What’s A Good Chili Powder Substitute?

We’ve all been there – a recipe calls for an ingredient and there’s nothing in-house. It happens a lot with chili powder. Instead of running out to the store, what can you do? What’s a good substitute for chili powder that will still provide that dash of heat that your recipe needs? Here we’ll go through a few options that you likely have in your cabinet.

Note: For this post, we define chili powder as the seasoning with many ingredients, not specific powders made with 100% chili peppers. Though, any of those (as you’ll see below) make a viable substitution.

is chili powder gluten free
Making your own chili powder is an excellent option when you’re out

Make your own chili powder

If you have a well-stocked spice rack, making a homemade chili powder is very easy to do and your best solution. All it takes is common spices like paprika, oregano, and cumin (among a few others.) For the next steps, review our homemade chili powder recipe. It’ll give you the right spice combination and amounts to DIY this quickly.

Crushed red pepper flakes

Most kitchens will have a bottle of red pepper flakes sitting around, and it’s a good substitute for chili powder, especially when you crush them even further into a powder using a mortar and pestle. The powder will likely be slightly hotter than a generic chili powder, seeing crushed red pepper is made with a mix of chilies (with cayenne often as the base), not cut with other non-fiery spices.


Many people don’t realize that paprika, a staple in many kitchen cupboards, is made from chilies. The spiciness can range from very mild to decently spicy. You could also opt for a smoked paprika, if your dish could be enhanced with some smoky earthiness.

–> Learn More: What Is Paprika? The Story Behind The Spice

Specific hot pepper powders

Of course, chances of having a hot pepper powder (like cayenne or chipotle powders) around may be slim if you don’t have chili powder. But if you do, they can make decent substitutions. Like red pepper flakes, they’ll often be hotter than generic chili powder (and chipotle will be smokier), so just know that prior to cooking with them in a family meal.

Chipotle, for instance, is smoked, dried jalapeño peppers. Using equal parts chipotle, then, instead of chili powder seasoning (which is diluted by many spices) would be significantly hotter. Start with a small amount and work up from there.

Old Bay seasoning

Old Bay has a paprika base, so it can replace generic chili powder in very specific circumstances. But, if you’ve had Old Bay, you know it has a very distinct flavor, so it’s not a good choice for most recipes. If you were, though, looking at chili powder for a general seafood spice, then Old Bay is an excellent option. It’s amazing on crabs – just ask any Marylander.

Hot sauce

If your recipe is calling for chili powder to be mixed into something with a liquid base (like a soup or a sauce), you could use a dash or two of hot sauce to add the heat. A few dashes of original Tabasco sauce or Sriracha can do the trick.

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UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on April 9, 2022 to include new content.
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