Rochester-Style Hot Sauce - Gastro Obscura

Ingredients & Condiments

Rochester-Style Hot Sauce

This spicy, sloppy meat mixture is thinner than chili, thicker than soup, and perfect atop “garbage.”

When you get past its charming name, the main draw of Rochester’s famous carb pile known as the “garbage plate” is the sauce on top. Rochester-style hot sauce makes for an unusual spicy topping: brown-hued, laced with meat, and thicker than your typical Tabasco.

One Rochester-born writer reflecting on her experiences with the local condiment writes that it “slightly resembles the amount of meat and grease one would scrape off a grill at the end of a shift at a burger restaurant.” Fittingly, many of the city’s local burger and hot dog (known as “hots”) joints make their own versions. The most well-known styles of Rochester hot sauce come from Nick Tahou Hots, home of the garbage plate, and the local burger chain Bill Gray’s.

While recipes vary, Rochester-style hot sauce is usually a zesty blend of sautéed onion, ground beef, and spices that is left to simmer with water, brown sugar, and tomato paste. Meant to be thinner than chili and thicker than soup, the resulting sauce has been affectionately described as a charming “goop of utility meat.” Most restaurants’ exact seasonings are a secret, but theorizing chefs suggest the spice blend gets its signature heat and flavor from the likes of cayenne, chili pepper, allspice, clove, and cinnamon.

Though the sauce may top all kinds of midnight munchies, it’s most famous for coating the garbage plate. When assembling this decadent delight, cooks must be decidedly indelicate: a handful of home fries, a scoop of macaroni salad, a spoonful of baked beans, and a hot dog (some recent renditions might feature a cheeseburger). Then the melange is ready for its final dressing. One should ladle the hot sauce with abandon; the messier it looks, the better it tastes. Diners should eat it while it’s hot, as no promises can be made for a plate of refuse left out ‘til morning.

Where to Try It