other aspects of the drink.

Smother vegetables in it.

While hot honey goes well with any grilled or roasted veggie, it’s especially tasty with one cruciferous vegetable in particular, says Samantha Foxx, beekeeper behind Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Mother’s Finest Urban Farms, which sells an incredible Jamaican Scotch Bonnet-infused honey. “I love it drizzled on Brussel sprouts with pancetta, and if I can find the whole stalk of Brussel sprouts, I like to grill it first and then glaze it with the Scotch Bonnet honey,” she says. (Also amazing: using her honey as a dipping sauce for pizza crust, or swirling into a cup of tea!)

Pair it with chicken.

Brian Jupiter, executive chef at Ina Mae Tavern & Packaged Goods in Chicago, is a huge fan of using hot honey to elevate a classic Southern dish at his New Orleans-inspired restaurant. “Fried chicken is really rich, so the sweet heat compliments it well,” he explains. He makes his own spicy honey in-house using habanero powder, salt and butter extract, which gives it a decadent, buttery finish (without making it perishable, as adding real butter would). Pour a little hot honey on top of your own fried chicken at home when it’s piping hot, as it allows it to soak into the crispy coating.

Flavor a stir-fry.

Chef Aaron Bedard of Stephanie Inn and Dining Room in Cannon Beach, Oregon, suggests getting a stir fry going using your protein and vegetables of choice (like this one, for example). Then, he adds soy sauce, zest of one orange and a heavy drizzle of hot honey—adding another layer of spice to the dish to hit the sweet, savory and spicy spots on your palate. (FYI: His hot honey of choice is this one by Jacobsen Salt Co. out of Portland, Oregon.)

Liven up granola.

You can add a new layer of complexity to your favorite honey-sweetened granola recipe by using hot honey in place of regular honey, says Chef Geoff Rhyne, creator of Charleston, S.C-based Red Clay Hot Sauce. Now’s not the time to go for the habanero spice, however; a subtly heated variety of the sticky stuff will work best here. It’s a perfect combo with plain or vanilla Greek yogurt as a snack.

Enjoy it for dessert.

Jackson says hot honey is also delicious over vanilla ice cream. It might sound odd, but we’re pretty sure this is a must-try. Brownies and hot honey also make a delicious duo, says Riley. “Just drizzle some over your favorite brownies and you’ll never go back [to brownies without it],” he says. Why not get crazy and make a brownie ice cream sundae covered in hot honey? You heard it here first.