I have been making fermented hot sauce for years and trying different recipes or processes to make the sauce has always been a favorite pastime of mine. Smoking meat has also been an enjoyable way for me to create delicious meals. So I combined the two and recently I began smoking hot peppers and then fermenting them to make a hot sauce.

Smoked hot peppers can be fermented and used in a hot sauce recipe to give a bold, “smokey” flavor to the sauce. Keep the smoker under 200o Fahrenheit (93o C) and let the peppers smoke between 3 to 4 hours. Keep the hot peppers out of the direct path of smoke to keep some life in the peppers to allow for fermentation. Ferment the peppers in a crock or jar for two weeks and blend them into a hot sauce.

Smoke, ferment, blend…

Smoke…
Ferment…
Blend!

Smoking, fermenting and then blending the peppers into a hot sauce is a lot of processing for any type of food to go through. Because hot peppers have such a strong flavor and both fermenting and smoking produce pungent flavors, the peppers will not be over-processed too much. Some beverages such as coffee and beer will also go through a substantial amount of processing before the end product is produced.

When smoked hot peppers are fermented there is c combination of these two flavors that give the hot peppers more complexity and layers of flavors. Once the peppers are mixed with other ingredients the flavors become blended into a rich taste experience.

Smoking hot peppers to be used in hot sauce

Smoking adds a flavor from the smoke of the burning wood chips used to enhance the flavor of the hot peppers by infusing a smoke flavor. If done correctly a deep and rich smokey flavor can sink into the flavor of the peppers and throughout the sauce as well. If done incorrectly you could burn the peppers or not have much smoke flavor at all.

Smoking is a process where the hot peppers are slow “cooked” from the direct heat of the smoke, not fire. It is considered a form of preservation depending on how long they are smoked or dried. Because the heat level from the smoke is minimal, the process takes a long time. The recipe below uses jalapenos that were cold smoked but they still capture the unique flavor.

Difference between cold smoke and hot smoke

Cold smoking

Cold smoke is done when the temperature inside of the smoker is kept “colder” or between 95o F (35o C) and 110o F (43o C). It can prove to be difficult to control a temperature at this level when smoking so be prepared to make continuous adjustments as necessary. If you are cold smoking hot peppers there is not much risk of the peppers going bad at these temperatures unless they are kept exposed to unheated air for days.

Cold smoking gives the hot peppers a lot of the flavor you are looking for from smoking and it will still allow for the fermentation process to create the bacteria needed. Hot peppers that are hot smoked will still ferment but may take longer.

Hot smoking

A good temperature for hot smoking should be between 185o F (85o C) and 200o (93o C) but can fluctuate slightly as long as it is below 200o F. The temperature control of hot smoking is slightly easier to keep consistent than it is during cold smoking.

Hot smoking temperatures can reach 220o F (104o C) but this will draw out more of the moisture from the peppers. It is the moisture that need to remain in the peppers for the fermentation process to work effectively. If there are too many wood chips in the smokier controlling these temperatures can be done immediately by opening the top of the smoker or removing the peppers briefly. Avoid hot conditions that will grill the peppers.

Equipment needed for smoking hot peppers

There are many ways to smoke foods but the obvious thing that needs to happen is the hot peppers need to be in a position where they will absorb the smoke. I use a charcoal grill with a side smoker attached that I bought three years ago for about $100.00. I have used it on many occasions to smoke meats and now it works great for smoking hot peppers.

Smoker

Metal tray or tin foil

Charcoal

Charcoal

Hickory, cherry or apple wood chips

Thermometer

4 Steps to smoke hot peppers

Step 1

Start the grill with charcoal as you would normally and let the coals burn for about 30 minutes. Don’t wait too long to add the wood chips because you want the charcoal to be hot enough to turn the wood chips into hot coals. Add two handfuls or about half a pond of select wood chips and allow them to heat up and smoke.

Cut the stems off the peppers and cut the peppers in half length-wise. It is OK to leave the seeds in the peppers but understand that this is the source of the heat, so remove them if you want less intense heat. They will need to be left in the smoker longer if you leave them whole.

Step 2

Place a pan of water in the bottom of the grill. This will allow moisture to enter the air and keep the peppers from drying out completely. This is not a necessary step but is quite common when smoking any meats or vegetables. It is the condensation from the water that also keeps the temperature down and allows the hot peppers to slow cook.

Step 3

Place the hot peppers on a metal tray sheet of tin foil. Even though the grill portion of the smoker may be clean enough that the peppers will not stick, they don’t need to be receiving direct heat from below like traditional grilling. I like to poke holes into the tin foil so the smoke rises through easier.

Step 4

Check the grill about every thirty minutes to make sure the temperature are consistent. You will need to add wood chips periodically to keep the fire going but don’t over pack it and force it to get hotter. Most smokers or grills with an offset smoker will have a built in thermometer but you can also purchase these at any out door store for under $15.00. This one from Dozyant is color coded for easy temperature recognition. Get one through this link to Amazon.

Smoking and fermenting are different processes

Fermenting is an entirely different process and doesn’t use outside processes like added smoke to flavor the peppers. It is a preservation process used to age the peppers and enhance the flavors from within. Smoking and fermenting are not commonly used together as preservation methods but are used in this recipe to alter and enrich the flavor of the hot sauce, giving it a unique flavor.

Smoking is a process that infuses flavor into the hot sauce and this flavor does not go away with the fermentation process. It blends and permeates the other ingredients and actually enhances the smoke flavor. Some of the heat levels diminish through each of these processes but it certainly will not go away, especially if you are using a pepper with an SHU of 20,000 or more.

Does fermentation require vinegar?

Fermentation is a process to breakdown the hot peppers by producing bacteria and this creates a milder and tangy flavor like the sharpness of a pickle. Pickling is done with the addition of acids such as vinegar, but fermentation does not use vinegar. Some fermented foods can be an acquired taste and some hot peppers will become milder with a long fermentation process.

Both methods have been used for many years as processes to preserve food and will provide different nutrients and benefits to the body. Smoking is a process that can take up to four hours whereas fermentation takes at least one week or can last for years.

Are smoked jalapenos called chipotle?

A chipotle is a pepper, usually a jalapeno, that has been smoked and then dried. Although dried hot peppers can be fermented, I chose not to for this recipe. The peppers used for this recipe are not necessarily chipotle because they used a low temperature and they were not in the direct path of the smoke as they should be.

A chipotle uses a drying process to further increase the flavor and this becomes more concentrated which makes the flavor more intense. This flavor can over power an entree or or recipe so it needs to be either used in small increments or controlled precisely.

Does smoking make peppers hotter or milder?

There is some belief that smoking hot peppers will make it hotter because the heat then gets transferred throughout the entire pepper, and not just the ribs and seeds. Different types of cooking processes can affect the flavor of a hot pepper and also reduce the heat. Smoking removes some of the moisture from the pepper, therefore, concentrates the flavor and heat into a smaller serving and gives the impression the heat is more intense.

A high level of direct heat such as frying or grilling can destroy the capsaicin and flavoring of the hot peppers. If you are trying to utilize the heat of a hot pepper, don’t use these methods. A high level of concentrated smoke can also have the same affect on hot peppers which is why cold smoking was used for this recipe.

Does smoking the kill bacteria needed for fermentation?

Smoking hot peppers will dry them out, reduce the size and weight of the peppers but will not kill all of the bacteria. It is for these reasons that the smoked or dried hot peppers may take longer to ferment than fresh peppers. When peppers are smoked the pH or acidic level is decreased and it is these conditions that may inhibit the growth of microorganisms, or reduce what causes fermentation. Fermenting dried peppers is possible but would need to be reconstituted or rehydrated peppers.

3 considerations to make a smoke, fermented hot sauce

Temperature

Temperature is an important factor in the outcome of how many cooked, roasted or smoked foods are prepared. The temperature at the point where the peppers are being smoked should be around or below 200o Fahrenheit depending on whether you are doing cold smoking or hot smoking. If the temperature is over 200o F or the peppers are too close to the heat source they will get cooked and not smoked. The peppers will then not have absorbed the smoke flavor and will take longer to ferment.

Time

Properly smoking hot peppers can take between 3 to 4 hours. To properly produce a great tasting smoky flavor the process should not be rushed. Time is also a factor in fermenting which can take a week or more. Shortening the duration point will not allow enough time for bacteria to breakdown the hot peppers and produce a sharp and tangy flavor.

Wood chips

The selection of wood chips that you choose will affect the flavor of the peppers and should also be prominent in the final sauce. According to keviniscooking.com Mexican Pecan Wood is the best wood to make Chipotle peppers. Most other hardwoods like hickory, oak or ash can also be used but fruity woods such as apple will bring out additional flavoring.

Problems that can go wrong when smoking

Too short of a duration

Smoking hot peppers for a short amount of time will not allow the peppers to receive the smoke flavoring fully. The flavor will then be lost within the hot sauce especially if you are using strong flavors such as garlic or onions. Don’t worry because smoking does not reduce the heat of the pepper.

Burning the wrong wood

The rancid smelling smoke that comes from some woods that are high in resins or other substances will permeate into the hot peppers and your hot sauce as well. Softwoods high in resin such as pine or cedar should not be used and avoid any type of pressure treated, stained or painted wood as well.

The wood chips are burning too hot

The temperature at which the grill is kept is one of the most important aspects of smoking. Too much heat will cook the peppers too fast and not allow the pepper to absorb the smoke flavoring. These pepper would be OK to use in a hot sauce but would not have the flavoring you may be looking for.

We’ve smoked…now let’s ferment!

The recipe below has a hint of smoke flavor before it hits the taste buds because of the aroma it gives off. The scent or aroma of food is a big part of how they taste and flavor an entire dish. The difficult part has already been accomplished with smoking. Now the peppers just need to sit in a brine solution of 3 tablespoons of salt mixed with 1 quart of water. Here’s what you need…

Equipment needed for fermenting hot peppers

Jar or fermentation crock

This can be as simple as a mason jar or another type of glass or ceramic container with a tight lid. Crocks and other fermentation containers are available that use an airlock lid to allow air to leave the container. This can also be accomplished by open the lid briefly once a day.

Brine – 3 tablespoons of salt / 1 quart of water

Brine is not considered a piece of equipment but it is the most important part of the fermentation process. The ratio of salt to water will effect the outcome as well as the type of water and salt. Using well water and granulated salt will help create the breakdown that the peppers need for fermentation. Read more about brine here.

Problems that could go wrong with fermenting

Using too much salt in the brine

Too much salt will slow down the fermentation process and make the peppers taste salty at the end of the process. Fermentation is already considered a slow process and takes some patience to get the expected results. If you have a lot a patience ferment the peppers for 6 months or more to get deep, rich flavored hot suace.

Not using enough salt

Not having enough salt in the brine will just cause the hot peppers to rot and grow unwanted bacteria, not the probiotic bacteria that you want from fermenting. Any type of cooking salt will work but stick to the ratio of 3 tablespoons salt added to 1 quart of water.

Bad storing conditions

If you plan on fermenting for a length of time that will span several seasons then several things will need to be considered. You will have to provide an environment with the same cool and consistent conditions. The ferment should not be stored in conditions that are too cold or too hot. They also should not be stored in direct sunlight because that will also create a warmer than necessary condition and the peppers could rot and not ferment.

The best temperature for storing fermentation containers is between 68o or 72o Fahrenheit or 20o to 22o Celsius. A refrigerator is much cooler than room temperature and will cause the fermentation process to be much slower. However, it is a regulated condition and would be suitable for longer periods of fermentation that span across the seasonal changes.

Adding yogurt culture to ferment peppers

Smoked hot peppers are considered to be cooked but should not need a yogurt culture or starter culture to ferment. Even peppers that have been dried should be able to create the natural bacteria for fermenting once they have been rehydrated.

Smoked fermented jalapeno hot sauce recipe

Ingredients

16 oz of jalapeno peppers

2 garlic cloves

½ cup sugar

½ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon of agave nectar

Water

Steps

Step 1

For cold smoking place the peppers with the open side up and smoke at an average temperature of about 102o Fahrenheit (38o C) for 3 to 4 hours. For hot smoking place the hot peppers open side up and keep the temperature of the smoke at about 200o F (93o C). Smoke the peppers for 2 to 3 hours or until they begin to wilt slightly and turn a pale green.

Step 2

Ferment the peppers only for two weeks in a brine solution. The brine mixture should be 3 tablespoons of salt and 1 quart of water. This can be done in a glass or ceramic container but avoid any type of plastic. Make sure the top is air-tight and open everyday briefly to release gasses if you are not using an airlock top. Read here to Finally Understand The Fermenting Process.

Step 3

After the hot peppers have gone through the fermentation process for two weeks they will be broken down enough to be blended smooth in almost any type of blender. Blend the hot peppers with the other ingredients until smooth. The speed of the blender plays an important role in how the consistency of the sauce will turn out. An emulsifier will usually have a higher speed and make the sauce have a thinner consistency.

Try variations of this recipe using an assortment of peppers to create unique hot sauces that can be enjoyed with many foods. The natural smoke flavor created from this sauce complements well with the heat of your favorite hot peppers

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