There is nothing quite like the combination of spicy and sweet. You can transform even the most basic dish with the addition of those two elements. And in recent years, we have found the perfect, simple conduit: hot honey. That burst of natural sweetness combined with the sting of the pepper seems to work in almost any context. It can lighten up heavier items like pizza or fried chicken or serve as a sweet kick in a dessert or cocktail.
Hot honey’s popularity began in the early 2000s when Mike Kurtz came across a pizzeria in Brazil that offered jars of honey with submerged peppers. He started making his own version, and by 2010, he was working at famous New York City pizzeria Paulie Gee’s and bottling his hot honey wares as Mike’s Hot Honey.
The next decade saw a precipitous rise in the usage of hot honey, from an expanding roster of pizzerias, bars, restaurants and ice cream shops. Other brands also got into the hot honey game and now anyone across the country can buy the original (or extra hot) Mike’s or other New York brands like Bushwick Kitchen’s Bees Knees, which comes in additional flavors like salted honey and lemon honey. Since hot honey is so popular on biscuits and fried chicken, Southern brands have also gotten into the game, like Charleston’s Red Clay Hot Sauce, which makes a "hot" and "hot hot" version.
Hot honey is a deceptively simple product: It is typically just honey, spicy peppers and a bit of vinegar. The allegiance to one brand or the other has to do with both honey and peppers having a lot of specificity in their terroir. The place and way a honey is produced, and the specific breed of pepper, can create meaningful differences in the flavor profile of a particular hot honey. It’s why each brand that pops up has its own unique following, just like the devotion to the myriad local hot sauces we have seen crop up in recent years.
But that also makes hot honey incredibly easy to make at home. You certainly can infuse peppers into your honey, but the simplest way to go about it is to find a honey that you love and combine it with a hot sauce you love. It’s that straightforward. You can make an inexpensive version with your basic grocery store honey and hot sauce, or you can scour your local farmers market for an artisanal honey to match with your small-batch hot sauce that you can’t live without. You could add a dash of vinegar. You could add a bit of salt. You could use sriracha or gochujang to add even more flavor.
But the basic recipe itself is just a two-ingredient wonder. For every 1/4 cup of honey, add at least two teaspoons of hot sauce. Stir it up and you have some hot honey of your very own. Use it all up in the moment or pour it into a bottle — I am partial to using the last teaspoons of my hot sauce by adding honey into the bottle and then I have the perfect bottle ready to go for my hot honey.
Then, the sky's the limit on how you use it. Add it to a vinaigrette to give a bit of zing to your boring salad. Combine it with a barbecue sauce and pour it on your favorite meats. Put a little bit in your coffee or iced tea to put even more of a pep in your step. Drizzle it into your bread before you make grilled cheese. Toss some root vegetables in it before roasting. Add it as a spicy condiment for a cheese plate. Replace your syrup with it on French toast or pancakes. Pour it over granola or ice cream to have it at any hour of the day or night.
But while hot honey can elevate almost anything, there one item stands above them all: fried chicken. We have long loved the sweet-and-savory fried chicken-and-waffles combo, and hot chicken is a Southern staple. By using hot honey, you can get the absolute best of both worlds.
So, make your own hot honey and combine it with its perfect match — you’ll never eat fried chicken without that delectable drizzle again.