5 Recipes and 12 Tips for Grilled Jalapeño Poppers
Photo by Rob Baas.
You may know them as jalapeño poppers, armadillo eggs, rattlesnake eggs, or even ABTs. Whatever you call them, stuffed smoked jalapeños rock the grill across the U.S.
A bite-size variant of Mexican chiles rellenos, poppers have been around since the 1970s. Early versions were typically stuffed with cheese, then breaded and fried. Naturally, it didn’t take barbecuers long to discover these babies were even better when grilled.
A Facebook query on the “Primal Grill with Steven Raichlen” group motivated today’s blog post. Chris S. wrote, “Can anyone provide an easy recipe for grilled jalapeño poppers?” Absolutely, Chris. (And thanks, as always, to the other folks who responded promptly on social media.)
The easiest poppers are made by spooning cream cheese or goat cheese into jalapeños that have been halved and seeded, wrapped with bacon (optional), and indirect grilled until the chiles are soft and the filling is bubbly. (Even better, use a jalapeño pepper rack to roast the pepper upright. It even comes with a handy corer.) Of course you can energize the filling with herbs, spices, and even Thai curry paste.
Bacon-Cheddar Poppers: A classic combination rides again. Great with sour cream and thinly sliced scallions. Or, take it in a Tex-Mex direction by substituting pepper Jack cheese for the cheddar. Serve with a smoky homemade salsa like my Smoked Corn Salsa or Salsa Verde.
Thai Chicken Curry Poppers (see photo above): All the flavors of authentic chicken curry in a bite or two. You’ll blow minds with this one.
Snow Crab Bacon Poppers: One of my favorite poppers recipes—it pays homage to my home state of Maryland by adding a half cup of fresh corn kernels and a couple of generous dashes of Old Bay seasoning. Wrapped with bacon? Hella good.
Buffalo Chicken Poppers: Halve and seed 10 jalapeño peppers. Sauté 1/4 cup of finely diced celery in 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Stir in 1 cup of finely diced grilled or smoked chicken (dark or white meat) and 3 tablespoons or more of Frank’s RedHot or other Louisiana-style hot sauce. In the meantime, combine 6 ounces of room temperature cream cheese and 1/4 cup of finely crumbled blue cheese. Add the chicken/hot sauce mixture to the cheeses and blend. Stuff the peppers and grill indirectly over medium heat (375 degrees F) for 20 to 25 minutes.
Sunday Morning Poppers: Halve and seed 10 jalapeño peppers. Blend 3 ounces of chopped smoked salmon into 8 ounces of room temperature cream cheese. Stir in 1 tablespoon of fresh minced chives or scallions, 2 teaspoons of lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of lemon zest, and 1 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper. Stuff the peppers and grill indirectly over medium heat (375 degrees F) for 20 to 25 minutes. Top each pepper with 3 brined capers.
TIPS FOR TAKING YOUR POPPERS TO THE NEXT LEVEL:
- Although there is no way to tell for sure where a jalapeño will be on the Scoville scale (the measure of chile pepper heat), white scar-like cracks toward the chile pepper’s shoulder—called “corking”—mean the pepper is more mature and potentially hotter.
- Scoop fairly smooth fillings (such as cream cheese) into a sturdy plastic bag or pastry bag before piping into the chiles.
- Wear gloves (latex or other protective gloves) when handling jalapeños: The volatile compounds released when they’re sliced can burn hands, cause eyes to tear, and even irritate lungs.
- Substitute colorful mini bell peppers or Spanish piquillo peppers (both are mild) for jalapeños if your crowd is heat-averse. Please note: Piquillo peppers, grown only in Spain, have already been roasted and peeled. Drain and pat dry before stuffing whole with your favorite filling.
- Milk or other dairy products, such as ice cream or yogurt, are antidotes to chiles’ heat. Water will not quench the fires, and in fact, may stoke them.
- If a popper recipe calls for cream cheese or goat cheese, soften the cheese by letting it come to room temperature. It will be easier to blend with other ingredients.
- Use a small metal spoon or melon baller to remove jalapeño seeds and ribs. If coring a whole pepper, use a coring tool.
- Many recipes call for wrapping the poppers with bacon. Thin-cut bacon works better than thick-cut as it crisps in about the same time it takes the poppers to cook. Alternatively, crumble cooked bacon (preferably made-from-scratch) and stir into the filling.
- Poppers can be prepared up to several hours ahead before grilling. Cover and refrigerate, of course.
- Although their cooking time is relatively short—20 to 25 minutes—do add smoke flavor to the poppers by throwing soaked wood chips, such as mesquite, on the coals or by preparing a smoking pouch.
- If wrapping jalapeños with bacon, use knotted bamboo skewers or toothpicks to hold the bacon in place.