For the last few years, I have had fun growing lots of different pepper varieties, both sweet and hot ones. Along the way I have dehydrated them, grilled them, fermented them, and oven roasted them. Lately I have been intrigued with the idea of smoking them. Since I’m always looking to make things myself, I thought it would be great to have homemade chipotles and smoked paprika.
With a freeze predicted back in late October, it was a good time to harvest all the remaining peppers left on the plants. I had several good candidates available for smoking. Dulce Rojo is a sweet, thin-walled paprika pepper that dries to a dark red color and a lovely flavor. Tolli’s Sweet Italian is a red pepper with medium thick walls. And our own Sweet Happy Yummy is an orange when ripe pepper that is shaped like an Anaheim type, but has no heat. In the hot pepper department I had red ripe El Jefe jalapenos and some green and red Anaheim types. I also chose a few of the ripe Aji Angelo peppers to see how they would be smoked.
A couple of bloggers I follow have already experimented with smoking peppers. Last year Mark (Mark’s Veg Plot) used his stove-top smoker to smoke some sweet red peppers for paprika (Smoked Sweet Peppers). This year Michelle (From Seed To Table) used her Big Green Egg to smoke a variety of sweet and hot peppers (Smokin’ Peppers). I was encouraged by their results, and decided it was time to try my hand at the process.
The goal is to smoke the peppers over a fairly low heat, and then dry them in the oven or dehydrator. You can use a variety of different materials to produce the smoke. Based on my prior experiences with smoking meats, I decided to use apple wood chips for this round of smoking the peppers. I think apple, cherry and alder are all great woods for smoking milder flavored foods. I wrapped up the dry chips in heavy-duty aluminum foil, then poked a few holes in the foil to allow the smoke to escape.
Since I don’t have a stove-top smoker or a BGE, I had to do my own experimenting with what I did have to work with, which is a gas grill and a Weber kettle charcoal grill. I decided to start with the gas grill. Since you want to keep the heat fairly low, I thought the gas grill would give me a greater control over regulating the temperature. While that part was true, it proved to be quite difficult to get the wood chips hot enough to smoke. I had to turn up the gas so high that by the time the chips were smoking, the peppers were overheating and roasting, even though I was only using one of the three burners. The foil packet was just too far away from the heat source.
For this first attempt, I had tried cutting some peppers in half and leaving others whole, and the whole peppers did better.
The thicker peppers also held up better than the thin ones. I had cut all of the thin Dulce Rojo peppers in half so I could remove the seeds, and more than half of them wound up burned. The thick, whole Sweet Happy Yummy peppers wound up nicely smoked, and not at all burned. It was a learning experience for sure!
For the next round, I used the Weber charcoal grill. I built a fairly small fire on one side, using some good quality hardwood charcoal chunks. Once again I used apple wood chips, but this time I made two small foil packets. I wanted to be sure I got some smoking going this time! I laid the packets directly on the coals, and they were smoking in no time. For this batch I left all the peppers whole, figuring I could always remove the seeds later after they were dried. I let them smoke for about an hour and a half, and by that time the chips were done smoking.
After smoking, I used the dehydrator to dry the peppers until they were leathery. That’s dry enough if you want to use them whole, or store them for later use, but if you want to grind them up then they need to be crisp-dry. That smoky aroma permeated the house while they were drying, and I wound up taking the dehydrator outside to finish that job. The dehydrated hot peppers are in the above photo. I was pleased with the results this time. There was no burning at all, and the peppers were nicely smoked.
The sweet peppers also turned out great. I was careful to keep the hot ones and the sweet ones separated – at least I hope I did! The peppers look quite a bit different once they are smoked and dried.
So far I have enjoyed the smoked peppers in several ways. The Dulce Rojo peppers made a killer smoked paprika. I have been sprinkling it on everything! And I crumbled up the Aji Angelo to make smoked pepper flakes. I used some of that to flavor up our Turkey Chipotle Taco and Burrito Filling we made with leftover Thanksgiving turkey. Aji Angelo is a good pepper to add flavor and just a little heat.
I ground up some of the jalapenos to make chipotle powder, and a few of the green Anaheims, which turned almost black after smoking and drying. The chipotle powder is super hot, though it has a great flavor. The green Anaheim powder is less hot and has a wonderful smoky taste. I can see me making more of these next year, though I may grow a milder variety of Jalapeno. I removed the seeds for all the peppers before grinding up. I found that makes for a darker colored paprika, and for milder flavor when you are using the hot peppers.
Overall, I am quite pleased with how the smoked pepper project turned out. Next year, I will know to use the charcoal grill instead of the gas grill, and to keep the peppers whole before smoking – at least the thin walled ones. And I can do the smoking earlier in the season when the supply of peppers is better. I’ll also keep smoking in mind when I decide what varieties of peppers to plant next year. I already have some ideas in mind. Thanks again to Mark and Michelle for sharing their experiences, which certainly helped to get me going down the right path!
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