Needless to say, I like spicy food. I eat jalapeño peppers like candy and like to cover most meals in hot sauce. I also eat Sriracha sauce like it’s going out of style. But the heat is manageable. Not the stuff that Smokin’ Ed Currie is doing. I’m sure you’ve heard of the Carolina Reaper pepper… Thanks, Ed! After this pepper was released, PAQUI introduced the #OneChipChallenge, a single tortilla chip caked in this stuff. Well, thanks to Guy Clarke and Rafael J. Feliciano, I got the chance to eat said chip a few months ago… My mouth is still on fire! Ed didn’t stop there. Have you heard of Pepper X? Pepper X is the name for a capsicum chili pepper bred by Smokin’ Ed. Pepper X resulted from multiple cross breedings which produced an exceptionally high content of capsaicin in the locules of the pepper.
Sean Evans, host of Hot Ones, a popular YouTube show, first introduced me to Pepper X. The show features celebrities answering “10 hot questions with even 10 hotter wings.” In this season, Sean introduced a new hot sauce called The Last Dab. As Sean likes to say, “It’s tradition around here to put a small dab on the last wing.” You don’t have to if you don’t want to, but most do… That sauce uses Pepper X. I haven’t had it yet, nor have I seen the pepper, but I would love to try it. I am a sucker for a challenge… That all being said, I have been so impressed with this stuff, I wanted to learn more about Smokin’ Ed Currie. I reached out to him and scheduled an interview. It was fun learning more about him and his peppers, and I can’t wait to put my tongue on some Pepper X. It is my absolute pleasure to introduce you to Smokin’ Ed Currie.
You are the Founder, President, Mad Scientist & Chef of PuckerButt Pepper Company. Sounds like you stay pretty busy. Tell me what a day in the life of Smokin’ Ed Currie looks like.
I start my day with a prayer and coffee. Rushing to get the kids ready for school. What I do during the day usually depends on the season. This time of year we are doing inventory on over 1,500 different types of seeds. Planning our farms for the growing season ahead. We are planting seed trays (over 100,000).
Back in 2011 you released the Carolina Reaper pepper. Give us an overview of that pepper and what the journey was like developing such a spicy pepper.
The Carolina Reaper has been around fourteen years now. I was always messing with peppers in my backyard. When I tasted the extreme heat and flavor, I knew I had something special. I continued to grow it every year and had it tested by the Winthrop University Chemistry Dept. I first submitted to Guinness World Records in 2011, and it took 2 years for them to review my peppers, seeds, and testing. They are extremely meticulous.
Since you unveiled the Carolina Reaper, you’ve introduced Pepper X. Tell us more about that pepper.
We started the HP series of peppers in the early 2000s. The Smokin Ed’s Carolina Reaper® was the first of the line to be released and we let the community know then that we were holding others in our back pocket. What is temporarily being called “Pepper X” is a result of that breeding process. We are testing this year’s crop and “The Last Dab™” in side-by-side testing so that the numbers will not be disputed by Guinness or the community and we do not go through what we went through with the last record.
I love watching Hot Ones on YouTube. Pepper X is used in The Last Dab, the sauce he ends every show with. How did you and Sean Evans first connect?
We had mutual friends in the industry. They reached out and asked if we would be interested in doing a few sauces for Hot Ones/First We Feast. We all love the show and of course wanted to bring out the big guns!
Any plans to have you on the show anytime soon?
I would love to be on the show one day! I have a wife, two crazy kids, and a business to run. It’s a busy schedule, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Tell me more about PuckerButt. Great name, by the way. What sort of products do you sell, where can folks learn more?
PuckerButt Pepper Company is like a family. We all pitch in and work hard to provide quality products like hot sauce, salsa, mustard, and over 400 varieties of seeds. We offer our products online at, Amazon, WholeFoods, and a lot of specialty grocery stores. What makes us different is that we grow, harvest, and produce all our own peppers/products in South Carolina. We are USDA Certified Organic, and KSA Certified.
A few months ago I took the #OneChipChallenge. My buddies Guy and Rafael did it with me. Needless to say, the chip was hot. What do you think of the challenge and its growing popularity?
We partnered with PAQUI to produce the #OneChipChallenge. That chip took a lot of Carolina Reaper powder and hazmat suits. It was a lot of fun seeing all the reactions. I thought it could have been a lot hotter!
You must like eating hot foods. Tell me about the spiciest pepper you’ve ever tried and what that first experience was like.
I’ve always has a love for peppers and all things spicy, so I’ve built up a pretty high tolerance. The hottest pepper I ever had was a 19 Gram Carolina Reaper; it was huge. When you consume “super hot” peppers everyone generally reacts the same way. Your first thought is this isn’t too bad, but you probably spoke too soon. The eyes will well up with tears, faces turn red, sweat breaks out. The heat will build from the back of your throat, and it takes about 5 minutes of relentless build up to hit its maximum heat level. By that time, your chugging milk, your ears ring, vision can go blurry, drooling, and just suffering in general. That will last about 20 – 30 minutes before the heat will go down or subside. Some go into a daze and almost everyone does puke. Most people regret it, but others enjoy the rush of endorphins and dopamine. Once the heat goes down your body will feel numb, your face will tingle, and a lot experience a extreme body rush. Next, you still have to digest it. You experience stomach cramps 4 – 6 hours later, that are pretty brutal. The obvious last step doesn’t need explanation. I always suggest and encourage people to try it. It is a pretty cool experience.
What is the Friends’ Stuff section on your website all about?
We like to carry other products and help support them. They are all small businesses and good friends.
What is the process to get a world record? Do they contact you, or do you bring them out?
It is a long process. I could write a book about it. You have to reach out to them.
Also, what is the process for determining how hot a pepper really is?
Peppers are tested in a HPLC Machine. This machine breaks down the pepper and does a read out of the results. Which provides the SHU for the pepper.
The Scoville scale is a measurement of the pungency (spicy heat) of chili peppers, or other spicy foods, as reported in Scoville heat units (SHU), a function of capsaicin concentration. Capsaicin is one of many related pungent compounds found in chili peppers, collectively called capsaicinoids.
A lot of people record their reaction videos on YouTube. Some are funny, but some are intense. Do you like watching people try to eat these hot peppers?
A lot of people send me videos that are hilarious, and some are just painful to watch.
When people eat something hot, does drinking water help? What about milk?
Water only moved the heat around your mouth. It doesn’t wash away any of the heat.
A guy I work with is growing some Carolina Reaper peppers at home. Do you have any advice on someone trying to grow hot peppers?
We always suggest using a sterile, soilless, lightweight mix. Sow seeds approximately 1/8″ deep in sterile, soilless planting mix. Sow in containers allowing adequate drainage (i.e., holes on bottom of container). Cover seeds with a light dusting of soil. It is preferable not to load it with additional water Dampen soil mix from the start and continue to keep moist, but not so much where it is completely soaked much of the time. Never let the soil completely dry out. Plant seed no more than 1/8 inch – or about the size of the seed itself – below soil. Seeds may take 4 – 6 weeks to germinate. If planted too deep, germination time can increase or loss of seeds. Cover with a light dusting of soil or vermiculite. Lightly spray the covering with water. If needed, bring soil temperature up to 80-85 degrees to speed up germination. This can best be achieved indoors using a heat mat under the tray. We do NOT suggest using paper towel or any other methods.
As a reminder, seeds may take 4 – 6 weeks to germinate.
You are also a chef. Do you use a lot of peppers in your cooking? What are some of your favorite menu items to prepare?
I love meat! The PuckerButt family will come over a couple times a month and we cook out. I usually get the biggest loin possible and we grill out. I do most of the cooking at home and I love Italian, Asian, Indian, and Taco Tuesday.
Tell me more about your field. How big and how much manpower does it take to keep the crop dialed in? Also, when do you plant/harvest peppers? Is there a specific season you follow?
It is a year round operation. We generally harvest from June – November. Our farm is separated into 3 parts. We have these 3 segregated for:
- Pepper farm for breeding and seed inventory
- All-natural pepper farm for our grow contracts and our products
- USDA Certified Organic pepper farm for our organic grow contracts and organic product line
There can be upwards to 100 people during peak season. When you take into account all of the parts of the pie, we run around a lot.
There are a lot of peppers out there. Some people findjalapeños hot. Others like the flavor of a habanero pepper. How many different kinds of peppers are there and how many are you currently growing?
We are currently growing over 356 varieties. There are thousands of different pheno varieties – shapes, sizes, colors, origins, and heat levels.
What’s next for Smokin’ Ed Currie?
I am always working on new products, peppers and crazy things to try. We have hot sauce festivals, and food expos lined up all year! 2018 is going to be a big year for us!