This step-by-step guide on making chipotle peppers allows you to preserve your jalapeno harvest and gives you a great way to add new flavor to your dishes.
I have a slight obsession with chipotle peppers. I love chipotles for their distinctive smoky flavor and their peppery heat.
Chipotle peppers are common in Mexican dishes. However, the chipotle flavor has become pretty popular here in the States. Chipotle peppers are found in many dishes and can have a mild or spicy flavor depending on their use. From enchiladas, soups, sauces, and even ground into a fine powder and added to spice rubs and barbecue sauces.
What Are Chipotle Peppers?
Simply stated, a chipotle pepper is a dry-smoked jalapeno pepper. Chipotle peppers are most commonly made from fully-ripened deep red jalapeno peppers. The jalapenos fully ripen on the plant as long as possible before they are harvested for smoking.
Chipotle peppers date back to the Aztecs. The Aztecs smoked the chilies to prevent them from rotting. The peppers were smoked because their skins were too thick, making them too difficult to dry before rotting. This same “smoke drying” process is similar to how meats are cured, allowing them to be stored for longer periods of time.
Types of Chipotle Peppers
There are two types of chipotle chiles: chipotle meco chiles and chipotle morita chiles.
Chipotle Mecos: smoky brown with a cigar-like texture. They have an intense smoke flavor due to longer smoke time.
Chiptole Moritas: The word Morita means little blackberry or mulberry, hence the glossy deep purple color. They have less smoky fruit flavor because they have a shorter smoking time. Chipotle moritas are what we are trying to achieve in this guide.
The Scoville Scale
The natural heat of a jalapeno is retained during the smoke-drying process. Add chipotle peppers to any dish that needs a kick of smoky flavor. Jalapenos are typically 5,000 to 10,000 Scoville Units, on the bottom of the scale.
The heat is usually quite mild, producing great flavor without overheating your mouth. They aren’t what David and I call “stupid hot,” so we greatly enjoy them.
How to Make Chipotle Peppers
David and I are delighted to share our process on how we make chipotle peppers with you in this step-by-step guide.
Step 1: Choosing the Jalapenos
Fully ripened red jalapeno peppers are best for making chipotles. However, green jalapenos you can use, but they will take longer to smoke.
What To Look For:
- Firm peppers without soft spots.
- Good color and tight stems.
- Select jalapenos that are close to the same size as possible. Consistent size is important so the chiles will finish smoking simultaneously. Large peppers will require more smoke time to dry out.
Step 2: Prepare the Jalapenos for Smoking
Carefully wash the jalapenos, and double-check them for blemishes and soft spots.
Cutting the Stems
You can smoke the jalapenos just as they are with the stems, seeds, and membranes intact, but you can reduce the overall drying time by cutting off the stems, which allows the smoke to get inside and out of the jalapenos, absorbing more smokiness.
We cut off the stems leaving the memberane and seeds intact so that the peppers take on more smoke flavor. The veins and seeds are where the spicy heat of jalapenos live. If you want a milder pepper, you can remove them; otherwise, leave them intact, but be careful when handling them so you do not lose too many seeds.
Step 3: Choose A Smoking Wood
The most important ingredient of chipotles is the type of wood for smoking them. When smoking chipotles, you want to use a pretty mild wood. You can use fruit woods such as apple wood, but hickory and oak are fine too.
In Mexico, pecan wood is the traditional Mexican wood to smoke chipotles. So we used a combination of wet and dry pecan wood chips to smoke our jalapenos.
Use whatever wood you like, and make sure you have a good supply for the long smoke.
Step 3: Prepare the Smoker
For this project, we used David’s 18-inch Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker. We felt that since the jalapenos need such a gentle heat, the fire would be far enough away to give them jalapenos the low, even smoke they desire. If you have a charcoal grill, that will work just fine!
Make sure you start with a good clean smoker. Grease and oils from previous meat smoke can leave a nasty flavor on the chiles, so make sure the grates are clean.
Prepare for a long smoke and start the fire using a mixture of charcoal and wet and dry wood chips or chunks.
Step 4: Smoke the Jalapenos
When the smoker or grill is in the ideal temperature range, you are ready to smoke; place the jalapenos on the rack in a single layer leaving some space between each jalapeno. If you use smaller chipotles, you may want to use a grilling tray; larger jalapenos should be fine. After you place the jalapenos on the rack, toss a hand full of the soaked wood chunks and some dry wood chunks onto the coals and close the lid.
Keep a close eye on the fire and try to keep the temperature consistent at about 180 degrees F. David likes to combine dry and wet wood chunks, alternating between the two. The dry gives a quick, intense smoke and brings the heat up. The wet wood chunks provide lower, slower smoke and decreased heat. Heat adjustments are made using this technique in addition to opening and closing the smoker’s vents.
The jalapenos will start to dry, turn black, and become leathery when smoked. The chipotles are done smoking when they are completely dry, brittle, very lightweight, and have a rich deep brownish-burgundy color.
We smoked these very small jalapenos for about 14 hours.
Tips For Making Chipotles
- To allow plenty of time for smoking the jalapenos, pick a day when you plan to be home all day and possibly into the next. Fire up the smoker as early in the morning as possible to get those jalapenos smoking.
- A smoking thermometer with a probe for the grate, like the ThermoWorks Smoke™, that tracks the temperature of the grate with high and low temp alarms takes a lot of the guesswork out of the smoking process and allows you to identify hot and cold zones.
- You don’t have to move jalapenos around or rotate them unless you have hot spots. It is best if you move the jalapenos as little as possible.
- It’s important to remember that you don’t want to cook the jalapenos. You want to smoke them slowly until dry. It is very important to maintain a low temperature while producing good smoke. Ultimately, the length of the smoking time will depend on the moisture in the jalapenos. If the jalapenos are large and green, it could take more than 24 hours, so plan on adding hot coals to the fire periodically.
Run Out of Time? Don’t worry!
Smoke-drying peppers is an art form. Don’t worry if your chipotle peppers don’t turn out the first time. There are many variables when smoking chipotles, and sometimes it can take up to 48 hours to completely dry out a batch of jalapenos. Very few people have that amount of time to smoke chipotles for that amount of time. Chipotles will lose their flavor and could possibly spoil if they are not completely dry. At this point, you can refrigerate until needed or freeze them to help preserve them.
If you run out of time before completely drying the jalapenos, you can finish them in the oven. Putting the oven on the lowest temperature setting possible directly on the baking rack is best. However, if the chipotles are too small, you may have to use a grilling basket. If you don’t have a grilling basket, then use a sheet pan as a last resort. Just remember that a pan will hinder the drying process and take even longer.
Finishing the chipotles off inside the oven may make your house smell a little smokey, so don’t say we didn’t warn you.
It’s important to know that smoked chipotles still have some moisture content even though they have been dried, but they have an indefinite shelf life if stored properly. It’s hard to say how long they will remain fresh. Usually, dried chilies can remain fresh for up to 100 to almost 200 days before they start to lose their flavor, but there is no guarantee.
You can store the dried chipotles inside a mason jar or airtight container with a lid in a cool, dry place. You can also try plastic bags, but chipotle peppers are very potent and are very smoky. The smoke smell may seep through plastic bags into your cabinet.
Freezing the chipotles is probably the best method for storing your chipotles. Freezing chipotle peppers will slow down decomposition and almost guarantee they keep their freshness. Chipotle peppers must be used immediately after they are defrosted. Due to the moisture content, the chipotle peppers are vulnerable to mold.
It’s also worth mentioning that they may clump if you defrost them to make chipotle powder. The clumps do not affect the flavor and can be broken up. It may be best to make powders before freezing to preserve integrity.
Uses For Chipotle Peppers
Use chipotles in anything you want to have a smoky flavor without lighting the grill. Chipotles are handy when the weather outside is too bad to light the grill, especially on winter days.
One of the easiest ways to use smoked chipotles is to grind them up into a fine powder. To make chili powder, all you need is a coffee grinder. I use an expensive coffee grinder that sells on Amazon for less than $20.00. It also grinds black peppercorns beautifully!
My favorite way to use chipotles is to rehydrate them by placing them in very warm water for thirty minutes to one hour. This makes cutting up and adding them to your favorite recipes easier.
Chipotle in adobo sauce, chipotle chili salt, and chipotle dips are just a few more recipe ideas.Imagine how good chipotles would be in this Classic Barbecue Sauce. YUM!
We hope this guide to making chipotle peppers allows you to preserve your jalapeno harvest and gives you a great way to add new flavor to your dishes.
What will you use chipotles for? Comment below!
How To Make Chipotle Peppers
- Ripe Jalapenos As many that will fit your smoker.
- Pecan Wood Chunks or Chips Apple, hickory, and oak work well also
- charcoal to help keep wood smoke going
- Carefully wash the jalapenos, and double-check them for blemishes and soft spots.
- You can smoke the jalapenos just as they are with the stems, seeds, and membranes intact but you can reduce the overall drying time, by cutting off the tops, which allows the smoke to get inside and out of the jalapenos, absorbing more smoke flavor.
- Prepare for a long smoke and start the fire, using a mixture of charcoal and wet and dry wood chunks or chips.
- Place the jalapenos on the rack in a single layer leaving some space between each jalapeño. If you are using smaller chipotles, you may want to use a grilling tray, larger jalapenos should be just fine. After you place the jalapenos on the rack close the lid. Keep a close eye on the fire and try to keep the temperature consistent at about 180 degrees F.
- Unless you have hot spots, you don't have to move jalapenos around or rotate them. In fact, it is best if you move the jalapenos as little as possible. The jalapnos will start to dry and turn black and become leathery when smoked. The chipotles are done when they are completely dried when they are brittle, very lightweight and a rich dark color.