Mexican Chili BBQ Sauce

Mexican chilies are an amazing and versatile ingredient to have in your pantry. However, many Canadians are unfamiliar with how to make use of them in their cooking. Here’s a simple recipe for homemade Mexican Chili BBQ sauce that I hope will inspire you to try them out. Best of all, you can buy hard-to-find Ancho chilies and Guajillo chilies direct from Bluewater Pepper Farm or at one of our retail partners in Huron County.

Guajillo and Ancho chilies

When most of us hear the word “chilies”, we often assume that equates with hot and spicy. While that’s often the case, many popular Mexican chilies are quite mild. By combining different chilies in your cooking, you can find the right heat level.

You can make this delicious BBQ sauce using spices and ingredients you likely have on hand or easily find with the exception of the chilies which you can buy from our store. For a dead simple version, you can even start with regular ketchup – more about that later.

Some basics for using Mexican chilies in your cooking

First off, chilies are harvested when ripe and then dried (often smoked too), resulting in leathery pods produced by the ton in Mexico. Dehydration serves to concentrate the flavours and ensures the chilies store well at room temperature.

When used in cooking they’re added to sauces, or ground into powder. Here are a few general techniques (though no rule is cast in stone).

Anchos, stems and seeds removed
Just tear your chilies into pieces and discard the stem.

Lightly toast the chilies to bloom the flavours. Do this whether making a sauce or powder. Remove the stems and discard. You can keep the seeds and stringy pith, or toss them. Just remember those are hotter than the rest of the chili. Tear chilies into pieces. Toast for a minute or so in a hot skillet, pressing them down with your spatula and flipping once. Be careful not to burn them – there shouldn’t be any smoke.

Make powder by grinding up the toasted chilies in a spice / coffee grinder. Use the powdered spice in meat rubs, soups, sauces, etc.

If you’re using the chilies to make a sauce, then soak them by covering with some boiling water. Weigh down the chilies to ensure they’re submerged and soak for 20 or 30 minutes. The liquid and the chilies go right into the pot from there.

Of course, this is just the very basics. You’ll find tons of inspiring recipe ideas by searching the web.

Anchos or Guajillos?

Ancho Chilies are a sweet, mild and smoky chili that may be the most widely used in Mexican cuisine. They are a large, meaty chili, made from ripe poblano peppers. Guajillo’s are dark red colour with a thin wall and shiny skin when dried. They have an earthy flavour with tones of tea. Guajillos are hotter than Anchos, but nowhere near jalapeños or habaneros, especially if you remove the seeds. In Mexico, you’ll find both these chilies everywhere, even in corner stores.

You can make this BBQ sauce using either type, or try a combination of the 2. And, since it’s BBQ sauce, you can be as creative as you want. Remember to keep a balance of salt, sweet, vinegar and heat but after that, you can try adding or substituting other spices and flavours. Some good candidates are black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg and tamarind.

A final note, the recipe calls for Mexican whole leaf oregano, also hard-to-find in Canada, but also available here from our shop. This type of oregano is used throughout Latin America, so if you want authentic, give it a try. It has a slightly stronger flavour, but can be used in place of Mediterranean oregano in cooking.

Ancho Chili BBQ Sauce

Make this delicious and versatile BBQ sauce using Mexican chilies and oregano, either mild or spicy. This recipe stores well in the fridge for a few months.
Course condiment
Keyword BBQ sauce, Mexican chilies, Mexican oregano
Prep Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour

Equipment

  • 3 qt sauce pan
  • small, heavy skillet (for toasting chilies)
  • blender or food processor
  • Storage jars – makes about 1 quart

Ingredients

  • 2 whole Ancho Chilies approx 1 ounce
  • 3 whole Guajillo Chilies
  • 1/2 cup boiling water for soaking chilies
  • 1 tbsp Mexican whole leaf oregano you can substitute regular oregano
  • 1 tsp Hot Smokey Chipotle powder Adjust amount of chipotle to calibrate the heat level as follows: mild – no chipotle, medium – 1/2 tsp, spicy – 1 tsp or more. You can always add more, but you can't take it out!
  • 1 tsp granulated garlic or garlic powder
  • 1 tsp ginger powder
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1 tsp whole allspice
  • 1 tsp salt adjust to taste at the end
  • 1 20 oz can tomatoes (crushed, whole or diced)
  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce be sure to use gluten free if that's an issue
  • 3 tbsp cider vinegar you can another type of vinegar – be sure to avoid malt vinegar if you require gluten free
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup or brown sugar

Instructions

  • Rip the chilies into 1 or 2 inch pieces. Discard the stem. Whether or not to use the seeds is a personal choice. They add more heat and a slightly more bitter taste to the final product that many people like – it's up to you.
  • Have your boiling water ready.
    Keep a close watch as you toast – you don't want to burn them! Place the chilies In a medium hot skillet in a single layer. Press down with a spatula to get an even toasting, and flip over once or twice. You should see them start to 'sweat' a bit, but not smoke. This shouldn't take much more than a minute.
    Place the toasted bits into a measuring cup and pour about 1/2 cup boiling water on top. Submerge them using a drinking glass to weigh them down. Let the chilies soak for 20 minutes or so.
    Toasting anchos in a skillet
  • Place all the other ingredients in your saucepan and bring up to a boil on medium-high heat. When the chilies are done soaking, add them to the pot, along with the soaking liquid.
    All ingredients in saucepan
  • Reduce heat to simmer. Allow to simmer for 1 hour, stirring regularly, scraping down the side of the pot each time. You want it to be about as thick as ketchup, so add water or cook a bit longer to get it where you like.
    Allow to cool before blending
  • Carefully tip the pot into a blender or food processor bowl. Whiz it on high for a minute or more until it's completely smooth in texture and the whole spices are ground up.
    Adjust salt to taste. Remember, condiments should be a little salty.
    Pour into a 1 qt jar and store in the fridge. This will keep for a few months.

Now for the ketchup version. . . Ketchup is a great base for BBQ sauce because it’s already sweetened and nicely seasoned with spices. First, toast and soak the chilies as above. Next, in a 3 qt saucepan, combine 2 cups ketchup, the chopped onion and soy sauce. Since ketchup is already fairly acid, add just 1 tbsp cider vinegar. Once the chilies have soaked, add them along with the liquid. Bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook until it reaches the desired consistency. Allow it to cool before whizzing it up – an immersion blender works fine with this recipe because it doesn’t need to grind up whole spices. Finally, adjust the salt to taste. It will keep for a month or so in the refrigerator.

New! Chipotle Chili powder

I’ve been experimenting with Chipotle Chili powder blends for many years. Now you can buy some for yourself from our store. Use it to make chili con carne, season taco fillings, create a taco sauce, grill meats and much more.

Our Chipotle Chili powder is blended from the finest ingredients, including our own Hot Smokey Chipotle we make ourselves from Ontario jalapenos. We marry that with imported ancho, guajillo and cascabel chilies and top quality Mexican oregano, cumin and garlic. Each batch is processed and blended by hand, then sealed in a convenient 30g zip-lock packet to preserve freshness.

In Mexican cuisine, a myriad of different types of chilies are used to make all types of regional dishes. Ripened chilies are dried and often smoked, developing complex flavours you won’t find anywhere else. Furthermore, every type of chili has a distinct flavour and heat profile, some mild and others fiery hot. To use them they are typically toasted a bit, then ground into spice powder or re-hydrated to make adobos. marinades and dressings.

Unfortunately, it’s rare to find quality chilies in Canadian supermarkets, but a high quality chili powder is the next best thing. Few of us have the time or ingredients to start from scratch anyhow. When cooking with Chili powder, you’ll extract maximum flavour by heating it in a little oil or on browning meat before adding any liquid ingredients. Make the aroma bloom!

Chipotle chili powder closeup
Bluewater Pepper Farm Chipotle chili powder

Our Chipotle Chili powder produces mild heat, but you can kick it up with more chipotle, hot sauce, cayenne, etc. There’s no salt added, so you control the seasoning.

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Mexican Chilies (or chiles or chillies)

Chilies are a cornerstone ingredient in Mexican cuisine. There’s a vast array of different Mexican chilies, each with distinctive flavour and heat signatures. In this post, I’ll introduce you to some of the main types of dried chilies.

Mexican chilies. clockwise from top – Guajillo, Ancho, US penny for scale, Morita, Cascabel, Arbol

Anywhere one travels throughout Mexico, you find shops that sell chilies by the sackful. This gives a sense of the importance of the humble chili pepper in everyday cooking. The photo above shows some from the collection I picked up this past February in Puerto Vallarta.

Chili store
The chile store!

Before diving in, a note on spelling. As this post’s title indicates, there’s more than one way to spell it and they’re all correct. In Mexico, the generally used spelling is “chile”. It’s also the name of the South American country which can cause confusion (ironically Chileans – the people – are not lovers of spicy foods). In the US, the spelling “chili” is most common, while in the UK, it’s spelled “chilli”. The plural form of each is “chiles”, “chilies” and “chillies” respectively. In this post, I’ll stick with Webster’s and use the American form “chili/ chilies”.


Chipotle or Morita

chipotle or morita chilies
Chipotle or Morita chilis are made with ripe red jalapeños.

Moritas are more commonly known as chipotles in Canada and the Unites States. They’re ripe jalapeños smoked and dried. They deliver a wonderful combination of sweet and smoke. The heat level varies, but I count them as medium at between 5,000 and 8,000 Scovilles. “Chipotle in adobo” is a sauce made by slowly simmering these whole with onions, tomatoes, vinegar and garlic. It’s the base for my homemade BBQ sauce. The chipotle flavour inspired me to make my own Bluewater Pepper Farm Hot Smokey Chipotle. Ground into powder, this is a spice you can use in so many creative ways.

Arbol

arbol chilies
Chiles de arbol

“De arbol” means “of the tree” in Spanish. this little red pepper is fiery hot with a Scoville rating between 30,000 and 50,000. They’re similar in appearance, taste and heat to red Thai chilies. Use sparingly wherever you want a blast of extra heat.

Guajillo

The guajillo chili has a mild to medium heat with a Scoville rating between 2,500 and 5,000. They are used in many dishes, but perhaps the best known is carne adobada. Guajillo peppers are re-hydrated and combined with vinegar, garlic, and other spices and herbs. Ground into a paste, it can be used to marinate and slow cook meat or as a delicious taco sauce.

guajillo chili

Guajillos are thin-skinned with a fruity flavour. They are the dried form of the Mirasol (looking at the sun) pepper. The name is derived from the way these peppers grow with their tips pointed up to the sky.

Ancho

ancho chili
Good dried chilies should be pliable like this Ancho

The Ancho chili is one of the most versatile of the Mexican chilies. They are dried from ripe Poblano peppers which are a large heart-shaped green pepper with mild heat and a lovely fruity flavour. Ripening turns them red and they become even sweeter. Anchos are a thick-walled variety and the essential ingredient in the famous Oaxacan molé sauce.

These big peppers are great for stuffing either as Anchos (rehydrated) or in their fresh green Poblano form.

Cascabel

The sound of loose seeds in dried cascabels gives them their nick-name – the “rattle chili”. Cascabels have a distinctive nutty flavour. This thin walled, mild chili is a versatile addition to sauces, soups and stews. I use cascabels as an ingredient in my chili powder. With rating from 1,500 to 2,500 Scovilles, these are mild by comparison with moritas and arbol.

cascabel chili