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What are the Best Chillies for Chilli Con Carne?

When chillies are literally in the name of a dish, you know they’re going to be an important element. So, can you use any old chilli when making it? Not quite! So, what are the best chillies for chilli con carne?

Combining Ancho and Chipotle chillies works best for a traditional chilli con carne. Ancho provides a sweet, mild flavour, while Chipotle adds a hint of smokiness and a bit more heat, creating a complex and rich flavour profile.

Our 10 Favourite Chillies for Chilli Con Carne

There are several different chillies varieties that can work well in a chilli con carne. Some are far easier to get hold of than others:

Ancho Chillies

Ancho chillies are dried poblano peppers with a sweet and smoky flavour. To use, rehydrate them in hot water, then puree and add to your chilli for a mild heat and complex flavour.

They are authentic in Mexican dishes, but remember that the heat level is mild, so it won’t make your chilli very spicy. You’ll want to combine them with a hot chilli.

How Do You Use Whole Dried Chillies?

To use whole dried chillies, first, remove the stems and seeds, then soak them in hot water for about 20-30 minutes to rehydrate. After they’ve softened, you can either chop them or purée them in a blender or food processor to add to your recipe.

Chipotle Chilli

Chipotle chillies are smoked, dried jalapeños. They come in various forms, such as dried, powdered, or canned in adobo sauce. They can be added directly to your chilli con carne for a smoky flavour and medium heat.

They are very popular in Mexican cuisine. Beware of the spice level as it can be quite hot.

Chiptole Chillies for Chilli Con Carne

Guajillo Chilli

Guajillo chillies are dried mirasol chillies with a fruity and slightly smoky flavour. As you would with other dried chillies, rehydrate them in hot water, then puree and add to your chilli.

They provide a mild to medium heat and are very authentic in Mexican dishes.

Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne is usually used in powder form. It is quite hot, so add it sparingly to your chilli con carne until you reach your desired heat level. It’s not specifically traditional in chilli con carne, but it is widely used due to its availability.

It’s a good idea to add an initial sprinkling to the chilli base when cooking the onions to give it plenty of time to impart flavour.

Cayenne Pepper

Habanero Chilli

Habanero is one of the hottest chillies available. Use it sparingly and consider removing the seeds to reduce the heat.

While not traditional in chilli con carne, it can be used if you prefer a very spicy dish. Always handle habanero with care, and consider wearing gloves.

Jalapeño Chilli

Jalapeños are medium heat chillies and can be used fresh or smoked (chipotle as above).

Use them fresh for a brighter, fresher flavour or smoked for a more complex flavour. While not the most traditional option when fresh, they are often used due to their availability.

Pasilla Chilli

Pasilla is a dried chilaca chilli pepper. It has a mild to medium heat with notes of berry and cocoa.

Rehydrate and puree before adding to your chilli con carne. It is an authentic chilli used in Mexican cuisine but it can be a little challenging to find, unfortunately. If you can’t find Pasilla, Ancho can be a decent substitute.

New Mexico Red Chilli

These chillies have a bright, slightly sweet flavour with medium heat. They come dried, as a powder, or in sauces. Add directly to your chilli con carne.

They are traditional in Southwestern US chilli con carne recipes. They can be hot, so use them with caution.

New Mexico Red Chilli

Poblano Chilli

Fresh poblano chillies are mild and slightly sweet. Roast and peel them before adding to your chilli con carne. They are traditional in Mexican dishes. They aren’t very hot, but the roasting adds a nice depth of flavour.

How to Fix a Bland Chilli Con Carne

First, try adding more salt, as this can often bring out the other flavours in the dish. You can also increase the heat with more chilli powder or fresh chillies and add depth with spices like cumin or ingredients like dark chocolate. Lastly, a squeeze of fresh lime juice can enhance the flavours by adding acidity.

Which Chillies Do NOT Work in Chilli Con Carne?

You might think that all chillies would work well in a dish that has the word chilli in its name but this isn’t quite true. Unfortunately, there are some chillies you’ll want to avoid using:

  1. Ghost Pepper
    Although incredibly hot, ghost peppers don’t offer much in the way of flavour and could easily make your chilli inedibly spicy. Its extreme heat could easily overshadow the other flavours in chilli con carne.
  2. Trinidad Scorpion Pepper
    Like the ghost pepper, the Trinidad Scorpion is one of the hottest peppers in the world, and while it does have a fruity flavour, its intense heat can easily dominate a dish and create a chilli that’s too hot to enjoy.
  3. Naga Viper Pepper
    Another one of the world’s hottest peppers, the Naga Viper, is incredibly spicy and can overpower the flavours of your chilli. It’s also not traditional in Mexican cuisine.
  4. Scotch Bonnet
    These are very hot peppers that have a sweet, tropical fruit-like flavour, which can clash with the flavours in chilli con carne. They’re traditionally used in Caribbean cuisine, not Mexican or Tex-Mex dishes.
  5. Serrano Pepper
    Serrano peppers are hot and more flavorful than jalapenos, but they are typically used fresh in salsas and not typically used in cooked dishes like chilli con carne.
  6. Shishito Peppers
    Shishito peppers are usually mild and sweet. They’re typically served on their own, pan-roasted in oil. Their delicate flavour would likely get lost in a robust chilli, and they’re not traditionally used in this kind of dish.
  7. Aji Amarillo
    This fruity, medium-hot chilli is a key ingredient in Peruvian cuisine. Its unique, fruity flavour might not pair well with the flavours in chilli con carne, and it’s not traditionally used in this dish.

Remember, the goal in choosing chillies for chilli con carne is to select ones that offer a balance of heat and flavour without overwhelming the other ingredients in the dish.

You’re not trying to make hot sauce. You don’t want your chilli con carne to be one-dimensional. So ensure you pick chillies that will add both flavour and heat.

Should Chilli Con Carne Be Spicy?

So we’ve listed the types of chillies that should (and should not) be used when making a chilli con carne. But how spicy should it be? Surely something with the word chilli in the name needs to blow your head off?

The spiciness is largely a matter of personal preference and can be adjusted according to your own taste.

In a traditional chilli, the heat level should be balanced — it should be spicy enough to give a bit of a kick but not so hot that it overpowers the other ingredients or makes the dish uncomfortable to eat.

Remember, making something spicy is easier than trying to tame the heat. If you are serving chilli to a group with different tolerances to heat, then keep it mild but serve it with pickled jalapeños and hot sauce.

How Can I Make My Chilli Con Carne Less Spicy?

Add more of the other ingredients to dilute the heat, or include dairy, such as sour cream or grated cheese, as dairy can neutralise capsaicin, the compound that makes chillies hot.


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