Sport Pepper Guide: Heat, Flavor, Uses

What are sport peppers?

Chicago wouldn’t be Chicago without sport peppers. These tangy, medium-heat pickled peppers (10,000 to 23,000 Scoville heat units) are a must for Chicago-style hot dogs (served whole on the dog) and just as tasty sliced for sandwiches, hoagies, and pizzas. They pack a spicy bite with tang, from their seasoned brine that’s simply delicious.

Sport Peppers
Sport peppers on a hot dog – pickled and whole

Sport pepper fast facts

Scoville heat units (SHU)10,000 – 23,000
Median heat (SHU)16,500
Jalapeño reference pointNear equal to 9 times hotter
Capsicum speciesAnnuum
OriginUnited States
SizeApproximately 1 to 1 1/2 inches long, thin
FlavorNeutral (peppery), Tangy

Are sport peppers simply pickled serrano chilies?

There’s a lot of questions surrounding the origin of these pickled chilies. They are a cultivar of Capsicum Annuum with Mexican roots, that’s for certain. Some say they are simply pickled serrano peppers, others see them as distinct chilies of their own, pointing to the fact that sport pepper seeds are available separately from serrano seeds.

What’s most likely is the name “sport” covers a wide variety of pickled Mexican chilies within Capsicum Annuum, including serranos.

How hot are sport peppers?

There’s a wide range of medium heat here, again likely due to the potential range of chilies used to create the pickled sport. As a viable range, consider the serrano’s heat range of 10,000 to 23,000 Scoville heat units (or SHU) as a typical sport pepper range. That’s equal heat to jalapeño and up to nine times hotter. Though there can be a larger spread than this depending on the chili used.

This heat range nestles the sport pepper in-between the jalapeño and cayenne chilies (30,000 to 50,000 SHU.) For most, it’s still a very eatable level of heat. And that’s a good thing as sport peppers are often eaten pickled fresh and whole.

What do they look like?

Here we’ll focus on grown sports, not serranos, though serranos do have a relatively similar shape. These are thin chilies that form to a point, near bite-sized, one to one and a half inches in length. The sport pepper resembles a tabasco pepper, but smaller. While these chilies mature from green to red, sport peppers are pickled when green.

What do they taste like?

Fresh sport peppers have a neutral bright, peppery flavor to them. But that’s not how you’ll normally eat these chilies. They are typically pickled, and as such the tangy brine is often the predominant flavor you experience, along with the heat.

How can you use these chilies?

Chicago-style hot dogs are the must here. Place them whole on the dog for that total authentic Chicago experience. But sport peppers can be used similarly to other pickled chilies too. Anywhere where you’d use pickled pepperoncini or jalapeños, you can opt for sports. But just be prepared for the extra heat. They are delicious sliced for sandwiches and hoagies and they’re an excellent pizza topping.

Where can you buy sport peppers?

In Chicago, you can find them served and sold in many locations. Outside of the Windy City, they may be a little tougher to find. Look to the jarred and pickled section of your local grocer, but you may have better luck at a specialty store. Or, to simplify sourcing, simply pick up pickled sport peppers or seeds online.

If you love Chicago-style hot dogs, it’s a must to try sport peppers. But don’t be shy about using them for other meals, too. They may not be as easy to find as pickled jalapeño or pepperoncini, but they are just as tasty with a heck of a lot more heat.

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UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on May 9, 2023 to include new content.
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Picking and pickling new harvest now first year growing them not hot at all just a Wonderfull medium heat and only in seed near stem area. eating them raw dipped in a sour cream dip yummy