Hot honey is the buzz-worthy condiment that adds spicy-sweet appeal to all sorts of sweet and savory dishes. It’s easy to make at home—and cheaper than store-bought—and is a great gift!
Traditionally used over fried chicken and biscuits in the south and more recently to flavor the likes of gourmet pizzas and fancy cocktails in trendy restaurants, hot honey has become quite popular.
The spicy-sweet condiment will also add nuanced flavor to so many simple things we make at home, from roasted winter squash and Brussels sprouts to cornbread and pulled pork. Though a finishing drizzle is customary, hot honey can also replace the honey within the main framework of the recipe. (Think granola, Southern with a Twist Cornbread, marinades, and vinaigrettes.)
Mike’s Hot Honey is the most popular store-bought brand, but a bottle can run you upwards of 10 dollars, and it’s easy to make at home. The do-it-yourself approach offers two additional benefits as well.
First, you can make as little or as much as you’d like. Maybe you prefer a small amount for occasional use as a condiment. Alternatively, a bigger batch may be in order if you’d like to give it as a gift or use in general cooking and baking. Conveniently, the condiment will keep for six months or more.
Additionally, making your own hot honey allows you to increase or decrease the level of spiciness as desired. Personal tastes vary widely in this department, so you may wish to prepare a smaller batch the first time around and then adjust future batches to taste.
The following recipe closely mimics the popular store-bought brand, yet there will be some degree of variance based on the precise size the of the peppers used, if you choose a different variety of hot pepper than specified (which is absolutely fine, but remember there’s a wide range of heat!), or whether you choose dried hot pepper over fresh.
The use of vinegar may seem strange, but it is, in fact, an ingredient in store-bought brands like Mike’s Hot Honey. Its purpose is twofold: the tangy flavor subtly balances the sweetness of the honey, and it thins the honey ever so slightly, making it a touch easier to drizzle in a thin stream.
Though not an ingredient in Mike’s, I’ve found that a touch of sea salt (you could substitute kosher or a touch less table salt) further balances and develops the flavor. While the amount specified is small, you could omit it if watching sodium intake.
What if I end up with a too spicy outcome?
Happily, if the spice level is too hot for your liking, you may adjust with additional plain honey.
What if my hot honey isn’t spicy enough for me?
The perception of spiciness will increase as the honey cools, but if the finished product is too tame for your liking, simply add a pinch or two of crushed red pepper. Though I typically strain out the peppers for a clear end result (and for prolonged freshness when using fresh peppers), the dried flakes may remain in the honey and will infuse it over time. This will happen more slowly with cooled honey, but you may gently warm it to expedite the process. You could even repeat the original process with additional fresh peppers.
Which variety of chili pepper works best?
I like red Fresno peppers, which are similar in shape and size to jalapeño peppers. The Fresno peppers, however, have a fruitier, smokier taste and they are somewhat spicier. For reference as you read on, Fresnos measure from 2,500 to 10,000 Scoville Heat Units.
As a side note, I find that green peppers have a more vegetal taste (some say bitter or grassy) than their red counterparts, so I prefer the latter for the hot honey. Think of the underlying sweetness of a red bell pepper compared to a green one. The former is sweeter and fruitier, and despite the added element of heat, these characteristics hold true with hot red and green peppers as well.
If you can’t find Fresnos, following are some other options:
- Cayenne peppers have a flavor and structure (thin “walls”) similar to Fresnos but carry more intense heat. They have a Scoville rating of 30,000 to 50,000 heat units, which puts them between serrano peppers and Thai peppers.
- Thai peppers taste slightly fruity and have a spiciness that ranges from 50,000 to 100,000 Scoville Heat Units.
- Not to overthink it, the basic red chilies from the grocery store are what I generally buy, and they work well. And if you’re using a pepper further up the Scoville scale and are concerned about too much heat, simply adjust the number used accordingly.
How do I substitute red pepper flakes for whole hot peppers?
As a general rule, for a similar level of heat, plan to use ½ to ¾ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes in place of 1 fresh red chili pepper. You could also make a one-for-one substitution with whole dried chili peppers and fresh.
How long will the hot honey keep?
Stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place, the hot honey will keep for 6 months or more. If crystallization occurs, simply warm the honey to dissolve the crystals.
More ways to enjoy hot honey:
- Use in a vinaigrette, on fried chicken, roasted winter squash or as a finishing touch on butternut squash soup, sweet potatoes (baked, roasted, and fried!), on pizza (like this Brussels sprouts and prosciutto gem), Easy Cheesy Pepper Poppers, and anything that may benefit from a sweet and spicy kick.
- Drizzle it over cornbread or use it in place of regular honey (or maple syrup) in your favorite granola recipe.
- Air fryer or oven roasted sweet potato fries (new recipe coming soon!)
- Brussels sprouts
- Greek yogurt
- Vanilla ice cream
- Pumpkin Spice Roasted Delicata Squash
Because I often use maple syrup in my baking, it occurred to me that it would be worth making this recipe with maple syrup. “Hot maple syrup” may not have the same catchy alliteration as hot honey, but that doesn’t matter if it tastes good, right? If you try before I do, please report back!