Friday, July 16, 2010

Top Ten Tools for Keeping Southern - 4. Texas Pete

Thus continues a somewhat regular series in ten parts highlighting some of the basic accoutrements of keeping Southern.

There’s hot sauce, and then there’s Texas Pete.

Hot sauce should be about more than heat. It should be about flavor, and Chicago-land is finally learning that when it comes to flavor, Texas Pete is king. Like Texas itself, the goodness comes from further east* – Texas Pete has been made by the Garner family in Winston-Salem, North Carolina for generations. I am delighted that I no longer need my folks to bring a quart of it when they visit. You can now find it at Ultra Foods, Wal-mart Superstores, and the previously lauded Fresh Market. I even got a cute little sample bottle from a Texas Pete booth at the Taste of Chicago on the Fourth!

Like so much that's good about the South, Texas Pete is about keeping it simple, taking your time, and getting it just right. The ingredients are simple: peppers, vinegar, and salt. But the pepper mash is aged for up to three years, and the result is a delicious balance of flavor and heat that enhances rather than overpowering food. The Garner family still makes Texas Pete on the old homestead on Indiana Avenue (originally named for Garner kin in Indiana). We lived on Marvin Boulevard, just off Indiana Avenue when I was born, and we passed the factory most every day.

It's no surprise I discovered Texas Pete as a baby - there's a bottle on every restaurant table in North Carolina. As Mama tells it, I saw a bottle on the table at a restaurant and wouldn’t stop begging for it. So she finally put a couple of drops on a spoon and gave it to me. (Trust me, that wasn’t cruel – I was just that stubborn.) I promptly grabbed daddy’s glass of iced tea (which I hated until well into adulthood) and downed half of it. I came back up for air panting “More! More!” and have been enjoying Texas Pete ever since.

*Update - Mama corrected my version this weekend and informed me that it was actually Daddy who got tired of my begging and gave me a spoon with "more than a few drops" on it. Bless him! :)

Texas Pete is just plain good. Good in eggs, good in cheese grits, good on about anything. It makes the ultimate buffalo wings (they have a buffalo wing sauce, but for really great wings, go with the original Texas Pete). And I’ve recently learned that the best fried-chicken should be dipped in Texas Pete before being dredged in flour and fried. 

I’ve long thought that there’s not much of anything you can’t manage to eat if you put enough Texas Pete on it. Which means you might just want to take a bottle with you when you go...well, pretty much anywhere. Texas Pete is keeping Southern all over.

* Texas was founded by Tennessee. Sam Houston, Davy Crockett…they call Tennessee “the Volunteer State” because we volunteered to go found Texas, among other things.


  1. I've never had Texas Pete, but I've lived in the Texas heat. This sweltering summer in Chicago has reminded me of those days. But you've reminded me of cheese grits again. I think that I'm going to make an effort to cook some up this weekend. I'll make sure to add the Texas Pete.

  2. Cheese grits! Yum! I'm glad I inspired that, Mark!