Saturday 21 May 2022

Make authentic Tabasco Sauce from the Original Recipe

This recipe is great fun and makes perfect fermented hot sauce, just like the original Mcllheny Tabasco Sauce

Tabasco Sauce Recipe 

The Original McIlheny method (1800's): 

Avery Island (trivia: the "island" is really a natural salt dome; originally all salt 
used in production came from natural salt digs in the area), where some of the peppers are grown, is the production site. Grind peppers. Add 1/2 cup kosher salt per gallon of ground peppers and allow salted mash to age in oak barrels. The barrels are topped with a thick layer of salt and allowed to ferment. The salt layer serves as a permeable barrier that allows gases to escape but allows no bacteria, fruit flies, etc. access to the mash. McIlheny allows them to age three years in these oak barrels. After ageing, the mash is pulled, checked for quality and, if OK, it is blended with white wine vinegar (they don't say how much) and aged some weeks more (another secret). Finally, the product is pulled, strained and the liquid bottled.  If you read the label of ingredients on a Tabasco sauce bottle, the only ingredients are Chilli Peppers, Vinegar, and Salt.  It is the ageing in the oak barrels that sets its flavour apart from any other hot sauce I have ever tried. 

Replicating this at home: 

Important Note: as you are going to need the liquid from the peppers, they must be fresh, fleshy and of the right state of ripeness. At Avery Island they still use the original "critique baton rouge", a red stick tinted to the exact colour of the peppers to be harvested.  Peppers not matching the "critique" are rejected. Old or over-dried peppers are the key to failure. One trick for garden peppers is picking them as they are just at the right stage (I've been doing this with super cayenne peppers), then popping them into freezer bags until I have enough to make a batch of sauce. 

You will want a ratio of approximately 30:1 mash to salt. 

Grind your peppers, seeds and all, in a fine pulp. You can use a food processor or blender to do this, but be careful, it gives off quite the equivalent of mild pepper spray, do it in a ventilated room.

Mix with salt and put into a demijohn or similar fermenting vessel. Have a look on ebay or go to a brewing shop for this 

Add enough sterile water so the whole puree is pourable. Place a fermentation lock (available from homebrew / wine making shops) on the demijohn or fermenting vessel. 

Use a Campden tablet (from same source as above) in the lock. This stops wild yeast or bacteria getting in and affecting the flavour.  Liquid will form. Allow to ferment until the mash stabilises (stops fermenting). 

place the jugs in a warm place. It may be 2-3 months or more before obvious fermentation begins. It is a very slow ferment. It will last a couple of months from this point.  

After fermentation is complete pour the mixture into a large glass bowl and add some white wine vinegar to taste. Try out different ratio's to your taste.

Once you have decided on a ratio, add the vinegar to the fermentation vessels if room allows, or transfer to larger vessels that have been sterilised. Allow to sit for another 2 weeks for the flavour to develop.

After the two weeks or so, run the mash through a Chinoise (conical sieve with a fine mesh), fine strainer, or, last resort, throw it all into a sterile bowl lined with cheesecloth, fold the cheesecloth up into a ball (like making cottage cheese) and twist & squeeze until the juice is extracted. 

Adjust for taste with salt. Bottle the juice in sterile bottles and keep in fridge. You might want to heat the sauce to pasteurize it.  You can also use a little potassium sorbate to preserve it (available from the same homebrew/wine making shop) in the concentration for wine. 

If there is a question as to whether the material has fermented, if the liquid that forms on top (with the pepper slurry settled out) is very red, then fermentation has occurred.  Otherwise the liquid on top will be very pale and almost colourless. 

Variables: Age of peppers. Variety. Water content. Consistency of ripeness.amount of vinegar and amount of salt. 

Win or lose, it's a lot of fun. The key is: Keep all your stuff clean and sanitised!  Enjoy the effort! 
Amaze and astound your friends with your own hot pepper sauce. If it doesn't beat Tabasco, sweat it not. It took Mr. McIlheny several years to perfect it.


  1. critique baton rouge???

    i think you meant to say they use a petit baton rouge, as in small red stick.

    1. No, I mean "critique baton rouge", as in a stick against which to critique (i.e undertake an analysis) of said peppers - it is a red stick tinted to the exact colour of the peppers to be harvested. Peppers not matching the "critique" are rejected.

  2. Hi,
    i've followed your instructions using demijohns and fermentation locks, but when i've opened both my 2 jars, the mixtures smells in a stale way. There wasn't mold above the mixtures and they have surely fermented in anaerobic conditions.

    Is it normal?
    I know that the original sauce is made with fermentation in oak barrels that transpire quite a bit. Maybe is it the problem?

    In the past i've done the Tabasco sauce adding winegar from the start and it never smelled this way.



    1. Once you add the vinegar the pepper smell will come out. Vinegar in the beginning will inhibit the fermentation. Also adding a few charred oak cubes (for making wine) will add some of that oak barrel taste

  3. Yes the fermentation is in anaerobic conditions. The fermentation process gives of CO2 gas. There is no oxygen present. The oak barrels do not transpire enough to make a difference. CO2 is heavier than oxygen and will push the oxygen up and out. Don't leave very much headspace.
    Don't wash your peppers before grinding. The bacteria that live on the peppers are what do the fermenting. If you use store bought peppers they may have been washed and sanitized. In which case you will need to add a starter culture.

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  5. So help me out here, what in this recipe prevents Clostridium botulinum from growing? By my calculations, this is a 3.57% salt by weight mixture with anaerobic conditions, and moderate acidity. Is that enough to prevent the bacteria from growing?