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Pantry Chile Products

By Cook's Illustrated Published July 2010

Here's a list of the chile products you should always keep on hand.

Cayenne

Contrary to its name, this spice usually contains not only the fiery red cayenne pepper, but also a variety of other ground dried chiles. Like black pepper, it adds kick to food while enhancing other flavors. The volatile oils in cayenne (as in all chiles) lose potency within a few months, so be sure to replenish regularly. In tests, our tasters found brand mattered less than freshness.

Chili Powder

Most chili powder is a blend of roasted dried chiles, garlic powder, oregano, ground cumin, and sometimes salt and monosodium glutamate. As with cayenne, our tasters found brand was less of a factor than freshness. Buy at a store with high turnover and discard after six months. Cooking tip: To deepen its flavor, bloom chili powder in oil or butter before adding other ingredients.

Red Pepper Flakes

Made from a blend of roasted, dried, crushed chiles, red pepper flakes are another flavor enhancer that packs heat. Here again, we found that freshness was more important than brand. Replace red pepper flakes every six months. Cooking tip: As with chili powder, bloom in oil or butter to bring out flavor.

Chipotles in Adobo Sauce

Cans of these smoky dried chiles packed in a tangy, tomato-and-herb-based adobo sauce are often more readily available than plain dried chipotles. The richly flavored sauce can also be used on its own to bring heat and fruity depth to food.

Hot Sauce

If you want a hot sauce to add complexity and not just heat to a dish, don’t automatically reach for Tabasco. Our tasters found that it lent a searing, one-note spiciness to foods. We preferred the thicker consistency and fruitier taste of Frank’s RedHot Original Cayenne Pepper Sauce.