Preserving your Chilies – Smoking

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Since one chili plant can produce hundreds of peppers, when harvest rolls around, most growers have too many to use and need to preserve them. An excellent preservation method, is smoking them. The jalapeno and Hungarian yellow wax peppers work best for smoking because they are thick walled. You can smoke the thin walled varieties; they just will not retain as strong a smoke flavor.

It is important to use ripe chillies for smoking. They should not have soft spots or blemishes and should have reached their final color.

Smoking Equipment Needed

If you do not have access to a commercial cold smoker, a kettle-style charcoal grill with wood chips will work extremely well. You can also use a fish smoker with wood shavings, but the chillies will not be as smoky, because it uses a faster process.

Hard woods like apple, beech, mesquite, pear, or hickory work best. Never use pine or other resinous wood.

Smoking Directions

The smoker should be completely clean before using it to smoke chillies. If not, any prior smoking flavor can taint them, making them taste terrible. Following is a guide to help you smoke chillies:

1. The key to smoking is applying heat to wood without it catching fire. To assure this does not happen, soak your wood chips in water for an hour or two before starting.
2. Clean your chillies, de-stem them, slit them in half, and remove all the seeds.
3. Heat up the smoker. A fish smoker heats up quickly, while a kettle grill will take at least 20 minutes for the charcoal to get hot.
4. Put the wood in the smoker. The fish smoker requires an even layer of wood shavings on the bottom. The wood chips are placed right on the smoldering charcoal in the kettle grill.
5. Put the chilies in the smoker. Lay them directly on the rack. If the chillies are small enough to fall through, put them in a wire basket first.
6. Close the cover and monitor them hourly. Since the fish smoker cooks faster, check it more often. Add additional wood as needed.

It will take approximately 5 hours in the fish smoker and 6-8 hours in the kettle grill for jalapenos. Thin-walled varieties will take less time. As the chilles dry in the smoking process, they will turn brown and be very lightweight. When completed, they may still not be dry enough. If necessary, transfer them to a dehydrator or dry them in an oven at 50 degrees Fahrenheit for several hours.

Storing Smoked Chillies

Dried chillies can be stored in airtight containers or zip type plastic bags. If kept cool and in the dark, they should last a year or two. Smoked chillies can be ground, chopped or used as is in your favorite recipes.

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