Featured Hot Sauce Maker: Rising Smoke Sauceworks

3 min read

Rising Smoke Sauceworks team

Efland, North Carolina is a small, wooded community of less than 1,000 people, located about 20 minutes from Durham and Chapel Hill. If you happen to be traveling the local roads, you may just smell the inviting, smoky aroma of peppers roasting. That would be because Efland is home to Rising Smoke Sauceworks, a family-owned and operated hot sauce company that has been claiming hot sauce awards across the country over the last few years.

How It Started

Founded in 2017, Rising Smoke is the love child of Mike Palmatier, who started his hot sauce journey in his home garden. As is typical of many artisanal hot sauce brands, Mike’s passion for hot sauces and peppers started as a hobby. “I have been playing around with harvests from my personal garden for years. I had created a few unique flavor profiles and family and friends encouraged us to start selling them,” Mike said.

“I would make hot sauce every year when I was harvesting more peppers than I could possibly eat,” he continued.  “When I moved south to North Carolina, I bought a smoker and learned to smoke BBQ. My two passions combined when I tried smoking the peppers before making sauce. A whole new world of flavors was opened.”

Moving from hobby sauce making to a full fledged business wasn’t easy, though. “At the very beginning I had to decide if I was going to focus on cooking or selling,” Mike said.  “I had a very demanding full time job where I was on the road quite a bit, so I decided to go the route of using a co-packer so I could spend the weekends at festivals selling.”

What Makes it Unique?

For a company located in the heart of North Carolina barbeque country, it’s not surprising that some of these same cooking methods are incorporated in their sauces. As the company name would imply, Rising Smoke’s sauces are known for unique flavor profiles that feature roasted and smoked ingredients. 

So what makes Rising Smoke unique? “We use smoked or roasted ingredients in all of our products. Some of our products are on the smokier side but many have just a touch of that roasted flavor. We didn't want to be one note and strive to create very unique flavor profiles at all heat levels. Our hottest sauce, All In, is one of our best sellers,” says Mike. “It's not the hottest sauce out there by any means, but people are genuinely surprised when they taste it; that a sauce that hot can still deliver a good flavor. Our Drunken Smokehouse BBQ sauce has won the most awards for us and is our best selling BBQ. It has strawberries, bourbon and smoked habaneros. We tried to develop a BBQ sauce that was unlike anything else on the market and I think we succeeded. You don't see many strawberry BBQ sauces out there.”

And speaking of awards, Rising Smoke is no stranger to accolades. In three years Rising Smoke has garnered over 55 awards from competitions such as the National Fiery Foods show in New Mexico, Zest Fest in Texas, the New York City Hot Sauce Expo and the International Flave Awards. 

The Industry

When asked about current industry trends, Mike had this to say, “There are a lot of new craft sauces joining the industry lately. Instead of looking at that as competition, I look at that as good for all of us. When the craft beer industry exploded, they took market share from the big guys and didn't worry about fighting with each other. The hot sauce industry is the same way. There are so many amazing people that are happy to help each other and work together to grow the overall industry.”

And what about advice for getting into the hot sauce industry? “Do your homework first!,” Mike offered.  “There are so many resources and helpful people out there. I took a notebook full of notes before I ever took our first step towards starting the business. Also don't expect an instant payday. We put everything back into the business for the first few years to keep growing our line up and our presence. Have a plan and make smart steps along the way. Don't be afraid to ask questions from someone who has already been in your shoes.”

Looking Forward

And what does the future hold for Rising Smoke? “We will be rolling out our sweet and savory Asian style sauce this Spring. This is the most complex recipe and flavor we have done yet and we think this one will be a big hit,” Mike said. We know we’re definitely looking forward to this new sauce!


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