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Off The Deck Hot Sauce brings the heat to the upper Midwest

Rachel and Jeremiah Utecht created Off The Deck Hot Sauce after fermenting their own chilis, grown right off their deck.

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Jeremiah and Rachel Utecht's product, Off The Deck Hot Sauce, is produced, processed and packed right in the Red River Valley. Photo taken Oct. 20, 2022, in Fargo, North Dakota
Emily Beal / Agweek
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FARGO, N.D. — Chances are, when thinking of the Midwest, chilies, habaneros, ghost peppers and jalapenos are not the first thing that come to mind. But Rachel and Jeremiah Utecht are changing that. The pair have taken a passion project and ran it — right off their deck.

The Utechts created Off The Deck Hot Sauce after fermenting their own chilis, grown right off their deck. Demand for the sauce has gotten to the point that they now work with Red River Valley growers to source the peppers.

Fermenting flavor

Jeremiah Utecht is a self proclaimed nerd, and his wife Rachel agrees wholeheartedly. The couple had been growing a variety of peppers and chilies off their deck when Jeremiah was struck with inspiration; he wanted to ferment them.

“My husband was reading about fermentation — he’s a nerd. He kept talking about it,” Rachel Utecht said. “We were growing some chilies on our deck and wanted to try making hot sauce. So he set up a batch and we tried it a month later. It was so good I knew we had to share it with the world.”

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During the thick of harvest season, 500 to 700 pounds of peppers are brought to Off The Deck Hot Sauce each week by local farmers. Photo taken Oct. 20, 2022 in Fargo, North Dakota.
Emily Beal / Agweek

The Utechts made their first batch of hot sauce in 2016 and haven’t looked back. Their demand for their fiery flavoring quickly gained popularity and soon their deck was not big enough to keep up with demand. That’s when they knew they needed to find additional avenues for their pepper inventory.

Pepper producers

The Red River Valley is known for its rich and nutrient dense soil, yet according to Jeremiah Utecht, many are surprised when they find out the peppers for Off The Deck Hot Sauce is grown in North Dakota, himself included.

“We started to learn about agriculture up here and how chili peppers grow. It turned out we grow some delicious chilies up here,” he said.

About four years ago, Off The Deck Hot Sauce began working with local farmers to get the produce needed for their product. They met many of the farmers they source from at the Red River Farmers Market.

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Rachel Sailer and her mother, Mary Jo Wagar, harvested over 190 pounds of habaneros on a hectic day during harvest season. Photo taken near Hawley, Minnesota.
Contributed / Rachel Sailer

Rachel Sailer met the duo behind Off The Deck at the farmers market and began growing habaneros for them. She previously had grown a variety of produce on her quarter acre of land in Hawley, Minnesota, and took her assortment to a handful of farmers markets in the region. She then decided to take her business in the wholesale direction and now grows scorpion peppers, habaneros, pumpkins, gourds and seed garlic for local businesses.

“The past few seasons have been relatively hot, which has been good for the habaneros,” Sailer said.

Sailer has installed a drip irrigation system that fertigates the habaneros and peppers weekly. This harvest season for Sailer was bountiful. Her mother, Mary Jo Wagar, helped during the harvest season and was instrumental in getting harvest completed, according to Sailer. They enjoy seeing the produce come to life in another form as hot sauce.

“It's really fun to be able to drop a massive amount of habaneros off and get to see that finished product and I know there are lots of different flavors that the habaneros go into,” Sailer said said.

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Bringing the heat

Off The Deck currently runs out of a commercial kitchen, Square One, in downtown Fargo. The space is rented out by various food businesses. Square One is where the magic happens — from pepper to bottle.

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Off The Deck Hot Sauce is produced, processed and packaged right in the Red River Valley by Rachel Utecht and her husband, Jeremiah. Photo taken Oct. 20, 2022, in Fargo, North Dakota.
Emily Beal / Agweek

Rachel Utecht says this harvest season was their most plentiful to date. During the thick of it, they would receive anywhere from 500 to 700 pounds of produce a week. Off The Deck sells a dozen hot sauce varieties, from mild to flaming. However, many of their best sellers are on the hotter side of the scale.

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Off The Deck Hot sauce has a dozen varieties of their hot sauce to suite everybody's taste buds. Photo taken Oct. 20, 2022, in Fargo, North Dakota.
Emily Beal / Agweek

“Their following really likes the heat,” Sailer said.

Off The Deck Hot Sauce has fared well at national competitions, placing in the top three in various categories competing against over 1,000 other hot sauces. Rachel Utecht said her fellow hot sauce growers are always surprised about the punch of flavor in their product.

“There's a surprise that it's actually, it has some heat because there's kind of this assumption that you know mayo is spicy, ketchup is spicy here. That, like the Midwest, can't do heat at all,” she said.

Emily grew up on a small grains and goat farm in southern Ohio. After graduating from The Ohio State University, she moved to Fargo, North Dakota to pursue a career in ag journalism with Agweek. She enjoys reporting on livestock and local agricultural businesses.
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