Capsicum Fever

Asheville's not usually known for its hot spells, but that's all about to change. There's a heat wave in town that's about to get hotter.

Pick a pepper: Joel Mowrey grows the peppers for the hot sauce he makes, including the infamous ghost chili. Photos by Jonathan Poston

Xpress recently sat down with Joel Mowrey, owner of Smoking J's Hot Sauce Company, to fan the flames:

Mountain Xpress: How did you get started making hot sauce?

Joel Mowrey: My wife and I had grown our largest garden to date, which included way too many hot peppers, and we had to use them somehow. I made my first bottle in 2004.

Where do you make the sauce?

Our farm is located in Hominy Valley of Candler. We produce our sauces out of Blue Ridge Food Ventures, located on the A-B Tech Campus in Candler.

What was the first hot sauce you brought to market?

Firie Habanero. We decided to bring this product to market because we were receiving such great feedback from friends and family whom I was passing the sauce onto as gifts. It is currently the only product available for sale in stores, but we will be introducing several new products this fall.

Describe how Firie Habanero tastes.

You have sweetness, which comes from mangoes and carrots, [and] heat, which comes from ripe habanero peppers, and also a smoky flavor that we get by smoking our habanero peppers with apple wood. Add garlic, vinegar and some secret spices, and the result ends up being something very special. On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the hottest, I would rate this sauce as a five or six. 

Any new sauces in the works?

Indeed. We are growing the world's official hottest pepper, [which] is called the bhut jolokia, [aka] the ghost chili. The jolokia clocks in at over 1 million units on the Scoville scale, whereas a habanero ranks in at about 350,000 units.

Hot to trot: Mowrey shows off his Firie hot sauce, which features smoked habeneros blended with mango, lime juice and a selection of secret spices.

Why the jalokia?

Other than the insane heat of this pepper, believe it or not, there is a very distinct flavor that goes along with it. Cooked into curry, or blended with other ingredients for a hot sauce, the perfume-like sweetness and fruitiness of the pepper is very apparent and enjoyable.

Is this Asian pepper challenging to grow here?

Growing the bhut jolokia in Asheville, NC can be a challenge; for good seed germination, the jolokia requires soil temperatures between 75 degrees Fahrenheit and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, which can be accomplished with some form of bottom-heat system. Even then, the seeds can take up to 35 days just to germinate. Following seed germination, you are looking at possibly another 160 days until [harvest]. We have to start our seeds indoors in mid- to late-December to ensure we have large enough transplants to put into the field in mid-May once the frost-free date has passed. Starting with large plants in the spring also helps to ensure we have enough growing time in the field for proper fruit harvest prior to early frosts that come in the fall.

Although it'll still be a while before pepper harvest, do you have a recipe together yet?

We have been working on a hot-sauce recipe using the ghost chili for about a year. The sauce is going to be called the Roasted Ghost and features roasted tomatoes, roasted red onion, roasted garlic, ghost chilies, apple-cider vinegar and some additional ingredients. It will be one our thicker sauces, and the flavor is very fresh and dangerously addicting.

Was it hard to decide how hot this sauce should be?

On one side, you are working with the hottest pepper in the world, and perhaps people should be left remembering what they are up against. On the other side, we are all about fire and flavor, so we have decided to make this sauce tolerable on some level so more people can enjoy it. Now, with that said, there is no doubt in my mind that we will be making a sauce with the ghost chili that will punish even those chili heads that think they can't be burned.

Want to buy a bottle of Mowrey's devil sweat? Visit, Green Life, the French Broad Food Co-op or the Grove Corner Market.

Jonathan Poston is an Asheville-based freelance writer.


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4 thoughts on “Capsicum Fever

  1. entopticon

    I had no idea that there was a hot sauce company farm right here in my neighborhood (Hominy Valley). I will be giving it a try the first chance that I get!

  2. entopticon

    Just tried the habanero hot sauce…. Delicious! For what it’s worth, I would definitely consider myself to be somewhat of a hot sauce connoisseur, and it was surprisingly good. I particularly like the smokiness, and the subtle hint of curry.

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