How to Make Smoked Chili Powder

Smoked chile powder in a bowl

A few years ago I came up with this recipe for smoked chili powder. I was trying to think of creative ways to use up a bumper crop of cayenne peppers.  Those slender, fiery peppers were thriving in my garden and clocking in at a bold heat level of 30,000 to 50,000 SHU. 

Unlike the milder jalapenos in the garden, I don’t use cayenne peppers fresh in generous amounts. Instead, I use them up by preserving them in the form of dried pepper flakes, chili powder, spicy vinegar infusions, and even fermented pepper sauces.

Picking a cayenne pepper

The Gardener's Dilemma

One of the challenges of gardening is figuring out what to do with a large harvest. There I was, facing a basket of freshly harvested hot peppers, and I realized there were far more than I could use fresh. 

My initial plan was to dehydrate and grind them into powder or flakes which I often do with peppers. Fresh pepper flakes are perfect for adding heat to recipes or creating customized spice blends. But then I remembered reading about cold smoking in a book called Batch a few years before. An idea was born!

Basket of chili peppers
Any spicy chili pepper is delicious when transformed into a smoked chili powder. I have experimented with varieties such as cayenne, japapenoes, cowhorn, and milder peppers like shishito.
Bowl of smoked chili powder
Smoked chili powder is my new favorite way to use up the hottest of the hot peppers in my garden like cayennes.
Herb Crafting with Hot Peppers

I decided to do some experimenting and infuse them with smoke before dehydrating. The result was a smoked chili powder with a scent and flavor combination that you have to experience to believe. I gave a few small batches out to friends to try, and now it’s the most popular herb-crafted concoction I have ever made. They ask for it every year!

Making your own smoked pepper flakes or smoked chili powder is an easy and fun way to spruce up your food and use up extra hot peppers from your garden. Using this cold smoking method allows you to craft a unique smoky spice using homegrown peppers from your garden.

How to Make Smoked Chili Powder

Step 1: Gather the Materials

You’ll need a cold smoking device, like this pellet tube smoker tube to create smoke. You’ll also need fresh cayenne or other hot peppers from your garden, local grocery store, or farmer’s market. And you’ll need a grill, smoker, or other outdoor enclosure to hold the peppers and contain the smoke. 

A grill mat to place the peppers on and a culinary blow torch to fire up the pellets are both helpful. 

Lighting pellets on fire
A small blow torch works great to fire up smoking pellets in a smoker tube.
Step 2: Cold Smoke the Peppers

Wash your peppers to remove any dirt or insects and inspect for soft spots or blemishes that could affect the final product. Place the cold smoke tube in your grill or smoker and light the pellets. 

Let the pellets catch on fire and then blow them out to create the smoke. Place the peppers on the grill. I use the grill mat to make sure the peppers don’t fall through. 

I put smaller cayennes on whole or chop larger peppers up into chunks to collect more smoke. Make sure the peppers are a few inches away from the smoke tube.  Even though the tube is only smoking, it still creates some heat, but you don’t want to cook the peppers. Close the lid and smoke for at least two hours – more if you want them smokier.

Chile peppers and a pellet smoker tube
Use a grill mat and smoker pellet tube to infused peppers with smoke.
Step 3: Dehydrate the Peppers
Dehydrating the cayenne peppers is an important step in the process. This will remove the moisture from the pepper so you can grind it into flakes or powder as well as prolong its shelf life. Spread the peppers evenly in a single layer on your dehydrator trays and turn the dehydrator to 135 degrees F and leave until the peppers are crisp. This could take a day or longer. If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can try your oven on the lowest temperature.  Before I splurged on a 9-tray Excalibur dehydrator years ago, I used my oven to dry herbs and peppers.
Step 4: Prepare the Peppers for Grinding
When the peppers are crisp to the point that you can break them without them bending, they are ready to turn into flakes or powder.  You can snap off the green tops at this step or cut them off after harvesting in Step 1.
Smoked and dried chili peppers
After dehydrating, break off the stems and compost them. Grind up the rest of the smoked peppers, seeds and all!
Step 5: Grind the Peppers to Flakes or Powder
Once the peppers are cooled, place them in a clean food processor or blender and grind until they become a coarse powder, a fine powder, or flakes, depending on how you want to use them in your cooking.  For large batches of peppers, I use a Vitamix. For small amounts, a coffee grinder or small blender works perfectly. Alternatively, you can store them hole and blend in small batches when you are ready to use the powder.
Step 6: Store the Smoked Pepper Powder
Transfer the pepper flakes to an airtight container like a pantry jar, label, and date. Store the finished powder in a cool, dark place. The pepper flakes should keep for a year (as long as no moisture gets into the jar) and retain their spice and smoky flavor.
Close up of smoked pepper powder

Add Smoked Chili Powder to Your Spice Collection

Experiment with whatever peppers you have in the garden or can obtain at your local Farmer’s Market or grocery store. I usually make a batch of just cayenne peppers each year but I have also done jalapeño and shishito and even a blend of multiple pepper varieties both spicy and mild. The fun part is working with what you have!

Just be aware that if using a very hot pepper like cayenne, a little goes a long way. You can also smoke milder peppers to add more of the smoke flavor to recipes without overdoing it on the heat.

How to Use Your Smoked Chili Powder

Use this spice anywhere you want to add a unique smokiness to your recipes. I have used it to add smoky spice to roasted vegetables, chicken tortilla soup, chili, grilled meat, deviled eggs, salad dressings, pizza, scrambled eggs, and more.

You can also mix your smoked chili powder with homemade green onion powder and other herbs and spices to make a custom grill rub.  You can also skip the smoke and just make pepper flakes. Add them to any spice blend like homemade Italian seasoning to give it a kick of heat. 

Have you tried a cold smoke infusion? Let me know if you try making this smoked chili powder and how you use it in your kitchen!

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Cultivating Nature's Wisdom

I’m a nature photographer and gardener sharing how I created an ecological garden in a small suburban backyard. I also share a few tips for growing and using herbs to craft your own homegrown spice blends.

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