I was 11 when Flamin’ Hot Cheetos were introduced to the world (they came out in 1992), and since then my fingers have permanently been stained red. Twenty-six years later, I still buy a bag now and then. The only reason I don’t buy them more often is because they disappear into my mouth hole so quickly.
My day job as a pizza maker keeps me on my toes—and it exercises my recipe development brain muscles. So it got me to thinking, can you use Flamin’ Hots as an ingredient, other than, say, just powdering them up and sprinkling them onto something? I set out on a mission.
We serve a pretty damn delicious buttermilk togarashi ranch at our restaurant in Chicago. Flamin’ Hot Cheeto spice would be a perfect substitution. Or… you’d think.
When you turn Flamin’ Hot Cheetos into a crushed powder, you’ve got to remember: The main component of a Flamin’ Hot is corn. You’re dealing with a squiggle of fried cornmeal. So rather than get a punch to the face of that addictive, almost-acidic spice, you’re dealing with oily cornmeal with just a tiny bit of spice distributed throughout the corny powder.
That being said, does it work in ranch?
No. It doesn’t. In fact, it’s straight-up disgusting. I’d originally tried using a packed 1/2 cup of powdered Flamin’ Hot, but the flavor didn’t come through. So I doubled-down and added an additional 1/2 cup, praying that this attempt would work. The result ended up being a disturbing sludge, nowhere near a dressing, and the longer it sat, the thicker it got, due to the starch from the cornmeal. I feel sick just thinking about it. Don’t get me started on the color.
Would a cheesecake work, then? Yes, there are already recipes on the Internet for Flamin’ Hot Cheeto cheesecake. But you don’t know how ol’ Dannis Ree’s mind works. The original recipe just calls for a Taijin-spiced graham cracker crust. That’s bullshit. I went all the way and turned the Flamin’ Hots into the actual crust. Because I’m a genius. And just to Thelma and Louise the entire thing, I added pepper jack into the cheesecake batter.
Traditional graham cracker crusts for cheesecake involve butter to help bind the powder. Since Flamin’ Hots are already fried, I figured (correctly) that they’d stick together without any additional oil. It’s not perfect; Flamin’ Hots don’t exactly meld into a firm brick, but with enough pressure they will create a sturdy crust
Once I took the cheesecake out of the springform pan, I sprinkled a shitload of powdered Flamin’ Hots on the sides and top.
The result was a bizarre baked good that didn’t taste much like Flamin’ Hots. The crust was dense and crumbly and tasted somewhat sulfuric, and the pepper jack… was a very bad idea. It doesn’t incorporate into cheesecake batter well during the baking process, so I ended up with off-putting gritty chunks of it in some bites. But the color of the crust was a major triumph of artificial coloring that I will never forget. If you want to play a horrible prank on someone, feed them this cake and tell them it’s red velvet.
If you noticed the lime, I thought a squirt of lime juice would make it taste better. It didn’t.
With two failures under my belt (and fermenting in my stomach), I asked some friends for a few bright ideas. I’ve never seen people so excited. Thus, the hellish idea for a Flamin’ Hot Cheeto corn dog was born. I found a standard corn dog recipe and replaced the cornmeal with crushed Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, and I also put large pieces of whole Cheetos into the batter. You know, for texture.
You know what? The result wasn’t terrible. It wasn’t great, either. The color of the cooked batter was very interesting—rather than being a bright red, it was very pink, much like the color of Betty Crocker’s strawberry cake mix. Plus my batter didn’t quite puff up as much as I would have liked. And the cyst-like chunks of Cheetos got soggy right away. But, I ate the result happily. It was better than the nausea-inducing ranch and cheesecake.
My conclusion? I hate to break it to you, but Flamin’ Hot Cheetos make for a terrible ingredient in dishes. Not because of the flavor, but the fact that there’s so much pre-cooked cornmeal involved, which can’t be separated from the coating. What you really want is the flavor powder, which, unless you break into a Cheeto factory, isn’t going to be something you can readily find.
You have no idea how disappointed I am right now.