I can handle the regular hot stuff. For years I ate fiery green and red chilis in New Mexico, where a TV reporter, Lilia Chacon, once declared, "Pain is a flavor." After a stint in Belize, I added the original habanero sauce, Marie Sharp's, to the small hot sauce library in my refrigerator door.
Habaneros are just hot enough for me, so when I spotted iBurn, the new hot sauce emporium on Bellaire Blvd., next to Little Woodrow's and the railroad tracks, I stopped in to find a new flavor, rather than to amp up my dosage of capsaicin, the component responsible for that pleasant chili buzz.
It was definitely the right place. Owners James Wreck, Amy Beck, and Duane Langshaw have a shop that's the best of fiery food shows, founded on their years of experience with the Eat More Heat website, and their new spinoff, iBurn.com. "There's anywhere from 2,500 to 5,000 fiery-food purveyors," said Wreck. "I've tried over 2,000 of them, and we've picked the products we found to be the best."
iBurn has 800 hot sauces, BBQ rubs, condiments, salsas, Bloody Mary mixes, and snacks. A few are grocery store sauces -- at grocery store prices, remarkably -- but most of the selections can be found only here or online, with names like Da Bomb, I Dare Ya Stupit, and Volcanic, and the chili peppers are from every region of Hell. Given that chilis work some of the same nerve receptors that heroin does, there are a lot of potential food-related highs in iBurn.
There's also an adults-only section in the store, behind a beaded curtain, and a waiver must be signed to enter it. This is no gimmick -- the hot sauces inside measure a million or more Scoville Heat Units (the measurement of a pepper's hotness, with the hottest jalapeno being 8,000 SHU), perfect for the imagination of a teenage prankster.
I'm usually eager to find new peppers, but during my recent visit to iBurn I wanted to perk up my usual supermarket fire of Frank's Redhot, Sriracha, Marie Sharp's, and Cholula, so I asked Wreck for his recommendation. "Tabanero is by far our biggest seller," he said. Indeed, he had just restocked a huge shelf of it, which had sold out quickly.
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I was hoping to sample it first, but iBurn is awaiting city approval to be allowed to conduct tastings. Maybe it's better that way, because you can ask Wreck what you are looking for and why, and he'll steer you to just the chili and flavor and heat you are seeking.
I bought a 8-ounce bottle of the stuff for only $6.00 and took it home to taste. The heat is perfect -- hotter than Tabasco or Frank's, but not as hot as habanero sauces. Whereas Tabasco is 90 percent vinegar, Tabanero includes key lime juice, which adds tartness, agave for sweetness, and grapefruit seed extract for heft. It was delicious on breakfast tacos and on a hot dog. I even poured some on a spoon and tried it straight. Tabanero is indeed a new classic condiment.
Wreck boldly predicted that Tabanero will someday overtake Tabasco as the favorite fiery sauce. Langshaw said it's a gateway product, and told me that I would be back to iBurn for hotter stuff. What I can say for certain is Tabanero is good enough to drink straight from the bottle.