Breaking the Barriers of Hot Sauce: Tips from Heartbreaking Dawns Chef Johnny McLaughlin

Heartbreaking Dawns Hot Sauces

In modern cuisine, hot sauce is considered a benchmark for culinary machismo, using pepper intensity to bring flavor depth and umami, that meatiness that brings a savory quality to dishes.  Whether it provides gentle waves of mild heat or wicked lashes to the tongue, hot sauce is a home cook’s secret weapon that brings continual flavor and intensity to any form of cooking.

Chef Johnny McLaughlin, founder of Heartbreaking Dawns Artisan Foods LLC, the award-winning hot sauce company based in Wyckoff, NJ, is an avid believer that the use of hot sauce is no longer limited to chili. According to McLaughlin, hot sauce’s power comes in the form of building layers of flavors through pepper blends.

McLaughlin formed Heartbreaking Dawns with his wife Nicole four years ago, using a bumper crop of their backyard chili pepperbushes.  Combining this key ingredient with tropical fruits and spices into a variety of sauces, McLaughlin went commercial in 2009 by introducing three main flavors.

“We use ripe fresh fruits to lightly sweeten some of our original hot sauces to provide subtle hints that compliment the featured pepper.  Our Classic Gold uses a backdrop of brown sugar and tomato providing a delicious twist on traditional red hot sauce,” McLaughlin explained.

The original three Heartbreaking Dawns creations include Jalapeno Pineapple, Classic Gold, and Mango Habanero. There are now 11 flavors total including these main three, some of which are Supershots, Chocolate Habanero, Ghost Pepper, Trinidad Scorpion, and CAUTERIZER Trinidad Scorpion, all using fruit, spice and pepper extracts to deliver a range of earthy and floral notes or deep chocolate tones. Bottles of Heartbreaking Dawns are sold at a starting price of $6.99, and can be found in Chef Central and Kings Food Markets.

 Chef Johnny’s Tips For Using Hot Sauce to Add Seduction through Heat:

  • Blend Heartbreaking Dawns’ Tomato-Based Classic Gold with some ketchup, fresh basil, and Parmesan for a new slider topping.
  • Mix Jalapeno Pineapple with mayo to give it for sweet and spicy flavor. Finish off the slider with shredded cabbage and goat cheese.
  • Combine the Mango Habanero with mustard. Top this slider with kimchi and friend onions.
  • Mix the 1542 Chocolate Habanero Sauce with some crème fraiche. Polish it off with some melted New York sharp cheddar and pickles.
  • Spice up your next brunch by adding various hot sauces to your favorite Bloody Mary mix.
  • Sit back and relax with some Electric Lemonade. How? Add Heartbreaking Dawns’ pear and apple-based Ghost Sauce to bring out delicious bursts of flavor. Top it off with fresh cilantro.
  • Leave out the vermouth. Instead, try lining your next martini glass with a sweet, fruit-based hot sauce.

Hot Sauce Factoids: 

  • Primitive hot sauce evidence has been found on archaeological digs and the dredging of sunken ships.
  • It is believed that in ancient times, hot sauce not only had a culinary purpose but a medicinal one as well. For example, the Mayans used chili peppers to alleviate toothaches.
  • Considered by many to be a digestive aid by stimulating stomach secretions, hot sauce is thought to help combat depression by acting as an aphrodisiac and releasing endorphins.

In addition to gourmet grocers in the metro area and beyond, Chef Johnny’s line is also sold online at  You can also buy from Johnny directly every Saturday and Sunday at Smorgasburg in Brooklyn, the fabulous food flea market.  He sells Baltimore Pit Beef Sandwiches topped with medleys of his sauces along with all his hot sauces and a handful of other products at Smorg.

Heidi Raker Goldstein is our Bergen county regional editor. A locavore, cooking enthusiast, publicist and mother of three junior gourmands.  Heidi is equally comfy in greasy spoons and high-end restaurants. When not visiting local farmers markets and farm stands in Bergen and Rockland counties, this New England native, former Manhattanite and Bergen county resident is busy running her PR and green marketing agency, Raker Goldstein & Co., buying food, planning menus, cooking food, writing about food or simply eating.  Heidi also writes at Redhead With A Fork, a life|style blog.  To reach Heidi, email her at