Smoky Peppers Guide: Earthy And Rustic

Like your chilies with some earthy oomph?

These are the best of the bunch. Our smoky peppers guide covers these delicious chilies, from mild to super-hot, that are just perfect for barbecue rubs, rustic marinades, and earthy salsas and hot sauces.

Note there’s a mix of dried and fresh chilies in the list below. We’ll refer to it in the synopsis, but the photos will also provide the queue to which is which. 

Mild Smoky Peppers

peperone di senise

Peperone di Senise

0 Scoville heat units
See our full Peperone Di Senise profile here.

There’s both a smoky and nutty undertone to this fresh pepper. Peperone di Senise is sometimes shortened to simply Senise pepper, so when searching for this chili keep that in mind. It’s a beloved regional chili of the Basilicata region of Italy, used often to enhance the rustic flavor of soups and stews. There’s no heat to this sweet pepper, so it’s a good option for families and those who don’t prefer spicy food.

Santa Fe Grande Pepper

Santa Fe Grande Pepper

500 – 700 Scoville heat units
See our full Santa Fe Grande pepper profile here.

Very mild and slightly smoky, the Santa Fe Grande pepper is an excellent choice for use as a bell pepper substitute. The smoky flavor is light – an undertone mixed with a delicious sweetness that pairs very well with barbecue meats. Try this as a grilling pepper as grilling really enhances the smoky flavor.

ancho pepper

Ancho Pepper

1,000 – 1,500 Scoville heat units
See our full ancho pepper profile here.

Part of the holy trinity of chilies used in Mexican mole sauces, the dried ancho pepper is full of flavor. Smoky and a little sweet, its flavor is reminiscent of earthy coffee or raisins. The ancho is a dried poblano pepper, and the drying process really impacts the smokiness here. It’s a mild chili making it a great go-to for barbecue rubs for family gatherings.

Medium Smoky Peppers

chipotle pepper

Chipotle Pepper

2,500 – 8,000 Scoville heat units
See our full chipotle pepper profile here.

The chipotle pepper is no doubt the king of smoky peppers. It’s a go-to, so much so that chipotle powder has grown in popularity on the spice rack, right next to that ground cayenne pepper. Chipotles are dried and smoked red jalapeño peppers, so there’s a definite spiciness here, but it’s a heat level most anyone can enjoy. You’ll find a whole world of chipotle rubs and marinades that take advantage of this rustic smokiness. And chipotle in adobo sauce is popular for sauces and stews – the earthy adobo sauce complements the chili’s natural smokiness perfectly.

Super-Hot Smoky Peppers

7 Pot Brain Strain

7 Pot Brain Strain

1,000,000 – 1,350,000 Scoville heat units
See our full 7 Pot Brain Strain profile here.

It’s quite the jump from a chipotle pepper to the 7 Pot Brain Strain, one of the hottest peppers in the world. This is not a chili for most, and frankly tasting the slightly smoky and fruity flavor that lies behind the extreme heat is a skill unto itself. The heat is really the predominant experience. But there’s a slight smokiness there that, along with the fruitiness, can enhance the flavor of extreme hot sauces and salsas. Take great care with handling any super-hot pepper. Use gloves and eye goggle, and know how to combat chili burn.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on September 5, 2019 to include new content.
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Bruce Jenkins

I’ve tried to grow these super hot peppers but with little success. would love some growing tips.