Preserving Your Chillies – Smoking

OK. You've managed to grow a successful crop of chillies for yourself but now you have a problem. Well, not really a problem; more a challenge.

What can I do to preserve my chillies so that I can use them all year round? Fortunately people have been faced with this problem for thousands of years. As a result there are a number of solutions that you can use. Some of them ancient, some of them quite modern.

This ezine article will examine, in detail, the process of dehydrating chillies with an electric dehydrator.

However, before you start, there are a few basics that we need to cover to help you get the most out of your garden and the harvested fruit.

1) It is universally agreed that the best approach to harvesting your chillies is what is known as a 'staggered harvest'. No – you do not have to be drunk. What it means is that you harvest the chillies a number of times through the growing season. This will ensure you maximize the production from your plants. If the chillies are left on, the plant believes it has achieved it's reproductive goals and few new fruit will be produced. Staggered harvesting ensures that the plant 'keeps on trying' for the full length of the growing season.

2) Unless you are specifically after green chillies, the best approach is to harvest ripe fruit with tight, shiny skins that are firm to the touch. Fruit that are ready should come off the plant easily. If you need to use any force it's probably best to leave it a few days before trying again.

3) Give the fruit a wash and have a second look to weed out any fruit that has black spots as these will usually rot and / or go moldy.

OK, you want to smoke your chillies to make your own chipotles (pronounced chip-ote-lays).

The team here at believe that the chipotle is the ultimate chilli. The complex, smokey flavor and medium level heat are, without argument, the perfect combination to go with just about anything.

Smoking chillies is an ancient way of preserving them that, as far as we can tell, was started by the Teotihuacan Indians in central America around 500 BC. Their civilization peaked around 200 AD and the Aztecs subconsciously adopted chipotles and took them to the art-form they are today.

Smoking chillies is one of those activities that is about two-thirds art and one-third luck. What we will provide below (and it is a fairly lengthy article) are probably detailed guidelines, however, you must remember that they are guidelines to be followed, not strict rules guaranteeing a successful result. There are an awful number of variables that can change the results you get, however, a willingness to experiment a little will take you through to a successful technique that works for you.


The team have used three different pieces of equipment in their quest for the home made chipotle.

The Portable Fish Smoker

These little guys are approximately 40cm x 30cm and 20cm high. They are made from galvinised steel also the body will not rust, however, make sure you oil the internal rack as that is not galvinised and will rust.

The base of the unit is about 5cm above the 'bottom' and has air holes in the sides so that the methylated spirit burner can be placed underneath.

Inside the unit, wood shavings or saw-dust (see wood further down this page) are scattered across the base, which is heated by the burner underneath. The rack sits inside, above the wood shavings / saw-dust and the unit is closed with a tight fitting lid. Because of the size, you will not be smoking vast quantities of chillies, but they are a good, inexpensive tool for starting to learn what works, what does not, what you like …. and so on.

If you already have one of these smokers and have used it for fish or other foods, we strongly suggest you give a good wash before smoking your chillies. Otherwise they will pick up all sorts of odd flavors.

The Hooded Gas Barbecue

These babies are great. Chances are you've already got one, and if not, you should consider making it a priority. It is our preferred way of cooking virtually anything; grills, roasts, baking, stir-frys, …..

You need to have at least one of the plates inside to be a bar-grill type (ie one that is not a solid plate) so that the wood can be exposed to the flame. Wood used here comes is usually in the form off of small blocks of a 3-10 centimetres square. It must be soaked in water before use.

If the wood or chillies to be used are small, we make up flat-bottomed wire mesh baskets (about 20cm square with sides 3-5cm high) to hold the prevent them falling through the grill. It also makes it a lot easier to move things around.

Kettle Barbecue

Virtually everyone is familiar with these barbecues. They were a must have item in the 80's and while their popularity has faded a little, they are still a great product to cook with.

We are considering only the charcoal ones here as we are not sure why anyone would bother with a gas one. If you want to cook with gas, get a hooded barbecue. While the charcoal does take a long time to cook meat (the main reason for it's popularity drop-off), it also exhibits a great flavor that is unique to the charcoal.

Fortunately for you, if you still have one, they are ideally suited to smoking chillies.

Once the charcoal is burning, it is a simple case of putting wet chunks of your favorite smoking wood on the coals, put your chillies on the rack or in the wire baskets (see above) and putting the lid on.

Commercial Smokers

Unfortunately I do not have access to one of these and we obviously can not afford one (something about clothes for the kids) – hence, I will not discuss them here.


To make smoke you essentially need to apply heat to wood, without setting it alight.

We've discussed the heat sources above, so now it's time to look at the wood.

There are a number of options available that are not particularly hard to lay your hands on.

* apple

* mesquite

* pear

* hickory

Are generally available at the larger hardware stores (Bunnings & Miter 10 in Australia & New Zealand) and barbecue stores (Barbecue Galore, K-Mart, etc).

We know a small producer here in Western Australia who smokes their chillies using jarrah. The convention has always been to use non-resistant woods as they attend quite an antiseptic flavor, yet these jarrah smoked chillies, while unusual, are quite acceptable. Those readers in the eastern half of Australia may like to try redgum – we're love to hear how you went if you do! Also, if anyone else has a different type of wood they use we'd love to hear about that too.

Whatever you use, there are a couple of things you need to know;

* if you are using a fish smoker, the wood needs to be in the form of saw-dust or fine shavings,

* If you are using a hooded barbecue or a kettle, the chunks need to be soaked in water for at least an hour before.

The Process

* Get your wood chunks soaking if that is what you are using

* De-stem your clean chillies and then slit them in half and de-seed. Most instructions tell you simply to put a slit in the chilli, however, once they are smoked they become quite leathery and it is a 'pain in the bum' to try and remove the seeds then.

* Fire up whatever type of smoker you are using. If it's a portable fish smoker you do not need much time as it heats up very quickly. If it's a hooded, pre-heat for 5 minutes, and if you are using a kettle, it will take 15 minutes for your charcoal to be properly burning.

* Put on your wood. In the portable fish smoker, scatter the saw-dust / shavings evenly across the bottom about 0.5-1cm thick. In the hooded bbq put the chunks over the open grill, and in the kettle, put them straight onto the coals.

* Put your chillies in. Whatever you are using, put them straight onto the rack or grill plate, or into wire baskets and then onto the rack / grill plate.

* Close the hood / lid and check them every hour. For the portable fish smoker, you may want to check them every half hour for the first couple of hours to get a feel for how they are going (it's a small unit and cooks a lot faster).

* Replenish wood if necessary.

* Cooking time is in the order of 5hrs for the portable fish smoker and 6-8 hours for the other two when using jalapenos Cooking times will decrease for thinner seafood varieties.

* You may find that the chillies will not go altogether dry. If so, you can finish them off in a dehydrator, oven, or outside. See our dehydrating page or our air-drying page if you are not yet familiar with these techniques.

* Fully discharged smoked chillies can be stored for years in air-tight containers. Triple bagged, they can also be stored in the freezer, even if not totally discharged out.

Source by Nigel Laubsch