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Ninety-Nine Bottles of Sauce in a Box

Ninety-nine bottles of sauce… Take one out, pass it about…

Wait! We just put those in there.

Okay.  Many of you have probably been wondering just what the heck we’ve been doing with our time during the day here in Costa Rica.  How do we earn our keep in this beautiful place?

Well, I’ve mentioned before that we came here primarily to work for an up-and-coming, family-owned hot sauce company called Chile Town.  We knew before we arrived that there would be some office work involved, including writing press releases and blog posts for the company website.  We also knew that we would potentially be making some of the sauce itself.

What we didn’t know is what, exactly, making hot sauce entailed.

It starts with the chile peppers, most of which are grown and hand-picked right here on the property.

Without giving away too many trade secrets before the sauce gets released to the U.S., I will say that some of the hottest peppers in the world are grown and used right here.  For that reason, caution must be used even during the picking-process.  Notice the gloves.  You don’t dare touch your eyes or exposed skin after handling hot peppers.

Chile Peppers

At this point some type of magic happens and the peppers are somehow washed, seeded, and mashed up into what we call… well mash.  By the way, at Chile Town each individual hot sauce uses an individual type of chile pepper – unlike many other hot sauces, which just use an extract to bring the heat, the sauces we’re helping to make here actually use the heat and flavor that come directly from the chile variety itself.  So a mild(er) sauce like the one called La Muñeca (“The Doll”) uses a less-spicy variety of pepper (yellow scotch bonnet) than the sauce called Bandito (“The Bandit”), which uses orange habaneros.

It’s all very scientific.

And if you think habaneros are spicy, some of the Chile Town sauces get even hotter than that!

*By the way, thanks to Becs for taking most of the following photos.  My gloved and mash-covered fingers were not about to get anywhere near my beloved camera.  Or my hair, apparently, which is a mess.  Apologies.

So what we end up with is this mash.

chile pepper mash

Appetizing, no?

Of course, the color/consistency vary depending on the type of pepper we’re using.  These are smoked jalapeños for the smoky Don Fuego (“Fire Boss”) sauce.

The first part of this entire process is really just basic cooking – we mix all the ingredients according to Aaron’s (aka “The Mayor’s”) top secret recipes and stick ’em on the stove to simmer.

Simmering Chile Town Hot Sauce

Here’s where it gets tricky.  Once all the ingredients are partying together in the pot and the sauce starts to thicken up, it’s time to blend.  This ensures a smoother, even consistency and that all of the flavors are truly melded to perfection.

The problem?  An industrial-sized blender, Aaron owns not.

So we use the small one.  Again, and again.  And again.

Blending Chile Town Hot Sauce

I’ll admit that this is probably the scariest part of the process for me.  I mean – you have this substance that is 2 kinds of hot – temperature and spicy – so if the blender decides to say… I don’t know… blow up in your face, you’re seriously burned.  Heat burned and heat burned.  Not pretty.  I’ve caught a splatter or two to know.

So we try to use the utmost precaution, especially during this phase of sauce production.

Blending Chile Town Hot Sauce

Once everything is blended, it goes back in the pot and back on the heat.  This time it needs to get to a certain (extremely hot) temperature before it can be bottled.  The goal is to have everything nice and evenly cooked to the desired level of thickness.

Don Fuego Chile Town Hot Sauce

Aaron’s stove takes a beating.

While the sauce is cooking, we need to wash bottles.  Lots and lots of bottles.

Hot Sauce Bottles

And of course, since no one wants to buy empty hot sauce bottles, we need to fill ’em.

Bottling Chile Town Hot Sauce

This step is a tid bit precarious, but it’s nothing we can’t handle.

Boxing Hot Sauce

We are sauce-making machines.

No thanks to this punk, who didn’t even bother to watch.

Stella Dog

Once they cool a bit, we add the seals and labels.  Eventually, they look like this:

Chile Town Hot Sauce

Pretty groovy, huh?

Ironically, the most stressful part of the process is after all the sauce is made and we’re cleaning out the pots.  When the cold water hits the warm hot sauce remnants, the noxious chile fumes somehow get set off and I’m thrown into an ugly, hacking and sneezing fit.  It ain’t pretty.

And while Erin’s superior writing/editing skills have since earned her a place back in the air-conditioned office, I really don’t mind toiling over a steaming hot chile pepper concoction several days a week.  A true sense of accomplishment accompanies every seal of every lid; and while I dread the potential day when Aaron opens a bottle of sauce I made from one of his recipes and, God forbid, something just doesn’t taste quite right, I will at least savor the experience until that time.

Even though all of the bottles that eventually get sold in the U.S. will have been made to exact specifications in a factory by qualified professionals, I know I will smile every time I see one because I am now a first-hand witness to just some of the frustration, sweat, and determination that goes into creating a product.

A livelihood.

A passion.

And it’s pretty damn sweet.  And spicy.


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Jeremiah LeBlanc

Hi there, I enjoyed this post! Kinda (HOT) with the sauce and all going on. looks like things are going well!



They’re going great! It’s been quite an experience so far, and we plan to make the most of it.


Why on earth are you wearing WHITE shorts??? Thought that was pretty brave of you…


You know me – I like to live on the edge. ;)

the other Mrs. Barstow

Wow, that was an awesome post. And it reminded me a lot of Júde Jam – except for the hot part. No, I take that back. It was wicked hot in the kitchen while we were cooking! And you know what? I wore a chili pepper apron, too!!


Aw, thanks! So when do I get to try this Júde Jam?? :)


Very cool post the food network is one of my favorite channels and this totally would have made a good show and the way you describe things would have made good hosts. You two seem to be having quite the adventure. Did you get a meal after to truly appreciate the concoction you had just made? From what you have described I think would be a little hot for me .. Best wishes for a continued wonderful adventure.


That is one of the best compliments EVER! We are definitely having a fun adventure. We get even better than just one meal – we get sample bottles to take with us and use to help spice up our boring old beans ‘n rice. The great thing about this sauce is there are so many varieties. In fact, my favorite one is very, very mild. It’s called Cantador, and it mainly tastes like garlic with just a very small kick to it. You should give them a try once they’re available!

Oh, and if you happen to know any Food Network executives, go ahead and send ’em our way. ;)


Sure thing ! Your welcome was just posing how I felt. I ll look for it when it comes out I am a little more adventurous than mild I usually stick to the medium range although I know people that things never seem to be “too hot” lol

Wishing you success and great days!


After reading this, it dawned on me that my dream of living and working on a hummus farm simply won’t work. I’ve got neither the vocal cords or the lack of pansy-assed whining that would be required of me to do what you two are doing, only to garbanzo beans.

I’m proud of you both.


Hahaha. Trust me, sometimes we whine. But then we realize how this is still SO much better than fluorescent lights, drabbiness and politics. We’re living off of $50/week in Costa Rica and life here is pretty damn happy. La pura vida, baby. For real. Doesn’t get better than that.

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