Sport Peppers: The Pickled Hot Pepper You Can Only Find In Chicago

It's a warm summer afternoon at Wrigley Field. You've been watching the Cubs play baseball for an hour and you desperately need something to cheer you up, anything but what's happening on the field. That's when you hear it: "HOT DOGS HEEEEEEEEEEYAH!" The hot dog man, bearing an insulated treasure chest full of instant happiness, has arrived. But you can't just grab a plain frank — oh, no. This is Chicago, so you've got to drag that thing through the garden.

"Dragging through the garden" refers to the Chicago tradition of piling their hot dogs with vegetables. A true Chicago-style hot dog has pickle spears, tomato slices, chopped onions, sweet relish, yellow mustard, celery salt, and pickled sport peppers (per Forbes). That last addition throws many people for a loop (Chicago pun intended), as sport peppers are unfamiliar to virtually everyone not from Illinois. Yet many insist they are the most important ingredient on the dog.

Sport peppers are similar to serranos

Sport peppers are their own unique cultivar, officially known as the Mississippi sport pepper, according to Tom McGlade of the Vienna Beef company, the largest maker of Chicago-style hot dogs and condiments (via the Takeout). You would think it would make more sense for it to be called the Illinois sport pepper, given its principal region of influence, but this little pepper is a geographical jumble, likely originating in South America (via Backyard Gardener). The Takeout likens the sport to a serrano pepper but says it is both smaller and less spicy.

In preparation for Chicago-style hot dogs, sport peppers are pickled in a vinegar brine, instilling in them a tangy, slightly spicy flavor (via TasteAtlas). They have a Scoville Heat Unit range of 10,000 to 23,000, putting them somewhere between a serrano and a milder jalapeño. While you can find sport peppers in just about any Chicago grocery store, they don't pop up on shelves outside Illinois very often, so your best bet would be ordering a jar online, and dragging the dogs through your own garden.