I have never met a chili crisp I haven’t loved. They’re spicy, savory, crunchy and delicious. As opposed to regular old chili oil, chili crisps feature I higher ratio of, well, crispy bits. Whether it’s fried garlic or peanuts, chili crisps offer a nice bit of texture to whatever you add it to. The difference between chili crisps and chili oil is so minute, however, that you’ll be happy with whichever ends up on top of your meal.
Chili crisps, in my opinion, are far superior to hot sauces. Using a drizzle of the oil in chili crisps goes further than a dollop of hot sauce, which can often overpower dishes with their sour vinegar base. Like choosing a hot sauce, picking a chili crisp is a wholly personal thing. Blends, ingredients and the oh-so-important crisp-to-oil ratio are at play as to what makes the ideal chili crisp — and none is as perfect as La Gan Ma’s Spicy Chili Crisp, arguably the most famous of chili crisps. It’s under $3 in most supermarkets, and it hits all the right notes from being just the right amount of spicy to nailing the balance between crisp and oil.
From the gold standard of chili crisps to ones from up-and-coming brands, these are the 10 best chili crisps you need to get into your pantry right now.
Lao Gan Ma Spicy Chili Crisp
Almost everyone’s first experience with chili crisps come courtesy of Lao Gan Ma. The crisps — a blend of chili bits, fermented soybeans, peanuts and garlic — makes up almost 80 percent of the jar, so you always get a bit of stuff when you scoop out a dollop. The brand’s founder, Tao Huabi, created the condiment over 20 years ago for her noodle shop in Guizhou. She started bottling the stuff, and now she’s the most recognizable face in the sauce and condiment aisle.
The Spicy Mamas The Garlic Chili Oil
During the pandemic, five members of a Chinese-Cambodian family in the San Gabriel Valley came together to make and bottle their family’s garlic chili oil to share with the public. The result is The Spicy Mamas brand, which makes three versions of its chili oil — Classic Spice for medium heat, Killer Spice for extra spice and Vegan Spice for a vegan medium heat. The Spicy Mamas nail the stuff-to-oil ratio, which is apparent from the jar, and you’re going to want to buy a truckload of this stuff.
Sze Daddy Chili Sauce
Sze Daddy is courtesy of Eric Sze, the chef and owner of the New York City Taiwanese restaurant 886. His chili sauce is, well, saucier than some other chili crisps still contains some nice texture and mouthfeel. Sze Daddy uses numby sichuan peppercorns and earthy star anise, which pays tribute to Sze’s Sichuan heritage.
Momofuku Chili Crunch
David Chang, whose resume is too long to list here, crafted a chili crisp you’d expect from a world-renowned chef. It boasts three, count ’em, three types of chilis — Puya, Japones and Chili de Arbol, with each adding a depth of flavor and heat that you wouldn’t get from just one variety of chili. While we love MSG in our chili crunch, Chang swaps it out for mushroom powder, yeast extract and seaweed to achieve a similar, if not better, boost of umami. You can learn more about Chang’s process into making Chili Crunch on his podcast, The Dave Chang Show.
Milu Chili Crisp
Milu, a fast-casual Chinese restaurant in New York City, opened to much fanfare back in October 2020. Its founder, Connie Chung, was the culinary director at Michelin-starred restaurants Eleven Madison Park and Nomad, so the praise made a lot of sense. Its house-made chili crisp was especially popular, and even if you’re not in New York, you can still get some of that addictive condiment wherever you are. It’s heavily savory but only lightly spicy, with a nice mix of chili flakes, spices like cumin and cardamom and toasted soy nuts.
Fly by Jing Sichuan Chili Crisp
Fly By Jing’s Sichuan Chili Crisp is sort of like the millennial’s direct response to Lao Gan Ma. Its flavors are inspired by Sichuan, which is also where its founder, Jing Gao, is from. It’s got its crunchies, but it really carves its own niche in the chili crisp world thanks to the addition of three very special ingredients: Erjingtao chilies, a highly popular chili in Sichuan cooking known for its mild heat but incredible fragrance; caiziyou, a roasted rapeseed oil; and the rare Gongjiao, or tribute pepper, which is what gives Fly By Jing’s Sichaun Chili Crisp its citrusy undertones and mouth-tingling abilities.
Junzi Chili Oil
Lucas Sin, of the chain of fast-casual Chinese restaurants Junzi Kitchen, makes one of the spicier chili condiments out there courtesy of Tianjin chili flakes, Sichuan peppercorns and cayenne peppers. It is market itself as a chili oil and not a chili crisp, so it is heavier on the oil. Those bits on the bottom third of the jar are a wonderful topping for noodles, rice and pretty much everything.
Boon looks like it was made by someone who just really wanted to make their own chili crisp, and that’s sort of what chef Max Boonthanaki did with this. Boonthanaki is the head pastry chef at Bangkok’s Michelin-starred Blue By Alain Ducasse. The chef spent a lot of time cooking in Los Angeles before his move to Thailand, and Boon is still made in the Golden State. The addition of anchovies makes this a worthwhile chili crisp, providing both texture and depth of flavor. Each batch of Boon is made in limited quantities, and as of publishing, it’s on batch number 24.
“Top Chef” winner Mei Lin started Umamei, which as the name implies, is chock-full of umami. The oil’s blend of chilis is unique to Umamei, and lends a fragrance and heat unlike some other comparable condiments. Umamei features a healthy dose of crunchy and spicy bits, while providing enough oil to make a nice drizzle over anything. Earlier this year, Lin had partnered with the collaboration king of streetwear Kyle Ng of Brain Dead on a special chili oil that sold out quickly.
Loud Grandma CBD Chili Crisp Oil
Pot d’Huile, a brand of CBD-infused olive oils, partnered with Calvin Eng of Brooklyn’s much-hyped restaurant and bakery Win Son to make this playful and tasty chili crisp. It’s mildly spicy with a bunch of tasty bits like fermented black soybeans and chili flakes, and the addition of tomato paste adds a savory backbone that makes us wonder why more chili oils don’t use it. The eponymous grandma on the jar is a nice homage to the stoic Lao Gan Ma, and Loud Grandma’s edgy appearance really complements the edginess of putting CBD in chili oil.