Without Frank's RedHot There'd Be No Buffalo Wings

By: Jeremy Glass  | 

Frank's RedHot
One of the most popular ways to eat Frank's RedHot is on Buffalo wings. McCormick

Surely you remember this hot sauce's hilarious marketing campaign from a decade or so ago. You know the one with the little old lady bragging that she "puts that $#!t on everything?"

Well that little old lady was talking about Frank's RedHot, which was first created in 1918, by Adam Estilette and Jacob Frank. The two blended up a simple mixture of garlic powder, distilled vinegar, aged cayenne pepper and salt to make a hot sauce they hoped would rival Tabasco as the go-to condiment for bland meals.

Frank was the founder of the Frank Tea & Spice Company. He partnered with Estilette, who was a pepper farmer, in New Iberia, Louisiana, to create the sauce. No one knows exactly why Frank became the namesake and Estilette was relegated to a footnote in hot sauce food history, especially considering the first bottle of Frank's RedHot came from Estilette's pickling plant in 1920.

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Frank's and Buffalo Wings

What we do know is after that first bottle hit the market, Frank's RedHot spent the next 40 years quietly on the tables of delis and diners and in the cupboards of many homes. It wasn't until the early 1960s that the sauce went mainstream. And like many food origins stories, this one starts with a bunch of hungry dudes at a bar in search of the perfect late-night snack.

Enter Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York. On one particular Friday night in 1964, owner Dominic Bellissimo and his friends arrived at the bar with "ravenous appetites." Bellissimo asked his mother, Teressa, to whip them up something to eat.

Teressa grabbed chicken wings, which, at the time were mostly used in soups and stocks, fried them and then tossed them in what is reported to be Frank's RedHot. Bellissimo and his friends went wild over her hot creation. Soon word spread about Anchor Bar's "Buffalo wings" and, as they say, the rest is history.

Frank's RedHot
Frank's RedHot comes in a variety of flavors, including Xtra Hot and Sweet Chili, as seen here.
Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images

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How Hot Is Frank's RedHot?

When it comes to spice, Frank's RedHot isn't exactly the hottest. Based on a ratings system called the Scoville scale, which measures a pepper's concentration of capsaicinoids, Frank's comes in at only 450 Scoville heat units or SHU. For reference, Sriracha clocks in at 2,000 SHU; Tabasco has about 5,000 SHU; El Yucateco XXX Habanero packs a whopping 11,600 SHU; and Dave's Ultimate Insanity Hot Sauce will have you breathing fire with its 250,000 SHU.

Capsaicinoids aside, the appeal and staying power of Frank's RedHot is undeniable. At more than 100 years old, the hot sauce has managed to survive generations and is still going strong.

"Consumers are increasingly looking for bold and spicy flavors to liven up their favorite foods and snacks," says Kevan Vetter, executive chef for McCormick, which owns Frank's. "Most often we see [Frank's used] on wings, chicken sandwiches, Buffalo chicken dip, bloody mary's and eggs." Frank's RedHot, he says, is particularly popular among millennials.

"I like to think of Frank's as the Bud Light of the hot sauce world," says hot sauce connoisseur and founder of the Heatonist, Noah Chaimberg. "Not to say it's not a good product. Frank's is ubiquitous and a mild entry point for people starting out with hot sauce. You can pour it on and not worry about overheating yourself."

Chaimberg says he believes it's the brand's approachability in an increasingly hotter hot sauce-o-sphere that continues to contribute to its popularity; by simply always being dependable in stores and on food, more people bring it home.

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Frank's Goes Global

The world can also look to a 2017 acquisition deal by McCormick as a major reason for the brand's continued popularity. The deal ended Frank's limited availability outside of the U.S. and Canada, giving the brand the chance to grow across the globe. Plus, it's not a bad deal that Frank's happens to inadvertently cater to the food allergy-obsessed population with its paleo, vegan-friendly recipe. Also, it has zero calories.

For now, the brand continues its quest to make Frank's RedHot the No. 1 hot sauce globally.

"We don't take ourselves too seriously and are very engaged with our social media community," Vetter says. "They trust our suggestions, and we enjoy hearing about their favorite Frank's pairings. To date, the Frank's team has yet to see a flavor combination that crosses the boundary. "Because it's so versatile there hasn't been anything we've really considered weird, just combinations that we've yet to try."

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