What is Hot Pot Sauce?

Craving the flavors of hot pot but don’t know where to start with the sauces? We feel your struggle. Dipping sauces are essential for creating those mouthwatering layers of flavor in hot pot, but if you’re new to this Chinese specialty, the sauce options can be overwhelming. Not to worry – we’re breaking down everything you need to know about crafting the perfect hot pot sauces.

At its core, hot pot sauce comes down to personal taste. There’s room for improvisation and customization based on your preferences. But some standard ingredients form the flavor base. Soy sauce and sesame oil provide a savory, rich background. Chile oil, garlic, and vinegar add spice, aroma, and brightness. Fresh herbs like cilantro balance it out. Beyond that, you can experiment with additions like peanut butter, sesame paste, or other seasonings until you achieve your desired blend of hot pot sauce nirvana.

The beauty of DIY hot pot sauce is that you control the ingredients from start to finish. Our hot pot sauce guide will walk you through the basics, from traditional flavor combos to creative new ideas. Let’s get cooking!

The Essential Elements

While recipes can vary, certain core ingredients form the base of most standard hot pot dipping sauces:

  • Soy sauce – Provides the salty, savory umami backbone.
  • Sesame oil – Adds nutty, roasted aroma and richness.
  • Chili oil or flakes – Brings the heat level up and gives spicy kick.
  • Garlic – Offers pungent, aromatic flavor and dimension.
  • Vinegar – Brightens with acidity and tang to balance other flavors.
  • Cilantro – Contributes fresh, herbal notes.

These basic components combine to make a well-rounded sauce, with salty, spicy, sweet, sour, and bitter notes. The proportions can be adjusted to suit preferences. From there, extra ingredients are often mixed in for unique flavor combinations.

Regional Variations

Hot pot traditions vary across different regions of China, and so too do the sauces. Here are some regional nuances:

Sichuan – Known for numbingly spicy, mouth-tingling mala sauce made with Sichuan peppercorns. Also enjoy dipping sauce infused with hot chili oil.

Hunan – Favor spicy dipping sauces utilizing dried chilies and chili oil.

Northern Chinese – Opt for an acidic dipping sauce mixing soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, ginger, and scallions.

Mongolian – Enjoy sesame paste-based sauce with garlic, cilantro, and chili oil.

Beyond the Basics

Once you master the basic hot pot sauce formula, there’s plenty of room for creativity. Try blending in extras like:

  • Peanut butter
  • Sesame paste
  • Hoisin sauce
  • Oyster sauce
  • Ponzu
  • Rice vinegar
  • Ginger
  • Scallions
  • Chili crisp
  • Sambal oelek
  • Wasabi
  • Miso paste

Blend and balance flavors until you achieve your ultimate hot pot sauce!

Sauce Tips and Tricks

  • Make sauces ahead of time so flavors can meld.
  • Offer variety by creating a few different sauces.
  • Set up sauce bar with individual ingredients so guests can mix and match.
  • Adjust sauce intensity throughout meal by adding more chilies, vinegar, etc.
  • Try sauce before adding cooked ingredients to ensure optimal flavor.
  • Control sodium content by limiting soy sauce quantity.
  • Keep sauces properly chilled in small dishes.

Homemade Hot Pot Sauce Recipes

Want to DIY your hot pot sauces? Here are a few tasty recipes to try:

Traditional Chinese Hot Pot Sauce


  • 1⁄4 cup low sodium soy sauce
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 Tbsp chili oil (or flakes)
  • 2 tsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame seeds
  • 2 Tbsp chopped cilantro


  1. In a bowl or jar, combine all ingredients. Mix well.
  2. Taste and adjust flavors as desired.
  3. Chill until ready to serve alongside hot pot.

Spicy Sichuan Mala Sauce


  • 3 Tbsp Sichuan peppercorn oil
  • 4 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp Chinese black vinegar
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 Tbsp finely chopped garlic
  • 1 Tbsp chili flakes
  • 2 tsp sugar or honey


  1. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl.
  2. Let chill for 30 minutes for flavors to develop.
  3. Serve with hot pot ingredients.

Japanese Style Ponzu Sauce


  • 1⁄2 cup soy sauce
  • 1⁄4 cup freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice
  • 2 Tbsp mirin or rice wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp grated ginger
  • 2 tsp honey or sugar
  • 1⁄4 tsp chili flakes


  1. In a bowl, combine all ponzu sauce ingredients.
  2. Mix until well blended.
  3. Chill before serving with hot pot.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What are the basic ingredients in hot pot sauce?

The base of most hot pot sauces includes soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, chili oil, vinegar, and fresh herbs like cilantro. These provide the essential salty, nutty, spicy, sour, and herbal notes.

2. Do I have to follow a recipe for hot pot sauce?

Not necessarily! While recipes can guide you, feel free to experiment with ingredients and ratios to customize your own signature sauce. There is no one right way.

3. How spicy should hot pot sauce be?

Spice level is totally subjective. Add chili flakes or oil to your desired level of heat. You can always add more later if you want to turn up the heat!

4. Can I make hot pot sauces in advance?

Yes, you can prepare sauces ahead of time and store them chilled until ready to serve. This allows the flavors to fully develop.

5. How do I make adjustments while eating hot pot?

Taste and tweak your sauces as you go. You can intensify flavors by adding more vinegar, garlic, chili, etc based on personal preference and ingredients being dipped.

Ready, Set, Dip!

The joy of hot pot lies in the interactive dining experience and tailored flavors. With our hot pot sauce guide, you’ll be ready to create customized sauces that make each bite sing. Grab your chopsticks and get dipping!

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Bill Kalkumnerd
Bill Kalkumnerd

I am Bill, I am the Owner of HappySpicyHour, a website devoted to spicy food lovers like me. Ramen and Som-tum (Papaya Salad) are two of my favorite spicy dishes. Spicy food is more than a passion for me - it's my life! For more information about this site Click

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