I am an avid gardener and one of the crops I really enjoy growing each year are heirloom peppers. I usually plant around 10 different varieties. Some are mild, like the Marconi or the Gypsy, and others are hot, such as the “Biker Billy” jalapeno (this has to be by far the hottest jalapeno I’ve ever tasted), the “Hot Lemon” from Ecuador and the standard Serrano. Over the course of the summer, the peppers usually get eaten (often grilled), made into sauce and some are frozen for winter.
Last year though, I had an abundance of jalapeno and Serrano peppers. Rather than canning them into salsa or relish like I have in years past, I decided to try my hand at making authentic chipotle on my homemade 50 gallon steel drum smoker. A chipotle is a smoked dried jalapeno, often smoked for days using the wood from a pecan tree. Traditionally, the fully ripe red jalapenos are used as well as those that might have blemishes which get overlooked for market.
Early on a Saturday morning, I lit some natural hardwood charcoal then harvested as many jalapenos that would fit on the smoker. I lined them on the metal grate, on the non fire side of the smoker (the coals are on the right side, the peppers on the left, heated indirectly). I kept the temperature on the fire side in the 200-225 F range while applying water-soaked pecan chips to the coals at fairly regular intervals throughout the day. Slowly the peppers started to roast, dry out and in about 36 hours I had my first batch of chipotles! I also smoked dried Serranos and experimented with a few Poblanos to make ancho powder.
The chipotles turned out great. We used them throughout the winter in dishes such as chili, red sauce and various soups. They are perfect way to preserve some of the abundance from our garden. This year, I planted close to a dozen jalapeno plants in anticipation of smoking more at the end of summer. Most are the “Biker Billy” variety, but I’m also trying the Vaquero variety from New Mexico State’s chili institute.
The stages of chipotle chilis