Twice as Tasty

Home-Smoked Chili Peppers

An affordable, low-tech setup lets a charcoal or gas grill double as a smoker for low-temperature and cold smoking

By Julie Laing
Home-smoked chili peppers. Photo by Julie Laing

My food explorations often start this way: I eat something I like and then wonder how to make it from scratch. That’s how I began smoking vegetables, including jalapenos for Chipotle Grilled Shrimp.

Many pellet grills or smokers run too hot to smoke without roasting. Instead of investing in a full-size smoker, I use a hand-me-down, circa 1998, Weber kettle grill.

My first smoking setup was equally low-tech, with scrounged mesh, briquettes, hardwood chips and a heatproof dial thermometer. Then I discovered smoke tubes. When this inexpensive perforated cylinder is filled with hardwood pellets, lit and set in a charcoal or gas grill, it smokes untended for hours.

Here’s how I set up each technique for chilies, smoking around 165°F for about 1-1/2 hours:

  • Hardwood chips in a charcoal grill: Place stainless steel screening along the charcoal grate’s edge. Light 10 briquettes; when coated in gray ash, pile them on the mesh. Top with about 1 cup of wood chips and place the cooking grate, leaving the hinge open for briquette access: You’ll need to add about 1/2 cup of wood chips every 20 to 30 minutes to maintain the smoke.
  • Smoke tube in a charcoal grill: Light 10 briquettes; when ash-coated, pile them on the charcoal grate’s edge and place the cooking grate. Put enough hardwood pellets in the smoke tube to burn for 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Light them with a kitchen torch for about 30 seconds. Let the flame burn for 10 minutes, relighting if it falters, and then it blow out. Lay the tube of smoldering pellets on the cooking grate opposite the briquettes.
  • Smoke tube in a gas grill: Fill and light the smoke tube as described and lay it on the cooking grate’s edge. If you have a three- or four-burner grill, light the element farthest from the tube and maintain heat around 165°F. If it approaches 200°F, turn off the burner and just smoke without heat for about 2 hours.

Home-Smoked Chili Peppers

Makes about 6 ounces

1 pound whole chili peppers

While wearing gloves, cut off the stem and then halve each pepper. Use a grapefruit spoon or paring knife to scrape out the membrane and seeds. Spread the peppers on a grill tray or copper grill mat.

Prepare your smoking setup as described above. Set the chili-loaded grill tray on the cooking grate. Cover the grill with its lid, ideally with the vent opposite the wood chips or smoke tube. Leave this vent wide open initially and then adjust as needed to produce a thin smoke curl.

Check the grill after 20 minutes. The temperature should be around 165°F; colder is slower yet fine, but close the vent slightly or turn off the heat if it approaches 200°F. Smoke the chilies for about 1-1/2 hours, adding hardwood chips as needed to maintain steady smoke out the lid vent.

Remove the peppers, let them cool and then use or freeze in a zip-close freezer bag.

Julie Laing is a Bigfork-based cookbook author and food blogger at TwiceAsTasty.com.

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