At the Dog and Duck Pub in Mt. Pleasant, manager Justin Carter comes out of the kitchen wearing a gas mask and gloves and carrying a platter with a dozen wings on it. They are covered in a thick red sauce that unleashes waves of gaseous heat that you can smell from across the room.
He sets the wings before Adam Bey, who is bravely tackling the Absoludicrous Wing Challenge, a feat that few before him have accomplished. In fact, the last couple of guys who attempted it gave up after half a wing.
In order to take the challenge, Bey is required to sign a waiver and agree to a long list of rules. To win, he must consume a dozen wings in 15 minutes or less without a drink, additional food, or trips to the restroom. He will receive only one small cocktail napkin and must lick his fingers clean and sit, without a drink, for an extra five minutes after he’s finished eating all 12 wings.
Before Bey digs in, Indiana Brad, the only person to complete the challenge at the Park West Dog and Duck, gives him some words of wisdom: “The first few minutes should be spent tearing the meat off of the bones. Make sure you swallow the pieces whole and avoid chewing. And most importantly, don’t stop. Keep moving.” He also advises him to put on some chapstick to keep the heat from setting his lips on fire.
Bey follows Brad’s advice and removes the meat from the bones for the first seven minutes before he starts shoveling it into his mouth. In no time, he is in pain. Sweat trickles down his face, and he pauses a few times with his mouth wide open as if he’s going to vomit. He has shades on, so it is hard to tell if the sweat is merging with tears, but he turns a furious red, throws his hands in the air, and shakes his head. After a solid effort, he makes it through all but about three wings before throwing in the towel and chugging several glasses of milk, pacing back and forth outside, and abruptly taking off to cool down at home. He was still out of commission the following day but had some advice for taking on the challenge, the hottest he’s ever attempted. “First and foremost, I’d eat a very light meal earlier in the day, likely consisting of yogurt. Second, there’d be no alcohol consumed beforehand, as I had two beers before the challenge. And last, but not least, I’d take a Zantac an hour before. Oh, and I’d be sure that I have no plans for the next 24 hours.”
But for fans of spicy eats, finding hot foods in this town can be a challenge, but it doesn’t have to be an Absoludicrous challenge. The best place to look for spicy fare is a restaurant serving ethnic food that is typically hot, like Mexican and Thai.
Over at Taco Boy, they’ve got a sauce containing ghost chilies called Danger Sauce, which can be added to any taco to create a, you guessed it, Danger Taco. This one packs the punch any way you have it, but adding the sauce to an already spicy kimchi beef taco makes for an explosive combination. This is by far one of the spiciest items you can find around town.
Bushido has the infamous spicy tuna roll challenge that Adam Richman destroyed in just over 15 minutes on his TV show Man vs. Food. Here, you must eat 10 spicy tuna rolls that get increasingly spicier, but you can do it over the span of several visits. Both Adam Bey and Indiana Brad completed the challenge in one sitting, which is quite the feat.
Fiery Ron’s Home Team BBQ also has a spicy concoction called Death Relish, a potent combination of habañero, jalapeño, and ghost peppers. The thick, deep red relish can be ordered on the side or added to any menu item. The combination of the three peppers makes for a flavorful condiment, with the heat hidden at first. But don’t kid yourself. This one will sneak up on you in no time.
Sometimes flavor can be sacrificed for heat, but not when it comes to Thai cuisine. At Basil, any dish can be kicked up a notch with more peppers. They’ll use a combination of green and red Thai chilies, adding more red chilies as the heat gets higher. The restaurant also has three condiments — chili powder, garlic chili paste, and pickled chilies — that can be added at your own discretion. We found that ordering triple Thai heat and adding both garlic chili paste and pickled chilies to a plate of pad kee mow (drunken noodles) made for a very spicy, tasty dish.
Finally, we discovered a delicate yet fiery dish that proves that in the hands of an expert chef like Michelle Weaver at Charleston Grill, a little bit of heat goes a long way. Her Thai Fish, or Tom-Yum-Goong, deftly deploys fiery chilies in a dish that won’t wreck your palate and have you gulping gallons of milk. A delicate filet of fresh fish, most recently buttery Opakapaka, swims with grilled pineapple, green beans, and stewed tomatoes in a vibrant orange broth spiced with Thai chilies and basil — the perfect balance of flavors where heat meets elegance.
Once it was hot, now it’s not
It’s hard to believe that the jalapeño, a pepper we pile high onto nachos, dice up to add to salsas, and infuse in crafty cocktails, was once the reigning king of heat. In 1956, Newsweek published a story on a pepper-eating contest held in the Bayou Teche of Louisiana. The article rated the jalapeño as “the hottest pepper known,” more fiery than the “green tabasco” or “red cayenne.” In 2000, the habañero was named the “hottest pepper in the world,” but that honor was stripped away by the Naga Bhut Jolokia, or Ghost chili, in 2007. Today, the Trinidad Moruga Scorpian holds the title of hottest pepper in the world.
The element that all these peppers have in common is capsaicin, an odorless, colorless compound that acts as an irritant, producing a burning sensation in any tissue it comes into contact with. The amount of capsaicin in each of these peppers is measured in Scoville Heat Units, or SHU. Bell and banana peppers, for example, have no heat and a rating of 0 SHU. Jalalpeños sit between 2,500 and 8,000 SHU, while habañeros range from 150,000 to 325,000 SHU. Going even hotter, ghost chilies range from 800,000 SHU to 1.1 million SHU, and the Trinidad Moruga Scorpions have been known to go all the way up to 2 million SHU.