Need For Heat? How To Make Your Chili Spicier

Chili is a Tex-Mex dish. If you are familiar with Tex-Mex cuisine, you know that it is heavy on the hot peppers and usually offers some amount of heat. Exactly how much heat can vary depending on the cook’s preference. 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.

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, which is something that you will need to keep in mind if you are sensitive to excessive spiciness.

If you have never used chipotles in adobo sauce, approach them with caution since they might be spicier than you think. 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.

Cayenne pepper powder

This fine powder made from dried and ground cayenne is not only easy to find, but it is affordable as well. Its strong medium heat (30,000 to 50,000 Scoville heat units) 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 flakes) and cayenne can be surprisingly hot for many. Start conservatively and add more to your liking.

Chili powder

Chili powder is the blend of spices formulated for use in the chili dish, which means that it is the ideal way to get 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 powder is not excessively hot, which means that you will need to add a lot of it to get a dramatic rise in the heat level. If you do that, you will also be adding more of the other spices and may wind up with a dish that is over-seasoned.

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.


With Sriracha, you get a Thai-inspired American hot sauce made with ripe red jalapeños. It will give your chili a mild heat along with a little 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 September 5, 2019 to include new content.
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