Guy Fieri's New Sauce Collaboration Brings Flavortown To Kitchens Nationwide - Exclusive Interview

Guy Fieri has a sprawling food empire: He's spent decades building his Flavortown brand to include 80 licensed restaurants, a vineyard, a tequila company, and more than a few successful television shows. Yet, for all the years he's been the Mayor of it, Fieri has always maintained that Flavortown is a metaphysical space for taste-oriented believers. It's not so much a place you could visit as much as a state of mind. Until now, that is. This year, Guy Fieri is overseeing a saucy collaboration between his signature concept, Flavortown, and Litehouse, Inc., a generations-old food production company. According to Fieri, the partnership is the first time he's loaned the Flavortown title to a retail product. 

The Litehouse x Flavortown union brings nine squeeze-bottled sauces to grocery store shelves in retailers across the country. With a lineup that includes some of Fieri's most well-known aiolis, plus a full suite of barbecue options, Flavortown is finally a thing you can hold in your hands (and use again and again). Tasting Table recently sat down with Guy Fieri for an exclusive interview ahead of the nationwide launch. Naturally, the Mayor of Flavortown had a lot to say about his product launch, but he also took some time to share with us a few go-to tips for cooking burgers, wings, and budget-friendly steaks ahead of grill season. He also revealed to us one of the best barbecue restaurants he's visited during "Diners Drive-Ins and Dives," as well as his secret use for Donkey Sauce. 

Guy's take on Carolina barbecue

Where are you out of?

I'm in North Carolina at the moment, but D.C. is where I'm based.

Carolina barbecue baby.

Actually, I would love to get your opinion on that in particular. We know Carolina barbecue sauce is really great with pulled pork. I'm wondering if you have any under-the-radar proteins or vegetables that you recommend pairing Carolina barbecue sauce with.

Well, most people ... I've talked about this in depth. Barbecue sauce is as vast as pasta sauce in Italy. Okay? I mean, tomato sauce in Italy is called tomato sauce. It's not called marinara. Marinara is seafood. Marinara is a red seafood sauce. So when you really start delving in, when you start getting into barbecue sauce, Kansas City's got its style, Texas has got its style. But one of the most iconic, carved out, not recognized enough is Carolina barbecue. So, my mom was from North Carolina — Raleigh and Morehead City. So, having that Carolina connection [I wanted to do a Flavortown Carolina Barbecue Sauce] ... And as soon as I start talking about it, there's a place called Barbecue King in Charlotte, which is one of my favorite barbecue joints we ever did on Triple D. I get that tang. You get that little ... your mouth starts to warm. 

There are some Carolina barbecue sauces that are way out there, super thin, real vinegary, real spicy, a touch of tomato in it, and that can be a little hard for people to grasp. I brought it a little bit more to the center. But the idea is getting that vinegar, acidity, and spice, which complements all kinds of food. People don't know that. There is so much range.

It doesn't have to go just on pulled pork. Pulled pork is awesome for it because it's unctuous, it's fatty, it's got that porky flavor. But I think that when you get into this ... Seafood loves acid. Works perfectly. Chicken loves acid. Adding some of this vinegary base to that chicken. So listen, I will put it on anything under the sun. I think that it plays well with others.

And, matter of fact, and I was talking about this earlier today, giving this a light toss on some veggies before you throw them on the grill, I mean, just grilling some carrots with this on it, works fantastic. So it's a Carolina barbecue sauce. Hopefully this is going to be one of the big hits that people will get a chance to understand the sauces that we've made. Scratch-based sauces are what we were trying to achieve with the Litehouse team. 

How the Flavortown x Litehouse collab emerged

What was the process for developing these sauces?

We've been working on these sauces painstakingly for ... not painstakingly. It wasn't a pain. It was awesome, actually. [Litehouse] would send them to me in these little sample bottles by the hundreds, and I would wait for a weekend when I had a bunch of friends and family over at the house for dinner or football or whatever. I'd line them up and give them little research cards.

Everybody would write their notes. I said, "Don't collaborate on your answers and talk about what people got." Because I didn't want it to be so out there that the vinegar and spice were too much. But all the way through, from the Donkey Sauce to the Top Secret Sauce, I didn't want to explain to people why it was the Top Secret Sauce. I wanted to know, what would you do with it? 

And that was one of the questions: What would you do with Top Secret Sauce? And people are like, "Dip stuff in it." That's what I was really getting at. "Okay, would you put it on a sandwich?" "Yeah, it elevated the boring turkey sandwich." So there's a lot of time, energy, and thought that was put into each one of them. I'm glad we started with Carolina.

A Guy Fieri tip for cooking burgers

One of your signatures is Donkey Sauce, and it's obviously become synonymous with burgers. Spring and summer are on the horizon. In addition to forgetting the Donkey Sauce, what's a big mistake you find people run into when they're cooking burgers on the grill?

Awesome question. Two ways to cook, my brother: hot and fast or low and slow. When you're going to cook that burger, I'd like you to get that on a grill, be it a flat top, be it a charcoal grill, be it a gas grill, be it a cast iron pan. Hot and fast. Let's put a crust on it. Let's get a sear on it. Let's flip it once. Let's take it, cook it. If you're on a grill, give it a cross-hatch, move it 90 degrees, and put some nice marks on it. As soon as you see a little bit of the juice float to the top of the burger, flip it. Do the same thing on the other side. Call it a day. We're not pressing on it.

If you're going to smash it, as soon as it hits the griddle, smash it. Otherwise, quit messing with it.

Listen to this: Every time you touch that burger and you hear "chh", that's Elvis leaving the building. That's flavor leaving the plate. Because all you're doing is pressing on it and losing the moisture, losing the juice. The best thing we could do is hit both sides and let it rest for a little bit. Serve that up medium rare. If you've got a big, thick one, again, you've got different styles of cooking, but flip, flip, flip, flip? No, that's not what we're looking for. Hot and fast, baby.

Use your sauce before you grill chicken

Speaking of Donkey Sauce, did you or your tasters come up with any favorite unexpected ways to use it?

We have used Donkey Sauce in the Fieri family forever. Believe it or not, this will surprise you: Take a chicken breast and smear a little Donkey Sauce on it on the grill. You've got to think about what you've got in there. You've got mustard, you've got black pepper, you've got garlic, you've got a little bit of lemon, you've got a little bit of acid, you've got the fat of the aioli. It works as a great glazing, coating, and searing outfit.

It's just this really nice fortified flavoring that goes all the way around it. And for my son, Ryder, a lot of times on the weekend we're pre-cooking a lot of proteins for him, he doesn't like to eat school lunch, so he wants to go to school with his rice and his chicken and so forth. And that's one of the things we'll use it for.

We try to make the sauces as universal as possible. If it says that it's going to be honey mustard, we want it to have honey, and we want it to have mustard. If it's Popping Jalapeño, you better be able to see the jalapeño, taste the jalapeño, and it better shine through. And I had one of the best compliments I heard from someone. I've heard it from a lot of people. "It tastes like it's something I made in my kitchen." That's what the intention is supposed to be. I don't want something genericized; everything plays in the middle of the road. This might be a little more intense for some people. They may be looking at this and saying, "Oh, well, I've had jalapeño before." But it's not going to burn your mouth. You're not going to be running for the next cold beer. But if it says that it's got jalapeño in it, you better taste it.

What a budget steak can bring to the table

What's your opinion on budget cuts of steak? Do you have any recommended cuts you think people should be grilling more of, and what marinades do you recommend? Do any of these sauces fit for going on pre-grill in addition to maybe topping them afterward?

Okay. I am a huge top sirloin fan. Okay?

Excellent. Yeah.

Love them. Love top sirloin. Love flank steak. Flank steak is a little bit more expensive, but I'll talk to you about top sirloin. There's marinating, which really just gets into the first quarter inch. Brining is a different thing. Dry brining is another thing. Seasoning your steak ahead of time and letting those flavors soak into your meat — really important. You can add so much flavor cooking over hardwood, cooking over charcoal.

I always recommend cooking over charcoal or a pellet smoker or something that can impart some smoked flavor to it. And it doesn't mean that it becomes a barbecue item now, but there's just ... the meat lends itself to absorbing these smoked flavors, which accentuates the experience incredibly.

Believe it or not, one of the best ways to enjoy less expensive cuts of meat is to cook it properly, let it rest, but most importantly, slice it thin and slice it on the bias. Against the grain. Those little techniques matter. Like if you take a piece of meat and cook it to medium to medium-well, now it doesn't have a ton of fat to it; now you've got yourself a situation where it's dry. Then we go and cut it like we would cut a normal steak, like a New York strip. You're not going to have a pleasant experience. You get that same piece of meat, give it a dry rub, cook it hot and fast, and let it rest. You're going to get some great flavor. The palatability, the texture of it, it's not going to be chewy. That would be my best go-to.

Cooking wings takes time

What are your favorite ways to prepare wings at home? Do you have any special tips or tricks to keep in mind for home cooks?

Okay, with all of the sauces, be it the Special sauce, be it the chipotle sauce ... This Kickin' Chipotle, by the way, does have chipotle pepper. This is not going to burn you, but it's going to wake you up. 

Here's my favorite go-to with this. Chicken wings are a great canvas for the chef. And I think one of the biggest things that people miss is cooking them far enough. I was at a restaurant the other day with a buddy of mine, and I was saying to him, "This is what happens." I peeled off the secondary, the flat, I peeled off the skin and I showed him the fat that was in between the meat and the skin. There's that white fat that's in there, and I said, "That's a ton of flavor. When that gets rendered down, it moisturizes the meat as it cooks, and then it also doesn't make it so the skin's so gummy." 

So, here's what you do: You take your chicken wing and season it liberally with something. Salt, pepper, seasoned salt, whatever your combo may be. Adobo, who knows? Season it, put it on parchment paper or on a sheet tray. Bake it off at 350 [degrees Fahrenheit]. Bake it until the wing is ... Well, if it's going to be your only cook, then bake it at 375 and really put a nice little crust to it, pull it out, then hit it with whatever sauce you want. Toss it.

You can toss it in a mayo-based sauce. You can go in the chipotle sauce. I'd maybe save the jalapeño for the dipping. But any one of these — the honey barbecue sauce, the honey mustard — I'm not saying I'm all barbecue. Take a seasoned sauce that goes on everything and then toss it in when it's hot, so it glazes up on it.

You do that, you could take one type of wing that you made and just season generically, roast them off, lay out all the Flavortown sauces, put out a variety of bowls, and just tell people, "Drop them in and toss it right here in that honey mustard bowl." You've got honey mustard wings. Toss it over here; you've got the Carolina vinegar, you've got that tang. You go over here to the hickory, taste that. Now you've got true barbecue. So I think that a generic, simple cook on the wing correctly renders the fat and makes it so it's got a nice little crust to it. Any one of the sauces makes you a hero.

Guy Fieri's Flavortown sauce line is now available nationwide at Walmart and other retailers. You can purchase them here.