15 Ingredients To Elevate Jalapeño Poppers

There's something special about the combination of spicy jalapeños and cream cheese. The way the bright, piquant peppers contrast with rich, cooling cream cheese is a marvel, and jalapeño poppers are the most efficient way to combine the two. They're ultra-portable and can even provide a powerful nutritional punch depending on how they're prepared and what ingredients are stuffed into them.

Jalapeño poppers can be as simple as taking halved jalapeño peppers, spooning cream cheese inside, and cooking — but it's way more fun to experiment with unconventional ingredients and accompaniments. Just switching up the cooking method for poppers can lead to noticeable differences in the finished product. Air frying gives jalapeño poppers a delicious, crackly texture; baking in the oven is a good way to get a nice crisp on cheese, and deep-frying can lead to a delicious (albeit boiling hot) gooey center. From wrapping the hot peppers in bacon to swapping the main ingredient itself, here are 15 innovative ingredients that will help you take your poppers to the next level.


Bacon has a way of making everything taste better. It's pretty much a perfect product: Salty, fatty, smoky, sometimes sweet or spicy, with a satisfyingly crisp and crunchy texture. Poppers don't have to be wrapped in meat, so feel free to skip this section if you're vegetarian or just not a fan of bacon (blasphemy), but bacon-wrapped jalapeño poppers are a real treat. Swaddling the cheese-stuffed hot peppers in bacon adds a hazy, smoky flavor and a satisfyingly chewy, crunchy texture to the finished poppers.

Bacon can also transform jalapeño poppers into a satisfying meal rather than an appetizer or side. Bacon contains a fair amount of protein (about 12 grams per three slices), whereas jalapeños and cream cheese do not, so bacon-wrapped poppers are more filling — but keep in mind that both bacon and cream cheese contain quite a bit of fat. If bacon-wrapped jalapeño poppers are starring as your main dinner or lunch course, more power to you, but you may want to consider adding a side salad or some additional veggies on the side to balance everything out.

Pimiento cheese

Pimiento cheese has been around for over a century. Though it got its start in New York, it's long been known as a staple of the American South, the recipe evolving over the years into what it is today: a creamy, sweet, and mildly spicy blend of mayo, cheddar, cream cheese, and chopped pimiento peppers. On their own, pimiento peppers are aromatic but mild, bearing some resemblance to red bell pepper. In a classic pimiento cheese spread, pimiento peppers add a bright, cheery flavor to their dairy-heavy counterparts.

Given that pimiento cheese already contains cream cheese, swapping out cream cheese for pimiento in jalapeño poppers is a no-brainer. Pimiento cheese has a chunkier texture than cream cheese alone due to the addition of shredded cheddar and chopped peppers (some recipes add additional ingredients, like olives or bacon), but it's still pretty easy to stuff into fresh jalapeño halves. Mild pimiento peppers won't amp up jalapeño poppers' heat factor by much, but the presence of the sweet pimientos and the sharpness of cheddar cheese in pimiento cheese dip provide a playful and elevated alternative to standard cream cheese-stuffed jalapeño poppers. 

Spinach artichoke dip

Jalapeño peppers are spicier when served raw versus cooked. Many people who can't quite stand the heat of raw jalapeño peppers are able to enjoy the reduced spice levels of cooked jalapeños, but if it's still too much, spinach artichoke dip can come to the rescue. Whether you're whipping up a fresh batch of dip just for this or repurposing leftovers from game night, the deep flavors of spin dip make an excellent enhancement to jalapeño poppers.

Spinach and artichoke dip usually consists of a creamy base (cream cheese, yogurt, or similar) blended together with additional cheeses, spinach, jarred or canned artichokes, and additional seasonings. Spinach is rich in iron, magnesium, and potassium while artichokes (even when processed) are packed with fiber and vitamins A and C, so spinach artichoke dip presents an easy and nutritious way to add some extra veggies. That signature peppery jalapeño bite will still shine through, but the rich flavors of cream cheese or yogurt with bright, herbaceous artichokes and mild spinach help temper the heat while adding a unique and pleasant flavor to the finished product.

Flavored cream cheese

Pop into any bagel shop (or just take a stroll down the dairy aisle at your local supermarket), and you'll be greeted with a cornucopia of flavored cream cheese options. You've got your run-of-the-mill flavors, of course, i.e., garlic herb, garden veggie, and blueberry — but today, you can also find more "out there" varieties such as pumpkin, vanilla walnut, and red velvet. Most basic jalapeño popper recipes call for cream cheese, and switching up a plain cream cheese filling with a flavored option is as easy as substituting the cream cheese of your choice in a 1:1 ratio.

Your options here are only as limited as your imagination. Herbed flavors will allow you to maintain the tangy bite of unflavored cream cheeses while adding a little oomph. If you're feeling dangerous, consider stuffing your halved jalapeños with a sweet variety like strawberry for a fun twist. Pro tip: Try smoking your cream cheese on the grill or in a smoker and wrapping your jalapeños in bacon before cooking, and your smoked bacon-wrapped jalapeño poppers are sure to be the talk of the town.


"Jalapeño" is literally in the name of this dish, so why would you swap jalapeño poppers' main ingredient? It might not be the most conventional substitution, but replacing jalapeños with pepperoncini leads to a yummy, cheesy, pickle-forward creation that brings down the heat of poppers without sacrificing flavor. While the preparation method remains nearly the same, this is a whole new popper. Unlike jalapeños, it's difficult to find fresh pepperoncini peppers in the United States, so most of us turn to jarred pepperoncini when needed. Pickled pepperoncini still have a bit of spice but far less than that of a jalapeño. 

When preparing pepperoncini poppers, it's important to ensure that the pickled peppers have dried completely before you slice them in half, lest you risk losing the crisp texture crucial for world-class poppers. Once the pepperoncini have been thoroughly dried and cut in half, simply stuff them with your filling of choice and cook. Classic or flavored cream cheese is a great pick here, as the spicy, vinegary taste of pepperoncini nicely complements the richness of cream cheese. 


Shellfish are a great way to elevate appetizers, pasta, pizzas, and more. Shrimp, a highly versatile crustacean, plays well with many flavor profiles but is especially dreamy when paired with cream, a la shrimp linguine Alfredo. Shellfish tend to be associated with high-end, expensive cooking, but shrimp are pretty affordable at the grocery store, and they happen to make a darn good addition to jalapeño poppers. The zesty, aromatic bite of hot peppers and the velvety, rich flavor of cream cheese make excellent bedfellows for buttery, fish-forward shrimp.

There are a few different ways to incorporate shrimp into your jalapeño poppers. For an easily portable popper, cook your shrimp ahead of time, dice it up, and mix it well into your cream cheese or desired filling, then stuff your jalapeño halves with the cheese mixture, allowing the subtle flavor of shrimp to shine through the stuffing. This is ideal if you're planning on wrapping your jalapeño poppers in bacon (or try prosciutto for a lighter touch). Alternatively, prepare your jalapeño poppers as you normally would and serve whole-cooked shrimp on top. 

Buffalo chicken dip

We've suggested a number of ways to turn down jalapeño poppers' heat so far, but what if you want to crank things up a notch? Enter buffalo chicken dip. Buffalo sauce is known for combining copious amounts of hot pepper sauce with butter, garlic, and sometimes additional seasonings. It's a popular choice of sauce for chicken wings, but a creamy buffalo chicken dip makes for easier (and dare we say, more delicious?) eating. Consisting of spicy buffalo wing sauce, cream cheese, shredded chicken, ranch, and cheddar, buffalo chicken dip has a spicy kick when eaten on its own, and stuffing it into jalapeños is a spicy delight.

Creamy buffalo chicken dip is cooled down somewhat by the presence of cream cheese and ranch in the mix, but don't be fooled — it's still hot. Although jalapeño peppers are a little less spicy when cooked, they still contain a fresh, aromatic heat that will leave your tongue tingling. Chicken adds a considerable amount of protein to jalapeño poppers, so while buffalo chicken dip-stuffed poppers are a guaranteed hit at a potluck or BBQ, they also make a respectable lunch or dinner. 

Jellies and jams

It's long been known that sweet and spicy elements can be combined for a bright, intricate, unexpectedly tasty result — just look at hot honey, sweet and spicy meatballs, and Mexican hot chocolate. Jellies and jams may not be top-of-mind when thinking about ways to elevate your jalapeño poppers, but the element of surprise is exactly what makes this secret ingredient shine.

Jams and jellies are easy to spread inside jalapeño halves and may even inspire you to experiment with stuffings beyond the traditional cream cheese. Try a dollop of apricot jam and Brie cheese filling or blueberry jelly and whipped feta dip. Take the sweet heat combo one step further and slather your jalapeño halves in pepper jelly before filling with cream cheese and baking or frying. The sweetness of jams and jellies doesn't have to be overpowering to have an effect. Use as little as half a tablespoon, and you'll be able to pick up a bright pop of sweetness in every bite.

Goat cheese

There are many types of cheese that can be made from goat's milk, but most of the time, when someone says "goat cheese," they mean creamy chèvre. Chèvre is made from fermented goat's milk, and the fermentation process combined with goat's milk itself gives this cheese a distinctly earthy, tangy flavor. Goat cheese isn't as sharp as comparable cheeses like feta or blue, but its mild sweetness makes it a favorite for snacking, salads, and charcuterie boards. When stuffed in jalapeños and cooked, it leads to a deliciously fresh take on jalapeño poppers.

Goat cheese notoriously pairs well with sweet, spicy, and salty ingredients alike (hence its frequent appearances on cheese boards), so chèvre is a great pick if you really want to go all-out with your poppers. Mix in some diced pecans or walnuts with your goat cheese, wrap your jalapeño poppers in prosciutto, or drizzle your poppers with hot honey after cooking. 

Tempura batter

Most breaded and deep fried jalapeño popper recipes call for a breadcrumb-based coating — this is also what you'll likely see if you order jalapeño poppers at a restaurant or sports bar. That's all fine and good, but if you're craving fried food and want something distinct, a tempura batter offers an innovative solution. Tempura batter is usually used to coat meat, seafood, or veggies, but it'll work just as well here. Tempura relies on all-purpose flour rather than breadcrumbs to achieve an airy, fluffy texture on the fried coating.

Tempura batter requires a couple of ingredients you may not have on hand, like dashi and mirin, but it's well worth making a trip to a specialty grocery store to get the recipe right. Many additional jalapeño popper ingredients will complement a tempura-fried version — if you're taking the time to batter and fry your poppers, you might as well do it big, right? Tempura-battered jalapeño poppers can also be served alongside other traditional tempura items, like mushrooms, broccoli, or daikon radish.

Dipping sauce

Jalapeño poppers aren't always served with sauce, but there's no good reason why. While even the most basic cream cheese-stuffed poppers are bursting with flavor in and of themselves, a sauce drizzled on top or served on the side for dipping adds some oomph, enhances flavor, and makes for a pleasing aesthetic on a plate or tray. There's no need to limit yourself to one sauce — no one's going to complain if you serve them jalapeño poppers with ranch, hoisin sauce, and honey mustard on the side.

When it comes to sauces, the sky's the limit. Think about the direction you're taking — are you keeping things traditional with bacon-wrapped jalapeño poppers? A garlic aioli drizzled on top helps cool down the heat of the peppers and adds a signature garlicky bite, while BBQ sauce lends both sweetness and tang to the mix. Going with a tempura-battered, shrimp-stuffed version? An umami-rich tangy ponzu sauce with soy sauce and sweet mirin adds a little Asian fusion flair. Crafting a goat cheese and prosciutto pepper popper? Sweet and spicy raspberry chipotle sauce complements these flavors well.

Serrano pepper

If you want things even hotter, consider swapping out jalapeño peppers for serranos. Serranos and jalapeños look somewhat similar — they're both hot peppers that are green when ripe and serranos sort of look like mini jalapeños — but serrano peppers pack quite a bit more spice. While both pepper varieties fall in the "medium heat" range of the Scoville scale, jalapeños rank between 2,500 and 8,000 Scoville heat units, while serranos fall between 10,000-23,000 SHU.

Should you decide to use serranos for poppers, be careful not to break through serranos' thinner skin, lest your stuffing leak out during cooking. It also may be more difficult to stuff chunkier fillings, like buffalo chicken dip or diced shrimp, into these hot peppers given their petite size. However, those folks who just can't seem to have enough heat are sure to be pleased with this substitution. Should you pursue this hack, it may be wise to serve your stuffed serrano poppers with a glass of milk rather than dipping sauce.

Elote dip

Jalapeños are a common fixture in Mexican and Tex-Mex-style cooking, so why not take that theme one step further? Elote, or Mexican street corn, is one of the yummiest variations of corn on the cob out there. Consisting of freshly grilled or boiled corn on the cob slathered in a creamy chili and lime dressing and often sprinkled with cotija cheese, this traditional Mexican side has blown up on the US dining scene in recent years and is easy to find at food trucks and full-service restaurants alike.

Now, of course, it would be impossible to stuff an entire ear of corn into an itty-bitty jalapeño pepper, but the solution lies in elote-style corn dip. This zesty dip incorporates all the most-loved elements and flavors of Mexican street corn into a scoop-friendly form that can easily be poked into jalapeño halves. The kernels of corn in elote dip provide an additional layer of texture that cream cheese on its own simply cannot achieve. 

Scrambled eggs

Tired of drab oatmeal and berries, toast with jam, and syrup-drenched pancakes for breakfast? Jalapeño poppers aren't traditionally considered breakfast food, but when combined with eggs and bacon, they transform into a toothsome and genuinely nutritious brekkie. Cooking eggs in jalapeño halves may sound daunting, but in reality, whipping up scrambled egg-stuffed jalapeño poppers is a breeze.

To start, beat together a couple of eggs with milk (non-dairy milk can be used if desired) and seasonings of your choice — salt and pepper are perfectly acceptable, or add extra flavor with spices like cumin, paprika, or oregano. Once beaten smooth, pour the mixture into jalapeño halves and top with cheese (or don't). Bake in the oven or air fryer until the eggs are fully cooked, and within minutes, you'll have a tasty, healthy, portable meal. They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Why not make it delicious?

Sun-dried tomatoes, olives, and feta

To subvert expectations, push boundaries, and challenge the very notion of what constitutes a jalapeño popper, take a little trip to the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean diet incorporates whole grains, healthy fats, and lots and lots of native veggies for a well-balanced and tasty diet. Some of the most popular ingredients used in Mediterranean-style dishes in the United States are sun-dried tomatoes, Kalamata olives, and feta cheese, all of which are heart-healthy and robustly flavored additions to jalapeño poppers.

You'll probably want to cream together the feta with some cream cheese to help bind your filling together, but the sharp, salty taste of feta will still shine through. Sun-dried tomatoes from a jar are both sweet and tart, and the smoky, briny taste of Kalamata olives adds a rich touch to the mix. All of these distinct flavors are elevated by the fresh heat of jalapeño peppers, and after cooking, the feta, tomato, and olive mix will ooze pleasantly from the popper with each bite. This isn't a filling you often see with jalapeño poppers, so if you want your poppers to stand out, give it a shot.

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