Southern Makers

A Hot Take on Southern Chili Lab

From fermentation to no-waste chili crisp, this Alabama company is approaching hot sauce differently

Chefs Jonathan Kastner and Tyler Braun are on fire. Originally from Lafayette, Louisiana, the friends stepped away from hectic restaurant kitchen life in Alabama’s tourist-trafficked Gulf Shores and Orange Beach communities in early 2022. They put their shared love of heat and spice into the creation of Southern Chili Lab, and the business has been growing like a pepper plant in summer since its first hot sauce debuted later that year. Today, the coastal condiment company is turning out two hot sauces and a black-garlic sambal, plus a chili crisp, and all the pepper-powered products have a tasty distinction—they’re fermented.

SouthernChiliLab LocalPalate'

While not unique to Southern Chili Lab (although they are one of the only hot sauce makers in Alabama doing it), fermenting is not ubiquitous in the industry either, and SCL treats this step a bit differently, relying on wild fermentation instead of starters and playing with the timing. “Our products usually have a younger fermentation,” Kastner says, “which gives them really fun, funky sour notes that stand out against the heat.”

SouthernChiliLab LocalPalate'

And although the fermentation process means extra work (and extra equipment), Kastner and Braun believe the resulting layers of balanced flavor are worth it. You don’t even have to taste SCL products for proof. Step out of Orange Beach’s sea breeze and into the lab, and your senses are hit with a symphony of smells and sights. Hints of molasses from low-and-slow-cooking garlic and the sweet-tart aroma of pepper mash drying (akin to sun-dried tomatoes) tickle your nose. Light reflects off silver tanks on shelves lining a wall, and plastic tubs of dehydrated shallots, brown mustard seeds, scales, and measuring cups litter a long table. “We do a lot of research and development to get our products just right,” Braun says. “That’s why ‘lab’ is in our name. We constantly measure pH and other factors.” The first sauce the lab sold went through 35 versions before the duo declared it “done.”

SCL’s chili crisp was an unanticipated result of this experimentation; the blood-red oil studded with crunchy bits of shallot and garlic was born from a hot-sauce castoff. “Our original hot sauce has a red jalapeño, onion, carrot, and Trapani sea salt ferment base, and when the process is done, we separate the solids [called the mash] from the juice and add a little vinegar to make the sauce. The mash is a leftover, but it’s all this good stuff, so we didn’t want to waste it,” Kastner says.

So they don’t. They let it rest on drying racks and then pop it into a dehydrator to remove all moisture. They cut up shallots and garlic and dehydrate them, too. Chopped peanuts get added to the mix, forming the chili crisp base. Next come spices: sesame seeds, housemade mushroom powder, ginger, black pepper, and more. Then peanut oil is infused with star anise, cardamom, and lime leaves for 36 hours. Finally, the oil meets the dry ingredients for the finished product.

SouthernChiliLab LocalPalate'

There’s a lot going on, and yet the complexity is discernable thanks to another difference in SCL’s process. “We don’t fry the garlic and shallots in the oil, which means a much cleaner flavor where all the elements can come through,” Braun says. “You can taste it all.”

Happy customers are tasting it all and tasting a lot of it; SCL’s chili crisp is its bestseller. “We joke we started as a hot sauce company that makes chili crisp, and now we’re a chili crisp company that happens to make hot sauce,” Kastner says. And there may be other fermented hot sauces on the market, but SCL stands alone in the fermented chili crisp space. “As far as we know, there aren’t other chili crisps made with fermented mash,” Kastner says.

The friends are always cooking up something new—a green chili crisp with more Italian flavors like basil and a fermented honey are currently in the works—and bouncing ideas off each other. When debating the precise amounts of Hallow’s Eve and Lucifer’s Lemon chilies to add to a specialty sauce they’re making for a dinner event, it’s clear, at SCL, the devil is in the many details. “That’s what makes this so fun,” Kastner says. “We get to come in here and play around.”

Where to Find Southern Chili Lab

Southern Chili Lab’s products, including its hot sauces, sambal, and chili crisp, are available at specialty stores around coastal Alabama and online at

At the Table

10 Fresh Barbecue Sides to Upgrade the Cookout

Nine southern chefs share their favorite unconventional barbecue sides ranging from zesty kimchi slaw to rich corn pudding.


Adventures Await on Alabama’s Beaches

Whether you want to spend your time splashing around in the Gulf of Mexico, relaxing on the beach, or enjoying one of the area’s many outdoor adventures, you’re sure to find the change of scenery you’ve been craving.

In the Field

A Taste and Sip of Mobile, Alabama

Incredible dishes and fine libations are the hallmarks of a travel experience, and Mobile offers just that. The culinary scene is what keeps people coming back!

trending content

More From Southern Makers

Leave a Reply

Be the first to comment.