Zac Perkins says he’s always been a sauce guy. He started out making different types of barbecue sauce, he recalls, but “fell into” making hot sauce in an attempt to replicate an ingredient he needed for his barbecue sauce. “I’ve always had a knack for making sauces — it comes naturally to me,” Perkins says. “I was just doing this for fun in my house and giving it away to anyone who wanted it.”
But there’s another component to Perkins’ hobby: Making hot sauce was a way to stay occupied when he started his journey to sobriety in January 2017. The pastime led to Perkins (pictured) giving sample jars to people and receiving encouraging feedback, and in 2018, he started High Desert Sauce Co. to sell his homemade sauces.
“For the first little while I was making hot sauce, I was unaware of how regulated hot sauce is by the [Food and Drug Administration],” Perkins says. “I got my FDA approval letter the day COVID shut the world down.”
After receiving legal approval, Perkins started marketing High Desert’s sauces, and the response was overwhelmingly positive, he says. The Tikk-Hot Masala sauce was featured on the YouTube talk show Hot Ones in 2021, spiking High Desert’s sales even more.
Perkins says all the hot sauces are made in-house, and he takes pride in the hands-on process that creates the unique flavors of each sauce.
“We have total control of what goes into our product,” he says. “Anything that’s fire roasted, we fire-roast that stuff ourselves. It’s all in-house, made by hand. We touch every bottle multiple times. I do it this way because I don’t want the first [listed] ingredient of my product to be water.”
As for what inspires his flavor combinations, Perkins tends to work backward when creating a new sauce. He says he comes up with the name first, then figures out how to make the sauce fit the name. Names such as GhostRacha and Reaper’s Fuzzy Navel were two of his first ideas. Perkins is personally not a fan of chipotle peppers, so he often uses habaneros (or a variation of them) instead. Hotter sauces rely on more exotic peppers, such as Carolina reaper, chocolate bhutlah and 7 pot douglah, to provide the kick.
“We’re a flavor-forward company,” Perkins says. “We are not in the market of … melting faces. Some of our products do get pretty hot, but not without flavor.”
Perkins provides a detailed description of each sauce on the company’s website, giving customers a peek into what inspired the flavors and how the sauce can best be used. Fire Roasted Green is High Desert’s mildest flavor, while Piri Piri is the hottest and comes with a warning to “tread at your own risk.”
Vic Clinco, a hot sauce collector for more than two decades, discovered High Desert’s sauces through Instagram and says the biggest thing that sets Perkins apart from other sauce makers is his ability to ask for help and learn from his mistakes. “He’s not afraid to reach out to ask for ideas, guidance, tips and, most importantly, what to stay clear of,” Clinco says. “His sauces are really, really good. They are well made and balanced, and [Perkins] is diligent in making the perfect sauce and will redo test batches over and over until he gets exactly what he is looking to achieve.”
Currently, High Desert Sauce Co. is a one-man operation with part-time help here and there, but Perkins says the work is more worthwhile than anything else he’s done. “I’ve spent most of my life working in construction, and I’ve been miserable for most of my life,” Perkins says. “I’d rather spend 15 hours in a kitchen making sauce any day of the week, [as opposed to] eight hours a day outside, painting houses.”
And for a sauce guy, that makes perfect sense.
High Desert Sauce Co