The Saucy Side of David Ortiz

Big Papi En Fuego Hot Sauce

Big Papi En Fuego Hot Sauce

I Paid: $10.99 for a sampler pack of four 2-ounce bottles (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 4 stars

Marketing: 3 stars

You don’t have to be a Bostonian to get excited about a hot sauce featuring five-time All Star David “Big Papi” Ortiz kissing his own vertically displayed smoking baseball bat, but presumably it helps. The titanically successful Red Sock has launched his own vanity line of hot sauces, the thinking being (I would guess) that Americans love hot sauces and, in the insanely crowded market for these shelf-stable, giftable food items, having a big name gives you an edge.

Although Big Papi hot sauce boasts about being en fuego, it’s more sort of moderately spicy-o. Disappointing for the millions of heat-addicted, bhut-jolokia-licking morons out there, but a welcome decision for those of us who like hot sauce to accentuate and complement rather than stomp all over our food. One thing can be said with certainty: The sauces step up in heat perceptibly and accurately. On a 1-to-10 scale of hotness, the Original variety charts about a 3, Monster Double is a 4 or 5, Off the Wall Triple is closer to a 6, and Grand Slam is a solid 7, with a sting of real heat, a lingering burn, but nothing a seasoned Thai, Indian, or Tex-Mex food eater can’t weather without complaint.

In no case does the heat completely overpower the flavor, but the same can’t be said of the garlic; in Monster Double it’s strong enough that if you splashed some on a toasted baguette you’d have an instantly respectable loaf of garlic bread. Original has a cane sugar– and carrot-imparted sweetness that might play well with shrimp or crab. The Triple is aggressively peppery and vinegar-loaded, a tough, sour customer as far as hot sauces go; it could hold its head high in a potato, bacon, and egg breakfast scramble. And the multipepper roar of Off the Wall would work nicely as a backnote to chili or red sauce.

The bottle’s hype suggests that it’s “not just a hot sauce, it’s a lifestyle. En Fuego goes with everything from food to drinks to cooking ingredient—it’s a way of life.” Overstated, but not ridiculous: One or more of these sauces could easily do double duty in a Bloody Mary or other spice-assisted libation, but great works of hot sauce art these are not. Each one makes a fairly conventional and straightforward statement, which means the line as a whole works well. Big Papi has not shamed himself or his fans.

James Norton edits the Upper Midwestern food journal Heavy Table. He's also the coauthor of a book on Wisconsin's master cheesemakers. Follow CHOW on Twitter, and become a fan on Facebook.