Nothing heats up a meal like a chili pepper. While dozens of peppers are commonly used in restaurant kitchens, chefs are very particular about which ones they work with. Peppers pack differing levels of heat (measured on the Scoville Scale), and each brings its own flavor. We surveyed local chefs to see which peppers they’re excited about right now. Here are the “hottest” peppers of 2014, listed from mildest to spiciest.
(1,000–2,500 Scoville Units)
Originating in New Mexico’s Hatch Valley, Hatch chili peppers come in both green and red varieties. Developed by scientists at New Mexico State University, they’re only in season a few weeks every fall. “I go [to New Mexico] every year to get sacks of the green and red variety,” says Light Group executive chef Brian Massie, who freezes them to use year-round in the chili pork stew at Diablo’s Cantina. You can also find them in the Mongolian-style beef tenderloin at Hakkasan and Rick Giffen’s barbecue burger at the Stratosphere.
(1,000–3,000 Scoville Units)
The name is derived from the Latin term “little bell,” and these round peppers are also known as rattle chilies or bell chilies, because when you shake them, the loose seeds rattle inside. Chef Noe Alcala at Hussong’s Cantina uses them in the restaurant’s dry chili sauce, as well as its XXX hot sauce because of their “unique flavor and light spiciness.” At Tacos & Tequila, chef Saul Ortiz loves to use them in numerous recipes because “it gives me a little bit more consistency” than other peppers.
(2,500–5,000 Scoville Units)
These are dried, slightly smoked mirasol peppers that are often described as having hints of green tea, berries or wood bark. Ortiz likes guajillos because they’re “very versatile, very mild.” Light Group’s Massie uses them as the staple pepper in his menudo and posole broth. You can also taste guajillos in the Chile Colorado at the Hard Rock’s Pink Taco.
(2,500–8,000 Scoville Units)
Like chipotle peppers, moritas begin their lives as jalapeños that are left on the bush until they turn red and are then smoke-dried. But moritas, which generally come from the state of Chihuahua, are dried for less time than other chipotles, giving them a sweeter and spicier taste. They’re a favorite of Cabo Wabo Cantina chef Tacho Kneeland.
(15,000–30,000 Scoville Units)
Perhaps no pepper is gaining popularity as quickly as this one. “A lot of people have had that pepper, but don’t realize it,” Ortiz says. “It’s coming along like cayenne and paprika among the spices.” You’ll come across arbols in countless chili powders and rubs, and even the ground pepper you sprinkle on your pizza.
(30,000–50,000 Scoville Units)
This is a South American yellow pepper that has a somewhat fruity flavor. It’s most often associated with Peruvian cuisine. Here in Las Vegas, chef Beni Velazquez uses it at Bar + Bistro in his ceviche.
(300,000–2,000,000 Scoville Units)
As one of the world’s hottest chili peppers (until recently, a strain of this pepper held the Guinness record for heat) you don’t see it in a lot of recipes, unless it’s some sort of spicy food challenge. But Ortiz insists, “Once you get past the heat, your brain starts registering all these flavor profiles, and you most definitely find all these berries and citrus.” He uses scorpion peppers to make a roasted salsa and has even used them on chicken wings. At Tao and Lavo, chef Marc Marrone is experimenting with this pepper, trying to find “a fun way to utilize the super heat and really floral and fruit-forward aroma.”