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What Are Chipotle Peppers and How to Make Them at Home

If you’re a fan of Mexican cuisine, chances are you have tasted a Chipotle pepper at some time or another. These peppers are famous for their mildly spicy and smokey flavor. They are commonly found in many salsas, marinades, stews, and other Mexican-inspired delights.

Chipotle pepper is the name given to a red Jalapeño pepper that has been smoked until it is dry. By smoking these little peppers for several hours, you will be able to transform your ripe Jalapenos into tasty, dehydrated Chipotle peppers.

In this article, we will take a closer look at what precisely Chipotle peppers are as well as some of their most common uses. We will also explore a recipe that will allow you to try your hand at making your very own Chipotle peppers at home.

What are Chipotle Peppers and are They the Same as Jalapeños?

Photo by Gareth Bogdanoff

Chipotle peppers start off as Jalapeño peppers, so naturally, there is quite a bit of similarity between the two. However, the Jalapeño must go through certain processes to become a Chipotle. Not all Jalapeños will end up as Chipotles, but all Chipotles will start off as Jalapeños.

What Color of Jalapeño Peppers are Used for Chipotle?

When it comes to creating Chipotle peppers, it’s best to use red Jalapeño peppers. You are probably most familiar with green Jalapeño peppers, but Jalapeños actually come in a variety of colors, depending on when they are picked off the plant. A Jalapeño pepper will start off as green and maintain that color for most of the season, turning red only at the very end when it is fully ripened. Your average Jalapeño is picked before this last stage of ripeness, maintaining its green appearance.

Photo by Stephanie Bileski

When making Chipotle peppers, it’s best to wait to pick the Jalapeño peppers at the very end of this cycle, when it has turned a deep red. When this color change occurs, it signals that the pepper is beginning to lose moisture, which is ideal for the smoking and dehydrating process necessary to make Chipotle. Red Jalapeños are also ideal because they tend to be a little sweeter and spicier than their younger counterparts.

You can read more about Jalapeños and their different color varieties in our Jalapeno guide.

Smoking Process for Chipotle Peppers

The second part of the process of turning Jalapeños in to Chipotles is the smoking process. The Jalapeño will be smoked until it has lost its shape and moisture, appearing wrinkled and a deep reddish-brown. This process usually takes at least several hours in the smoker, if not days, depending on the method used and the temperature reached.

The end result will be a pepper with a transformed taste. It will keep the heat of the Jalapeño, while taking on the smoky flavor of the wood used. Once this process is complete, the Jalapeño has officially been transformed into a Chipotle pepper.

How Spicy are Chipotle Peppers?

Chipotle peppers will have the same approximate range of heat as a Jalapeño. In terms of Scoville Heat Units (SHU), the standard chili pepper heat measurement, these peppers can be anywhere from 2,500 – 8,000 SHU. With an average heat of around 5,000 SHU, you will experience the heat of these peppers without it becoming unmanageable.

While Chipotle peppers tend to maintain the same heat range as their Jalapeño source, they have the added benefit of additional sweetness. Since they have more time to ripen than green Jalapeños, you may be able to notice the sweeter notes that Chipotle can offer.

Steps to Making Chipotle Peppers at Home

The two main things you need to keep in mind when making chipotle peppers at home are the Jalapeños and the method of smoking you plan to use. While this is traditionally done in a smoker, we’ll also provide steps to smoke them using a charcoal grill.

Use Ripe Jalapeños

If you don’t have access to a Jalapeño plant of your own, don’t worry. If you have only managed to find green Jalapeños at the store, simply place these in a container and set them somewhere they can enjoy some sunlight. As they begin to ripen fully, you will notice the color changing from a dark green to a bright red. When they have turned red completely, you are ready to move on to the next step.

Prepare the Smoking Materials

You will need wood chips in order to smoke the peppers properly. Choosing wood chips that give you a particular flavor is an option here. You might want something that will give a fruity taste, such as apple, or something more traditionally smoky, like mesquite. You can see Youtuber Back to Basics preparing his woodchips of choice in this video:

Smoke the Peppers

If you have a smoker, you can place your wood chips in the smoker and give it time to heat up. When you see a substantial amount of smoke being produced, it’s time to add the peppers. Peppers can be placed in a single layer on a tray and then placed in the smoker.

If you don’t have a smoker, don’t worry. You can use a traditional charcoal grill, filling it on one side with charcoal and on the other side with wood chips. When it is time to place the peppers, place them on the side with the wood chips so they will benefit from the smoke that is generated. Close the lid and let them smoke.

With the smoker, you will want to keep the temperature fairly low, around 175 degrees Fahrenheit. The peppers will need to smoke for at least a few hours. It’s a good idea to check on them from time to time and turn them over if you notice one side becoming more wrinkled and dehydrated than the other. They should be finished after 3 – 4 hours with constant, well-distributed smoke.

Dry the Peppers

Once 3 – 4 hours have passed, and the peppers are looking wrinkly and tinged, the smoky flavor will have been captured. However, the peppers will not yet be sufficiently dehydrated. You will need to either use a dehydrator or an oven at this point. A dehydrator will work quite effectively, but you can also place them in your oven at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 -12 hours.

Enjoy Your Homemade Chipotle Peppers!

At this point, the process is complete and you have successfully transformed Jalapeño peppers into Chipotle peppers on your own. From here, you can use your homemade Chipotle peppers in your very own sauces and recipes.

Delicious Uses for Chipotle Peppers

Now that you have your very own Chipotle peppers bursting with flavor and ready to be used, you might be looking for some inspiration on what to do with them. One popular option is making Adobo sauce. This favorite is a rich and flavorful sauce that can be used to add some hearty kick to many Mexican-inspired recipes. You can see how to make this sauce with your freshly prepared Chipotle peppers here.

If you are looking for a delightfully tasty challenge, you can consider making your own mole sauce with your Chipotles. This is an incredibly rich and intriguing sauce that combines elements of heat from the peppers and sweetness from other ingredients, including chocolate. This traditional sauce can be challenging to perfect, but the rich, unmatched taste is worth it.

A similar way to use them is to add them to any dish you’re cooking up, which will add an extra bit of heat and smoky flavor, much like paprika,

No matter how you prefer to use your Chipotles, you will certainly find a recipe that will be enhanced by their presence. From anything to salsas to meat marinades, you will find many delicious and spicy ways to use the Chipotles in the kitchen.

Closing Thoughts

If you love the manageable heat of Jalapeños and the earthy flavors that come from the process of smoking foods, you are sure to love what the Chipotle pepper has to offer in the kitchen. With this right equipment, you can try smoking these yourself at home and use them for experimenting with your own home-cooked meals.