30 years in the making: Surf Dog’s Hot Sauce now available in stores

Published 5:25 pm Thursday, July 4, 2024

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In 1974, Kevin McCabe drove south with a buddy in search of good waves. The beaches of Oaxaca and the Port of Escondido did not disappoint. But the flavors and aromas he discovered at the Mexican food markets have been simmering for decades, finally leading him to his newest adventure.

McCabe is launching Surf Dog’s Hot Sauce, a concoction that he has been perfecting for the last 30 years.

He traveled with friends back to Mexico for several months a year from 1974-1984, hitting spots so remote they were “begging to see somebody.”

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“You surf all day, and when you come out of the water you’re damn hungry and ready to eat,” he said. McCabe would dive for lobsters or catch snapper off the rocks. In the small towns, every area had their own unique sauces.

McCabe studied the markets and replicated pico de gallo or summer salsa with fresh ingredients he could find locally. He was cooking for over a dozen people every night with freshly caught fish and food from the markets.

“That’s part of the fun down there – if you weren’t surfing you were thinking about what you were going to eat. The markets were magic. They were a combination of flavors and smells, there was always something cooking in a big clay pot. It definitely fired my imagination. It lit the fuse.”

That fuse for creating complex flavors and recipes continued to burn over the next decade as McCabe picked up different recipes and cooking styles in Java, Sumatra and Bali.

But when he met artist Kim Mosher at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in 1985, he found a reason to stay on the Outer Banks.

After they were married, Mosher and McCabe collaborated on several projects. They put together a recipe book (after dozens of requests for recipes from friends), entitled 25 Secrets Revealed: A Culinary Tour. The book features some of McCabe’s best tips and recipes from a lifetime of international travel and cooking, and all the great stories that go along with them. They’ve printed and reprinted the book multiple times because friends keep asking for it.

McCabe and Mosher also worked together on a beach safety booklet. The narrator of the story is a cool yellow who likes to surf. That “surf dog” has become iconic on the Outer Banks, starring in t-shirts, notecards, puzzles and more.

When McCabe decided to professionally bottle his hot sauce, Surf Dog’s Hot Sauce was the natural choice for a name.

The habanero-based sauce is smooth, flavorful and spicy, with a touch of sweetness. It combines fresh habanero peppers (and the secret, McCabe said, is to remove the seeds) with bell peppers and garlic, and adds some surprising ingredients like molasses and orange juice. While it does have vinegar, it isn’t a vinegar-based hot sauce like many popular brands.

“I’ve got several people that don’t want anything else and they don’t buy anything else. And that number is growing,” he said. He said his friends have been telling him to bottle it and sell it for years.

Though he’s never sold it before, the coveted sauce has been used as a bartering tool among friends.

It goes on anything but Cheerios, McCabe said. Friends and neighbors love it on fish tacos, chicken or even to spice up a batch of chili. Just a small amount is enough to kick any recipe up a notch. As McCabe’s brother likes to say: drop, drop and stop.

“If you’re having a good time with friends, cold beer on the beach and a fish taco, this sauce is like your little buddy over there in the corner,” he said. Even friends who say they don’t like hot sauce will dab a little bit on and then go back for more, McCabe said.

The slogan for Surf Dog’s Hot Sauce is “Lose Your Leash.” It’s a reference to a leash that keeps a surfer tethered to his board.

“Go for it, be free, drop on in,” McCabe replied when asked what the slogan means. “Get off your leash and just go.”

And, after 30 years of perfecting his hot sauce, that’s exactly what he’s doing. He just picked up 1500 bottles of Surf Dog’s Hot Sauce from Bobbees Bottling in Louisburg, N.C.

“It’s exciting, but it’s a little scary, too,” he said of his next venture. “It’s like my little evolution in a bottle.”

Surf Dog’s Hot Sauce is available in 5-ounce bottles at local grocery stores, surf shops and at the Avon farmer’s market on Tuesday mornings and the Frisco Old Trent Market on Thursday mornings. Wholesale inquiries are welcome at kmbythesea@charter.net.