Scorch marks on my soul: Flashlight & A Biscuit, No. 17

In which I try an amateur version of "Hot Ones," dousing chicken wings with the fires of Hell and then devouring them

Welcome to Flashlight & A Biscuit, my Southern sports/culture/food offshoot of my work at Yahoo Sports. Thanks for reading, and if you’re new around here, why not subscribe? It’s free and all. Today, a story that hits very, very close to home …

It began the way most bad ideas do, with five stupid words: “Hell, I could do that.”

The “that” in this case was devouring a slate of ever-more-hot hot wings, inspired by the straight-up YouTube classic show “Hot Ones.” In that show, celebrity guests — Shaquille O’Neal, Paul Rudd, Billie Eilish, and oh so many more — eat their way through a gauntlet of wings that range from spicy to how-is-that-not-burning-its-way-through-the-floor. Along the way, they lose their composure, their ability to speak coherently, their capacity for rational thought. It’s hysterical.

In a classic case of learning exactly the wrong lesson, I and several of my friends thought this was a perfectly reasonable Friday night activity to attempt. Sauces were obtained and purchased, wings were gathered, wills were checked, prayers were offered. (We did seven wings rather than the show’s 10, but we removed from the middle, not the hot end. So the typical “Hot Ones” top five seeds remained very much in our bracket.)

There were tapouts. There was vomiting. There was pain. So much pain. It was glorious. And so, for this week’s newsletter, I’m going to tell you the story of how it went down … and, in some cases, came right back up again.

Pregaming. The hot sauce subculture is a strange and arcane one, but the basic gist is this: the more Scoville heat units, the hotter the sauce. A bell pepper is around 100 SHUs, a pepperoncini pepper somewhere in the 500s range. Tabasco sauce is 2,500 SHUs. So now you’ve got the floor; the ceiling is up somewhere in orbital range.

The sauces we were trying ranged up to 2 million Scoville units. That’s in the vicinity of law enforcement pepper spray. So yes, next time I get maced by the police, I’ll make sure I have some wings and a gallon of ice cream handy.

The ice cream is key here. Hot sauce’s little demonic heat particles — called capsaicin, but you don’t need to remember that — bind with the fats in dairy, so you want to have a lot of dairy on hand to neutralize the burn. Sugar can also help, as can citrus. Water? No good at all. It’s like a grease fire … water just spreads it all around.

Thus, our pre-battle shopping list included:

  • 2 gallons whole milk

  • 1/2 gallon half-and-half

  • 2 gallons ice cream (1 vanilla, 1 strawberry cheesecake)

  • Lime juice

  • 1 bag powdered donuts

  • Crackers, for flooding the zone on your tastebuds, trying to confuse them with different textures

  • Tums, useful both before and after dining

  • 1 big-ass bag of ice (useful for cooling down flaming tongues)

You know how your body is supposedly a temple? Yeah, on this night we treated our bodies like Florida hotel rooms on spring break. Atrocities abounded, crimes against humanity and the Almighty. Before the showdown even started, we pounded Wendy’s double hamburgers and fries … the reasoning being, we wanted to coat our stomachs with a thick layer of grease and starch before assaulting them with hellfire.

And then … we began. Seven wings, each brought to our plate by our glove-wearing host/chef, who had bathed some in sauce and left others naked, for reasons that will become obvious in a moment. Here’s what happened next.

1. Super Sick’s Roasted Serrano. I’ve always thought that in a pre-fight staredown, some boxer or MMA fighter should ditch the whole “I’m glowering ‘cause I’m so tough” routine and just make pleasant small talk with their opponent, ask about the wife and kids. Throw ‘em off their game right from the start. That’s what happened here with this delicious green salsa-esque sauce from an indie sauce-maker out in Cali. It was downright tasty, and the relief at not getting popped right out of the gate was … unsettling.

2. Los Calientes. You know that moment when you get into a too-hot shower and, just for a second, it feels cold? That was Los Calientes. I ate the wing, and just for a second, I was like, aw, that’s nothing, and then, whoosh … a wave of heat rolling over me like stepping from an air-conditioned car out onto Florida blacktop. Not unendurable, not even unpleasant, really … but it was like feeling a little cramp at the two-mile mark of a marathon. You realize, This is going to get so much worse before it gets better. I rode this one out with a little sip of ice water.

3. Super Sick’s Habanero Ginger. You ever been on a date with someone, and you start out hitting it off, laughing at one another’s jokes, enjoying one another’s company, and then you learn that the last five people they dated haven’t been heard from lately? Yeah, that’s what this bad boy was like. Incredibly flavorful, with a lurking dark side that only showed up after a few minutes. A cold glass of milk kept this one locked in the basement … barely.

It got so much worse from here on out.

4. Zombie Apocalypse. Being a fan of all things grim and gory when I was growing up — album covers, movie posters, books — I’m firmly on board with the hot sauce naming convention that calls for going as far over the top as you can possibly go. You name something “Zombie Apocalypse,” you better deliver, and this one did, like a 2x4 to the face. Like, instant pain. This one got me up out of my chair and pacing like a condemned man. But it was still a familiar pain, if that makes sense. And that made it a tiny bit easier to take than what was to come.

5. Da Bomb. This one was so lethal that our host came around and just dripped a tiny puddle of it on our plates. She warned us not to douse our wings in it, but hey, live a little, right? I spun my wing in the sauce — which is the deep, featureless red of a vampire’s eyes — and bit down.

You know how, when you’re watching fireworks, you sometimes hear a deep, ground-shaking WHOOOMP from the launching pad and you know, oh man, when that explodes, it’s going to be astounding? Yeah, that was Da Bomb. The taste was unremarkable — a very bad sign, when you realize that this mega-popular sauce isn’t drawing attention for its taste — and then the heat just exploded inside my skull. I was sweating like I’d just run that marathon mentioned above. My ballcap was soaked, my hair matted to my head, my eyes and nose running like spigots, my face the bright shining red of an alert emoji. And I still had two more to go.

6. Mad Dog 357. I do not recommend lighting a gas grill while your face is adjacent to the burners. But I nonetheless believe it would come as a cool relief to set your face on fire after consuming a wing flavored with Mad Dog 357 sauce. I have never felt pain quite like this, a searing that left burn marks on my psyche. Wracked with pain, I held forth with what I thought was a Shakespearean soliloquy on life’s uncaring cruelty, but I was later told it was just a string of increasingly vile curses.

7. The Last Dab. Zombie Apocalypse and Mad Dog had leveled our group, taking out half our crew. One threw up in the woods. Others stared out at the void like they were coming to terms with their own mortality. Those of us still in the hunt tried everything — milk, ice cream, lime juice, prayer — to cool the burn. All in vain, like prayers to an uncaring deity.

And then came The Last Dab, which comes in at a reported 2 million Scovilles. A thousand times hotter than Tabasco sauce. Holy mother of God, what were we thinking? This was going to burn right through us like the acid blood of Aliens.

And yet … and yet. Back in the early versions of Madden, when a player got injured on the field, a little video-game ambulance would come barreling out and, in its rush to help, run right over the poor player. We were that player, and that ambulance was The Last Dab. It couldn’t hurt us. It couldn’t touch us. We were already broken. We devoured The Dab.

And so we triumphed. Eat it, hot sauce.

Final tally: 10 wing-eaters began the challenge. Five of us survived all the way to the finish. All of us learned a little something about ourselves that night. And we have fiery hot laurels on which to rest … until the rematch.

That’ll do it for this week. If you made it this far, please don’t touch your eyes, lips or groin. I’m pretty sure Mad Dog 357 and Da Bomb can transfer through email.

Thanks for reading, friends, and we’ll see you back here next week!