It was a snowy Saturday in southern Alberta, but it was scorching hot at Exhibition Park in Lethbridge.
According to Dylan Lowry, the organizer behind the day-long hot sauce exhibition dubbed Heating Up The Prairies, the event was the first of its kind in Western Canada.
Lowry, the owner of Beyond Hot, a specialty hot sauce store in Lethbridge, said the turnout showed off the amount of talent in southern Alberta's hot sauce scene.
"We're helping a lot of these local people elevate their business to the next level," said Lowry. "There are some great crafters right here in our own backyard."
Around 50 vendors were expected, but a snowstorm Friday night brought that number down. Still, dozens showed up to bring the heat, along with vendors who sold kettlecorn, beef jerky and other snacks.
That included Danny Robdrup and his family from Watering Eye Hot Sauce. They make small batch hot sauce from peppers grown in southern Alberta — which Robdup said started when "like many others, during the pandemic we found something to do."
"We started with one cayenne pepper plant … It expanded from there and we ended up making a little grow-op in the bottom of our house, which was all peppers and it was hydroponic."
WATCH | Hot sauce competitors turn up the heat at Lethbridge expo:
Robdrup said it meant a lot to take part in the expo.
"We get our name out there and we get to supply what we think are some of the best sauces available," he said.
It's not all about the heat: flavour matters, too. Watering Eye Hot Sauce products include hot peppers, but also African and Indian spices and fruits, like strawberry, pineapple and mango.
At the expo, they had sold out of some varieties.
"The support from the community has been great," said Robdrup.
Hot sauces have seen a steady growth in popularity in recent years, brought on both by the pandemic and by social media. Episodes of the YouTube show Hot Ones, where celebrities are interviewed while eating chicken wings with 10 different, progressively hotter, sauces, are viewed millions of times.
Its popularity extends off the screen: the sauces featured on the show, which change each season, are sought after by spice aficionados.
The increased demand is a trend that Atty Charles, of Atty's Crazy-Hot Sauce, sees continuing. He said many people in Lethbridge are familiar with his hot sauce, "and it's only getting more popular."
While his business is online, he said being a part of Heating Up The Prairies gave him a chance to reach a new audience, and hopes it's a step toward getting his hot sauce sold in stores in the next few years.
Those attending the expo also had a chance to try different sauces in a hot wing challenge — a battle of endurance to see who could handle the heat.
Chris Gregus took part and made it to the second round before tapping out.
"It was pretty wild right from the get go," he said, adding that spice is normally welcome: "I just like the pain it brings, but that was just way too intense for me."
Organizer Lowry said that even if the expo had seen a smaller turnout, he was just happy to share his passion for hot sauce with the world.
Donations from the expo went to the Interfaith Food Bank Society of Lethbridge.