How To Make Your Chili Spicier

Chili is a Tex-Mex dish. If you are familiar with Tex-Mex cuisine, you know that it usually offers some amount of spiciness. Exactly how much heat can vary depending on the cook’s preference and the chili peppers used. If you want to increase the heat of a chili that you think is too mild, you will need options that do not detract from the classic chili flavor profile. Here’s hot to make your chili spicier (in fact many ways) doing just that.

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Chipotle in adobo sauce

Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce bring a smoky and complex character that will enhance a chili’s savory flavor profile. They will also give the dish a significant amount of heat. If you have never used chipotles in adobo sauce, approach them with caution since they might be spicier than you think. Chipotle are simply, dried smoked red jalapeños (2,500 to 8,000 Scoville heat units or SHU), so, since they are fully mature peppers before drying, expect the upper end of heat that a jalapeño can provide.

Use one or two to start and increase to taste. Note also that you will have to blend chipotles in adobo sauce to use it in your chili.

–> Learn More: Chipotle Vs. Jalapeño – How Do They Compare?

Cayenne pepper powder

Cayenne powder (or ground cayenne) is not only easy to find, but it is affordable as well. Its strong medium heat (30,000 to 50,000 SHU) can significantly increase your chili’s heat level without adding much in the way of bulk or liquid, which is good if you prefer a meat-focused chili. What’s more, it has a bright red color that will make your chili more visually striking and appetizing. And its neutral flavor profile allows your chili to maintain its flavor with just the extra kick.

Careful on overuse – the powder melds quickly in into the chili (unlike red pepper flakes that tend to float), and cayenne can be surprisingly hot for many. Start conservatively and add more to your liking.

Other ground chilies

Cayenne pepper powder may be the most well-known ground chili pepper since it’s a spice rack staple. But there are other choices, too, and they are becoming more prevalent in many kitchens. You have many options, including ground chipotle, extra-hot habanero, and even spicier choices. See our spicery to purchase some of the most common.

Chili powder seasoning blend

Chili powder is a blend of spices formulated for use in Tex-Mex dishes like chili, so it’s an ideal way to get a little extra heat in your chili without changing the traditional flavor profile. It consists of powdered chili peppers — usually ancho chilies — mixed with spices like cumin and garlic, as well as oregano and sometimes salt.

Most chili powders are not excessively hot, so you will need to add a lot of it to get a dramatic rise in heat level. If you do that, you will also be adding more of the other spices and may wind up with an over-seasoned dish.

Serrano peppers

Here’s how to make your chili spicier with a fresh pepper upgrade. Think of serrano peppers as the next level up in heat from jalapeños – which are often the hot peppers found in chili. Upgrading to serranos (10,000 to 23,000 SHU) is a pretty big bump up in heat. Jalapeños sit between 2,500 to 8,000 Scoville heat units, so it’s typically double the spiciness (or more).

Serranos have a comparable bright bite to jalapeños, so in terms of flavor its a comparable swap.

Crushed red pepper

Crushed red pepper (a.k.a. red pepper flakes) is often simply another form of cayenne pepper. The only difference being that it comes in flake form rather than ground to a fine powder. It adds a similar level of heat as cayenne pepper but without the bright red color. Instead of making your chili redder, you will get little pieces of pepper along with whitish pepper seeds.

Red pepper flakes are often best as a quick heat source per individual bowl. The flakes don’t permeate the chili quite like the powder does. Plus, they are easy to pinch and flavor on a per-person basis. Because of this, the heat may not be as consistent bite to bite, but there’s still plenty of it.


With Sriracha, you get a Thai-inspired American hot sauce made with ripe red jalapeños. It will give your chili a mild spiciness along with a bit of umami from the garlic it contains. There is also some acidity from its vinegar content, so keep this in mind. Sriracha is a sauce, which means that it will make your chili noticeably wetter.

Sambal oelek

Sambal oelek is a paste rather than a sauce. The traditional version may be made with various hot peppers, from Thai bird’s eye chilies to red jalapeños. The Huy Fong Foods version — which is the most readily available in the United States — is made with ripe red jalapeños.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on February 7, 2023 to include new content.
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