How To Smoke Peppers – A Comprehensive Guide

One of the best methods for preserving peppers is smoke and dry them. There are many methods one can use to make smoked, dried peppers depending on the equipment you have (smoker, grill, dehydrator, oven). In this article I’ll cover all methods one can use.

Smoking and drying peppers has a long tradition in the Americas. Traditionally peppers are smoked for 72 hours in an open oven, using pecan wood[1][2]. Since most of us don’t have 72 straight hours to keep a fire going, I have good news! You can do this too, right in your backyard in much less time. And that is good because many people often have bumper crops of peppers in vegetable gardens.

And of the many ways to preserve peppers, smoking and drying takes the longest amount of time (but not effort). However, the flavor smoked peppers can add to soups, tacos, fajitas, eggs or omelets are amazing and unique. And if you want your chili to really stand out, adding some smoked and dried poblano or jalapeno peppers is one of the best things you can do.

In this article:

How to smoke and dry peppers

There are many methods one could use to smoke and then dry peppers. What method you use will likely depend on what equipment you have available. At a bare minimum, you need to have either a smoker, grill, or a fire pit. For dehydrating them after smoking, you will need to have access to an oven or food dehydrator, or be prepared to leave them out in the sun for several days[3].

For all methods I will describe, you should expect to smoke the peppers for at least two to three hours. That is the baseline amount of time required to add a significant amount of flavor. After smoking, you will need to finish drying your peppers. This can take a day or two depending on how hydrated the peppers were when you began smoking them.

Preparing the peppers

To prepare your peppers for smoking, wash them in cold water and dry. If you cut them in half, they will smoke/dry more quickly. However doing this will reduce the amount of peppers you will be able to smoke.

I have personally butterflied and smoked peppers whole. And I didn’t think cutting them in half save that much time (which is counterintuitive, but that was my experience). Also, when I am going to smoke/dry peppers, I want to do as many as I can at once. Based on that, I do not cut them in half any longer.

Different ways to smoke peppers

Smoking peppers using a smoker

To smoke peppers using an electric smoker, set your smoker for a low temperature of 120-140F (50-60 celcius) and add the desired wood per the instructions. You should plan on smoking them for 2-3 hours at a minimum. When you add the peppers, make sure they are not touching each other.

Using a pellet smoker

For using a pellet smoker to smoke peppers, target lower temperatures of 120-140F. Use fruit wood or pecan wood pellets, and make sure you keep the fire going and the pellets filled. Plan on smoking 3-6 hours for a rich flavor.

How to smoke peppers on a charcoal grill

To smoke peppers on a charcoal grill, soak wood chips or chunks of wood in water for at least 30 minutes before adding them to the coals. You can use a smoker box with small store-bought wood chips or you can also use large 1″ thick chunks of wood and add them directly to the coals. You will have to add more wood chips during the smoking process, so begin soaking more wood as needed, or just soak 3-4 times as much wood as you will think you will need.

Using a small amount of coal (we don’t want to cook the peppers) light your grill. If you are using a charcoal chimney, fill it only one-quarter to one-third full.

Once the coals are hot, add 2-3 chunks of wood, directly to the coals. Or, place your smoker box directly above or next to the coals. Then, add the peppers to the grates, taking care not to let them touch each other. You want the peppers to be away from the fire. If you are using a round spherical grill, you will likely get great smoke movement throughout the grill area.

TIP – if you have grilling baskets for veggies, you can lay these on top of the peppers on your grate. Then, you can add a second layer of peppers so you smoke more at a single time.

Periodically check the grill to make sure smoke is still pouring out. If no smoke is coming from the grill, add more wood. At 45 minutes to one hour of cooking, you will probably have to add 5-8 coals to the fire, and more wood chunks. You can flip the peppers if you like, but it is not necessary. After 2-3 hours of smoke, remove the peppers.

How to smoke peppers using a gas grill

To smoke peppers using a gas grill you will need a smoker box and wood chips. If your grill doesn’t have a smoker box, you can make your own by wrapping the wood chips in thick foil or in a small disposable aluminum baking pan with a foil lid with some holes poked in it to allow smoke to escape.

Soak your wood chips in water for 30 minutes before starting the grill. After soaking, drain the excess water and add the chips to the smoker box.

Preheat a single burner near your smoking box, or where you will place your smoking box. Since peppers should be smoked at lower temperatures to preserve the nutrition, and also because we are not cooking them, but trying to add flavor from the smoke and then drying them.

Place your peppers as close to the smoker box as you can without cooking them. You should plan on leaving them there for 2-3 hours, and may have to reload your smoker box during that time.

How to dry peppers

After smoking your peppers for 2-3 hours you will need to dry them out further so they will be preserved for a long time. It is possible to do this out in the sun with plenty of air flow, but it is better to use either an oven or food dehydrator.

Now, how dry you want your peppers is going to be of personal preference. I’ve dried mine out anywhere from a ‘leathery’ but pliable texture to a completely brittle/crispy chipotle. Personally, I fell that the ‘dry but pliable’ smoked peppers have more flavor, and that is what I try to achieve.

Using an oven to dehydrate pepeprs

To dehydrate peppers in the oven, simple spread the peppers on a baking sheet. Set the oven to a low temperature such as 120F (49C). Place the baking sheet in the oven. It will likely take 6-18 hours to fully dry them out. You should plant on checking them periodically and flip them to have them dry faster.

Also, your house will smell like smoked peppers during this time! So, prepare your spouse and kids for that fact.

Depending on just how dry your peppers were when you started, and the amount of time you smoked them will determine just how long it takes to dry them out. Also, if your peppers were of various ages when you began this process, they will also take different amounts of time to dry. So when you check the peppers, roughly every three hours, you will likely be removing some as the older ones should dry more quickly.

Food dehydrator with peppers

If you have a food dehydrator, you can arrange the peppers on the trays. Set the temperature for 120F (or the next lowest) and start the dehydrator. You should expect it to take 6-18 hours to fully dry your peppers.

I ‘inherited’ a food dehydrator this past year, and I love it.

As described above, if your peppers are from your garden and were harvested at different times, that will mean that they are starting from different levels of hydration. This is important as you may need to check the peppers every few hours to remove those that are dry.

How to tell when a pepper is dry

You can tell when a pepper is dry enough, or fully dry be feel. Water makes up about 85-90% of a peppers weight[3]. A fully dried pepper will be extraordinarily light-weight and brittle.

If you are trying to have somewhat pliable peppers, yet dry, then you will need to refine your sense of ‘touch’. Pick up the pepper and gently squeeze it. If it feels tough, with no squishiness, and it can be bent (similar to tough leather), then it is dry enough to store it in the fridge for the long term.

What kinds of peppers can you smoke or dry

You can smoke and dry just about any kind of pepper you can imagine! All of them will absorb the smoky flavor, some faster than others, and can all be dried based on the process I described above.

The most common peppers to smoke/dry would be jalapenos and poblanos. But I’ve also used habanero and serrano.

Which types of wood should you use to smoke peppers

The traditional wood to use for smoking jalapenos is pecan. But, any fruit wood will work just fine (apple, cherry). Most nut producing woods also work (pecan, oak, hickory). You can buy bags of chips or pellets at a variety of stores.

Ways to get smoker wood for free

If you know of someone who has a cherry tree in their front yard (a very popular landscaping tree), then you may be able to get free wood for smoking. Ask your friend or neighbor if they ever prune their tree, and if you can have the cuttings. If you have a smoker box, you can use the smaller twigs. If you have a charcoal grill, then you will need pieces that are at least 1″ thick.

I have a lifetime supply of cherry from my Father in law, as he gave me whatever I wanted from when he got his Japanese Cherry Tree pruned.

How long does it take to smoke / dry peppers?

You can smoke your peppers in as little as 2 hours, however the longer you smoke them the more rich in flavor they will be. Once you’re satisfied with the amount of time they have smoked, you can then plan on drying them for an additional 6-18 hours[3].

Note – if you wish to finish drying them in the sun, you better have some time on your hands. Researchers have found that it can take 24-30 hours to fully dry cut up pepper strips[3]!

Smoking / drying effects on pepper nutrition

The smoking process of mature Jalapeno peppers has been found to increase antioxidant capacity by 15% when compared to fresh jalapenos. Although total vitamin C content decreased by roughly 40%, which is logical as it is heat sensitive, and the smoking process is generally done between 120-175F[1][3]

Storage of dried peppers

You can store fully dried peppers in sealed mason jars at room temperature for at least one year. If they are still slightly pliable, you may wish to keep them in the fridge, where they will keep for probably a year or more. And finally, if you store them in a sealed freezer bag, they will last for multiple years!

How long do they last?

Fully dehydrated peppers can last for 12 months or more in a sealed jar at room temperature, out of the sun. In the refrigerator or freezer.

Ways to use smoked or dried peppers

You can add whole peppers to soups for long simmering flavor. Chopped or crushed they can be added as an ingredient to any taco, burrito, or other Mexican dish that you feel would benefit from smoky/spicy flavor.

Grinding your peppers into a spice

You can also grind up or dice your peppers into a spice for use in a salt-shaker. I saved an old spice shaker for this very purpose. Using a coffee grinder, I pulverize my peppers into a powder, as I can now simply ‘shake’ them out on to eggs or whatever food I wish. This makes it easy to add that smoky flavor to any meal I wish!

If you fully dried your peppers to where they are crispy, you can then simply place them into a bag or place them under a paper towel and crush them. You can mash them up into however fine a mixture you like. Just know that the finer the particle, the spicier it will be on your food!

Final thoughts

Smoking and drying peppers is an incredibly delicious way to preserve any pepper you grow in your garden or purchase. The smoke adds delicious flavor to the pepper, and dehydrating it means we can use it when we want, as it will be well preserved. I do this almost exclusively for all my jalapeños and other spicy peppers, as it makes for a convenient garnish or spice to juice up whatever food I like.

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[1] – Moreno-Escamilla, Jesús Omar, et al. “Effect of the smoking process and firewood type in the phytochemical content and antioxidant capacity of red Jalapeño pepper during its transformation to chipotle pepper.” Food Research International 76 (2015): 654-660. Accessed 24SEP2023

[2] – GÓMEZ‐MORIEL, CINTHIA B., et al. “Optimization of chipotle pepper smoking process using response surface methodology.” Journal of Food Quality 35.1 (2012): 21-33.

[3] – Arslan, D., and M. M. Özcan. “Dehydration of red bell-pepper (Capsicum annuum L.): Change in drying behavior, colour and antioxidant content.” Food and bioproducts processing 89.4 (2011): 504-513.

Joe Foster

Hi - I grew up outdoors in nature - hiking, fishing, hunting. In high school I got my first job at a garden center where I learned to garden and landscape. I've been growing plants from seed and designing native plant gardens for over 10 years. I hope to share some of my knowledge with you! You may have seen some of my videos I create on our YouTube channel, GrowitBuildit (more than 10 million views!). You can find my channel here: Additionally I am a wood worker / DIY enthusiast. I enjoy designing/building projects (with hand tools when I can!). I hope to give you some tips and useful information!

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