Pepper-eating at the PDX Hot Sauce Expo

The country’s craft hot sauce movement is on fire, with a constant one-upmanship utilizing the hottest peppers in the world, from the former-glory Ghost pepper to the coveted Trinidad Scorpion to the royal Carolina Reaper. On August 17 and 18 at the OMSI Center, spice enthusiasts and reluctant newbies alike will converge at the Fourth Annual PDX Hot Sauce Expo for a weekend of fun, food, sweat, and, likely, tears–just remember to thoroughly clean hands before wiping them away. 

“Endorphin rush” is the unofficial theme of the weekend, with constant entertainment on the sweat-and-tear-soaked “Stage of Doom” and a local WWE-style wrestling show set to take place every other hour. “It's just an action-packed thrill ride,” says Expo founder Steve Seabury. "You're riding that roller coaster, hauling ass, about to hit the loop de loop; that’s what the whole weekend is about: adrenaline-pumping, 0-to-140 in 4 seconds." 

Sauce-slingers big and small from across the West Coast, including many Portland-based companies like Thrive Sauce Co. and Secret Aardvark, will be dishing out samples ranging from milder salsas to ulcer-inducing extracts. There will also be a fully stocked bar/recovery center, and a high-stakes cocktail competition; the winner will be flown to New York City to compete against the five boroughs' top mixologists.

“It's heat, entertainment, booze, and absolute pleasure–all the things you need for a true hedonistic society,” says Andrew Garrett, a private chef and founder of Portland sauce company NW Elixirs. Garrett is a PDX Hot Sauce Expo veteran who hauls his health-conscious hot sauces across the country to all the High Rivers Hot Sauce Expos. 

A beautiful chihuana 

The expo will feature more than 40 vendors from Vermont to California, including big-time Texans Bravado Spice and Yellowbird, as well as the world-famous PuckerButt Pepper Company, original purveyor of the world's certifiably hottest pepper, the Carolina Reaper. Pepperhead royalty Ed Currie, founder of PuckerButt and breeder of the world's hottest peppers, will be in attendance to sponsor the Guinness Book of World Records Carolina Reaper eating contest. The world record is 120 grams (about 22 peppers) eaten in 60 seconds followed by another 60-second “holding period.” 

“After that last 60 seconds, you can run as fast as you can to the bathroom,” Seabury says. “Don't think you're not tough for puking. This pepper is brutal, so get it out of your system.”

The Reaper contest is the world’s most extreme in both spice and reward ($1,000 goes to whomever can break the record), but there are other, less-dire eating competitions. Anything goes, from peppery pizza and sizzling sausages to "doughnuts of death," and the world's hottest chocolate bar, which promises another $1,000 prize for the winner and a matched donation to prostate cancer research.

Donations will also be made to a local pet- adoption center during the annual chihuahua beauty pageant, a dress-up-your-dog competition with a $150 prize decided by the crowd in attendance. Seabury says it’s a hilarious and often heated battle.

Gimmicks aside, Seabury (who is also the founder of High River Hot Sauces, the creators of Cheeba Gold, an award-winning curry-and-peach based hot sauce made famous on YouTube's hit challenge talk show, Hot Ones) compares the craft hot sauce movement to the Portland’s beloved craft beer movement. “I just want to show people that there is a world outside of their grocery store hot sauce.”

Tickets $7 in advance, $15 day-of, kids 10-and-under are free (one eating battle maximum per attendee). Visit pdxhotsauceexpo.com for details.

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