How To Cook With Hot Peppers

If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen

If you're someone who likes things spicy—like set-your-mouth-on-fire spicy—then you've come to the right place. Adding peppers or chiles to a recipe amps up the flavor and cranks up the heat in all types of dishes, from appetizers and mains to desserts and drinks. Cooking with these ingredients can be exciting but also challenging, and knowing what you're doing will help you achieve the most delicious results.

Hot peppers and chiles come in many forms and levels of intensity, and it's important to know how powerful they are before you start working with them. Here is a guide to cooking with various types of peppers and a few recipes to get you started.

How to Cook with Extremely Hot Peppers

Before we get ahead of ourselves, we should first discuss the proper way to handle superhot peppers and chiles. The most dangerous part is the seeds, so it's important to wear protective gloves when working with them. You should avoid touching any part of your body, especially your face, and always wash your hands after handling, since the oils can stay on your skin and cause irritation.

Prior to incorporating hot peppers into a recipe, it's essential to understand their heat level. For example, a cayenne pepper measures between 30,000 and 50,000 Scoville heat units (SHU) compared to a jalapeño, which is only 2,500 to 8,000 SHU. A little goes a long way, so it's better to under-spice a dish until you know just exactly how much heat your pepper is packing.

What to Cook with Extremely Hot Peppers

The hot peppers and chiles you're probably most familiar with include the jalapeño, serrano, cayenne, Tabasco, Thai chile, habanero, bhut jolokia (ghost pepper) and Carolina Reaper. However, jalapeños and serranos are considered milder compared to the others. If spicy is your thing, here are a variety of recipes you can make with hot peppers, listed from hot to hottest.

Cayenne (30,000 to 50,000 SHU)

The intensity of this chile increases as the pepper changes from green to bright red. Use it dried or fresh in recipes like this cayenne pepper sauce.

Tabasco (30,000 to 50,000 SHU)

Turn those ripe Tabasco peppers into homemade Tabasco sauce or hot pepper vinegar. Tabasco sauce is the perfect addition to dips, cocktail sauce, grilled chicken or your favorite Bloody Mary.

Thai Chile (50,000 to 100,000 SHU)

Commonly found in Ethiopian and Southeast Asian cuisines, Thai chiles are used in curries, sauces, salad dressings and stir-fries. Try our recipes for Thai green curry paste, bourbon-chile barbecue sauce and beef and vegetable stir-fry.

Habanero (100,000 to 350,000 SHU)

This pepper starts off green and changes color to a bright orange and yellow as it matures. Don't let its size fool you; these little peppers pack quite a punch when used in salsas, chilies, and sauces. They're also commonly blended into oils or ground up into a powder and used in desserts.

Bhut Jolokia, aka the Ghost Pepper (855,000 to 1,041,427 SHU)

Known as one of the hottest peppers in the world, the ghost pepper first emerged in northern India. Incorporate it into sauces like this pineapple ghost chile sauce or use it sparingly in dishes like ghost pepper salsa and chicken curry.

Carolina Reaper (1,400,000 to 2,200,000 SHU)

What was once the hottest pepper in the world (recently dethroned by the Dragon's Breath chile) is definitely not something you'd want to eat raw unless you like having your mouth on fire. The best way to incorporate this scorcher into recipes is in condiments, like this barbecue sauce or hot sauce poured over charred okra.