Sport Peppers: Chicago’s Finest

| Last Updated: May 19, 2020 |

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A must for Chicago-style hot dogs…

Sport pepper fast facts:

  • Scoville heat units (SHU): 10,000 – 23,000 SHU
  • Median heat: 16,500 SHU
  • Origin: United States
  • Capsicum species: Annuum
  • Jalapeño reference scale: Near equal to 9 times hotter
  • Use: Culinary
  • Size: Approximately 1 to 1 1/2 inches long, thin
  • Flavor: Neutral (peppery), Tangy

Chicago wouldn’t be Chicago without sport peppers. These tangy, medium-heat pickled peppers 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 from their seasoned brine that’s simply delicious.

What are sport peppers? Are they pickled serrano peppers?

There’s a lot of questions surrounding the origin of sport peppers. They are a cultivar of Capsicum Annuum with Mexican roots, that’s for sure. 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 peppers within Capsicum Annuum, including both of the aforementioned chilies, and perhaps more due to hybrid breeding.

How hot are sport peppers?

There’s a wide range of medium heat in these pickled peppers, 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 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.

What do they look like?

Here we’ll focus on grown sport peppers, not serranos, though serrano peppers 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.

Sport Peppers

What do sport peppers taste like?

They are the total package of tang with the vinegar brine. It’s the predominant taste as well as the heat. Pickled peppers like sports and pickled pepperoncini don’t provide a lot of pepper flavor nuance beyond the tang and spice.

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 peppers too. Anywhere where you’d use pickled pepperoncini or jalapeños, you can opt for sport peppers, 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 sport peppers served and sold in many locations. Outside of the Windy City, they may be a little tougher to source. 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 (Amazon).

If you love Chicago-style hot dogs, it’s a must to pick up 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.

Photo by: weffreyw CC 2.0

Matt Bray

Matt Bray

Chief Chilihead at Cindermint
Founder of PepperScale and Cindermint LLC. Sucker for a good scotch bonnet. Spicy food super-fan. Current fiery fascination: Datil hot sauces.


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