Ever since I moved to the desert southwest, I find myself giving holiday dishes a little more kick. I’m talking chorizo stuffing, green chile cornbread, chocolate chile desserts, and of course, jalapeño poppers. I love seeing how a fiery holiday meal can wake up sleepy eyes at first bite!
Jalapeño poppers pack a serious flavor punch in a bitesize snack. Football game favorite or southwestern Thanksgiving starter, I promise, all you’ll be left with are stems and sticky grins.
Poppers can be made in a variety of ways. Spiced up or toned down, wrapped in a meat blanket or in the nude, smokey or tangy sauce- there is really no wrong way to pop these peppers.
With all the spice going on in my kitchen, food prep gloves have been an excellent investment. There’s really nothing worse than accidentally touching certain body parts after being knee deep in pepper juice. The gloves help protect fingertips from the chemical compound capsaicin, otherwise known as my tongue is on fire. That way you can jump from popper prep to whatever’s next, without any tears.
The amount and intensity of capsaicin is a little different pepper to pepper. Generally, jalapeños are pretty mild. A step up from poblanos, and a step down from cayenne, jalapeños are perfectly situated for a creamy, cheesy stuffing. Feel free to use any pepper your heart desires though!
Capsaicin hides in the seeds and membranes of peppers in particular. Removing the seeds is generally recommended in popper making anyway. But you can make jalapeños even milder by removing the membranes as well. Once the seeds and membranes are gone, it’s usually safe to remove the gloves.
I’ve never made jalapeño poppers without cream cheese, but I have definitely tinkered with the other ingredients. I’ve put my favorite combination below.
A sharp cheddar cheese or Mexican cheese blend offers a contrast to the cream cheese. However, too much will undo the airiness you’ll get from mixing. Sliced green onions are a slightly fresh sweetness to balance the spice.
I do like to use taco seasoning (specifically, Penzey’s original) as a shortcut, but individual spices and seasonings are equally fabulous. Smoked paprika, chili powder, ground cumin, ground chipotle, garlic and onion powder are an excellent start. The most important part is taste testing and adjusting along the way. Keep in mind that some taco seasonings contain quite a bit of salt, so take that into consideration when playing with flavors.
Once your poppers are done, try pairing them with any food that needs a little kick in the pants. We’ve even been known to put a popper on our pulled pork sandwiches. Go crazy! They won’t last long!
Bacon Wrapped Jalapeño Poppers
Football game favorite or southwestern Thanksgiving starter, I promise, all you'll be left with are stems and sticky grins.
- 12 large jalapeños halved and seeded
- 16 ounces full fat cream cheese room temperature
- 1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese or Mexican cheese blend shredded
- 1/4 cup green onion sliced thin, optional
- 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
- 3 teaspoon taco seasoning
- 12 slices bacon room temperature
- 1/2 cup BBQ sauce
Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. On a dark, rimmed sheet pan fitted with a baking rack, line up the seeded and halved jalapeños in rows, open side facing up.
Place the cheeses, green onion, and seasonings into a large bowl. Using a hand mixer, combine the cheese mixture until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
Gently spoon the cheese mixture into the jalapeño halves until each is full.
With a pair of kitchen shears, cut the bacon slices in half. Wrap a half slice of bacon around each jalapeño popper, and secure with a toothpick if needed.
Place the sheet pan in the oven and let cook for about 15 minutes until the bacon starts to crisp. Using a small basting brush, lightly coat the poppers with your favorite BBQ sauce, and let cook another 5 minutes.
This recipe is easily doubled, tripled, etc. I've found that I need about one 8-ounce package of cream cheese for 6 large whole jalapeños (12 halves) or about 10 smaller whole jalapeños (20 halves).
I've tried a lot of BBQ sauces with this recipe and personally prefer one with a bit of vinegary finish, which brightens this appetizer up. If you don't want to make your own BBQ sauce, I highly recommend Salt Lick BBQ's Original BBQ Sauce, which you can find here (or in Austin, Texas!).