Food Set

Smoky Hill

This Austin-based purveyor of fiery foods' calling card is the natural smokiness of its salsas. What's the big deal about that, you may ask? The answer lies in a bottle of liquid smoke. Have you ever sniffed the stuff? Or put a drop or two in a sauce? Well, it's a potent substance. Something along the lines of scraping the inside walls of a well-used chimney, liquefying the stuff, and bottling it. You get the smoke effect all right, but subtlety is obliterated. Now, if one takes the time to slow-smoke their food of choice (in this case jalapeños) the deep flavor of smoke comes through without pummeling everything else in the mix. And time is what it takes, and time is what Smoky Hill takes.

There are three basic varieties of Smoky Hill salsas: the basic tomato-based salsa (in varying degrees of heat), a barbecue (!) salsa, and a salsa verde. All three have a devoted following and each has its own distinct personality. And each feature the trademark mesquite-roasted jalapeños that give title to the name of the company. The green salsa is a particular favorite at the Hot Sauce Festival; it's taken home the people's choice award three years in a row. In addition to the success at the Chronicle Festival, the salsas have also taken home honors from national food competitions. Craig and Cyndy Barton are justifiably proud of that success; the jars prominently boast the honors bestowed upon it.

The salsas are shelf-stable, so they have the advantage of being transportable. And the Bartons are working on getting their products to points beyond Central Texas. Their salsas are available in chile head shops from Anchorage, Alabama to Tallahassee, Fla. And if your salsa-starved loved one isn't in a location where they can pick up a jar, just head to their Web site at www.austinspice.com and they can place their order and have some winging their way.

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