Pickled Candied Jalapenos are a spicy and sweet take on the classic pickled jalapeno. They’re the perfect garnish for black bean burgers, chopped salads, and more. If you love spicy food and you love pickles then these are the things for you. Candied jalapenos in a jar with a kick of heat.
Cowboy Candy (Candied Jalapeños)
Giddy up! Cowboy Candy (aka candied jalapeños) are spicy, tangy, salty, and sweet—the perfect condiment for topping everything from Bloody Marys to migas to grilled creamed corn. You could also chop Cowboy Candy and stir into pickle relish, tuck into a ham sandwich, or artfully arrange over a hot dog with chopped raw onion. The combination of fiery heat from the jalapeño and the nearly caramelized coating from the sugar is truly addictive. Unlike most pickle recipes, Cowboy Candy has a whole cup of sugar in the pickling mixture, which allows it to become truly candied.
Legend has it that Cowboy Candy originated in 1922 on the St. Augustine, Texas-based WHH Ranch by a 7-year-old named Mindie Heironimus, who pickled homegrown jalapeños with sugar and spices. The family called them Cowboy Candy for unknown reasons, maybe because the cowboys couldn’t get enough of this sweet-hot treat.
Be sure to taste a few slices of the fresh chiles before you go crazy—jalapeños can vary wildly in spiciness and one hot one will infuse the whole bunch. You’ve been warned! If you’re sensitive to heat, pull the seeds out of the jalapeño rings before cooking.
PREP TIME:0 HOURS 10 MINS
TOTAL TIME:0 HOURS 30 MINS
apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 tsp.
brown or yellow mustard seeds
coriander seeds, lightly crushed
fennel seeds, lightly crushed
fresh jalapeños (about 6), stemmed and thinly sliced
- In a small pot, combine vinegar, granulated sugar, salt, and mustard, coriander, cumin, and fennel seeds. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves, about 4 minutes.
- Add jalapeños and return to a boil. Cook, pressing gently to help jalapeños stay mostly submerged, until they look shiny and a little shriveled, about 5 minutes.
- Using a slotted spoon, transfer jalapeños to a 10- to 12-oz. container (an old glass jam jar is a good choice).
- Return vinegar mixture to a boil and continue to cook until syrupy and reduced to about 1/2 c., 8 to 10 minutes (this largely depends on size of pot you use, so keep an eye on it).
- Carefully pour syrup over jalapeños in jar, pressing gently so they’re mostly submerged. Let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate, covered, up to 3 weeks.
How to make candied jalapeños
- Slice peppers. You’re looking for slices about 1/4 inch thick. Set them aside for now.
- Bring syrup mixture to a boil. Add vinegar, sugar, and spices to a large pot and heat until boiling. Once the mixture boils, reduce the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes. If you notice your mixture starts to foam up a lot, like the picture on the right, decrease your heat and stir it a bit to get it to calm down.
- Bring back to boil, then add peppers. Increase the heat and bring the mixture back up to a boil. Once boiling, add your sliced peppers, and allow to come back to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat and simmer for about 4 minutes.
- Transfer peppers to jars. I like to use a slotted spoon to leave as much of the liquid in the pot as possible. Fill the jars to within about 1/4-1/2″ of the top of the jar.
- Boil the syrup and add to jars. Increase the heat again and bring the syrup to a full rolling boil. Boil for about 6 minutes. Either ladle, or transfer syrup to a pitcher to pour into the glass jars with the peppers. Fill the jars to within about 1/4-1/2″ of the top of the jar.
- Wipe rims, seal and refrigerate. Wipe the rims of jars with a damp paper towel and screw on canning jar lids. Refrigerate for at least 1-2 weeks (3-4 weeks for optimal flavor and texture).
ADDITIONAL COOKING TIPS
- Fresh is best – The best candied jalapeños are made with the freshest jalapeños. The pepper skin should be firm, with no deep blemishes. Try to find consistently sized peppers, so your slices will be uniform in size.
- Slicing – since you’ll be slicing 1.5 lbs of peppers, you’ll want a sharp knife and steady hand, a food processor with the slicing blade attached, or a mandoline.
- Gloves – jalapeños are notorious for varying in heat level, so to error on the side of caution, I like to wear disposable gloves when working with them. The oils from cutting peppers can get onto your skin and cause burning and skin irritation. And god forbid you do something like rub your nose or eye before you’ve THOROUGHLY washed your hands. Don’t ask me me how I know just how bad it’ll hurt… So trust me, glove up.
VARIATIONS OF THIS RECIPE
- Double – as crazy as it may sounds, once you try these sweet and spicy jalapeños, you might want to make a double batch the next time. This recipe is easily doubled… just make sure to double ALL the ingredients, but keep the cooking process and times the same.
- If you hover over the serving size number in the recipe card down below, a slider bar will pop up. Just slide the bar in either direction, until the number of servings you want shows, and it’ll automatically calculate the correct amount of each ingredient!
- Peppers – technically you can “candy” any pepper, so if you’re up for it, you can try using hotter peppers, like serranos or habaneros! Keep the process the same.
- Milder – while candying tames the heat of the jalapenos quite a bit, if you’re really worried about the heat, you can core the peppers before slicing.
Making candied jalapeños ahead of time
This is a natural make-ahead recipe, as the jalapenos need a good couple of weeks to plump back up and for the flavors to mellow out and mesh together.
If I’m patient enough, I like to wait for 3-4 weeks before opening a jar, but let’s face it… sometimes I just want the sweet-heat goodness before then. 1-2 weeks is a good middle ground.
Candied jalapenos should be sealed in an airtight container and refrigerated. They should last about 2-3 months when kept refrigerated and the lids are sealed after each use.
I like to take a permanent marker and write down the date I made the pickles on the lid, so I’ll know when it’s been 2-3 months. Honestly, our’s never last that long before we devour them!
If you wanted to can them via a traditional water bath, they can last a good year in the pantry. But again, that’s only if you’ve canned them.
Cowboy Candy Recipes
These are one of the things that I can annually without fail. Knowing that we have a few dozen jars of these makes my family happy at mealtime and makes holiday gift giving easier.
Do you hate canning? Or are you too afraid of canning to try?
For those of you who may be freaking out slightly or massively over the idea of canning, rest easy. You do not actually have to can these: you can refrigerate them instead.
To skip the canning portion simply do this. Follow all of the instructions up to the actual canning portion, then stash the jars of candied jalapenos in the refrigerator for up to three months.
If you can them, they’ll last for a year. That said, if an alternative is all that stands between you and making them, use your chill chest!
Candied Jalapeno Recipe
This is one case where there is no substitute for fresh peppers. Many folks have asked whether they can substitute frozen or canned jalapeños for the fresh ones in the recipe.
The bad news is that you cannot swap in an already cooked or frozen pepper in this cowboy candied jalapeño recipe. When you cook or freeze any produce, you are beginning the process of breaking down the cell walls.
If you cook them in the syrup again (which is necessary!), you’ll break down the walls even more. The extra cooking will make for mushy peppers, which we are trying to avoid.
Are Candied Jalapeños Hot?
Yes. They are.
One of the fun mysteries of jalapenos is you never quite know how hot your peppers are until you cut into them. I’ve read that the more tan veins a jalapeno has, the hotter it is, but I’ve not proven that to my satisfaction yet.
That said, how how your candied jalapenos will be is a little bit of a toss-up unless you know how hot your peppers are. Please remember that they’re going to be lava hot as soon as you’re done cooking them, but they’ll mellow a bit as they age.
On that note, wear gloves when working with the peppers. I’m not calling you a wimp.
It’s just that jalapeños have a notoriously wide range of heat on the Scoville scale. Trust me when I tell you that it’s a rude surprise when you process 3 pounds of wicked hot ones without wearing gloves!
This recipe is designed to be made with jalapeño peppers, but many readers have substituted serranos, habaneros, bell peppers, banana peppers, and all sorts of other peppers with good results. Please feel free to get creative here!
You can safely use any fresh pepper you’d like as long as you keep to the 3 pound quantity. Several readers have also reported chopping the peppers instead of slicing for candied jalapeno relish and I can confirm this is delicious!
How many jalapeño peppers are in 3 pounds? There isn’t perfect answer to this because the peppers vary so much in size naturally.
Three pounds of jalapeños is approximately 60 peppers. You’re much better of going by weight, though, because of the wide range of sizes in peppers.
Cowboy Candy Recipe
Let’s address slicing the peppers, because we’re going to be going through 3 pounds, folks. The quickest, easiest way to do so is with a slicing blade on a food processor, standing the peppers on their ends in the feed chute.
No food processor? Use a mandolin! No mandolin? Just take your time and slice by hand with a very sharp knife and gloved hands.
I’ve been asked many times whether you should discard the seeds. We like them so I don’t bother with removing them.
Contrary to the old wives’ tales, seeds do not contain the heat of a pepper. It is the membrane inside the pepper packs the most punch.
Since you’re not removing that, don’t sweat the seeds. Come for the cowboy candy recipe, stay for the bad jokes.
Please do not reduce the sugar in our cowboy candy recipe. It is there both to improve the texture of the pepper and syrup as well as to help preserve the peppers.
I originally added turmeric to the recipe to help improve the colour of the finished peppers. But I ended up loving the very subtle warm hint of mustard it adds to the party, so it stayed.
I’m keen on using Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar, but any undiluted cider vinegar will work in our cowboy candy recipe. In a pinch, you could substitute white distilled vinegar, but it will have a slightly sharper taste to the syrup.
While I positively love granulated garlic in this recipe because it doesn’t clump like garlic powder does, you can substitute garlic powder if needed. It’s important to realize that granulated garlic is a much coarser product than powder so please remember to reduce it by half.
In other words, instead of using 3 teaspoons of granulated garlic, you’d use 1 1/2 teaspoons of garlic powder. Alternatively, if you have dried garlic flakes, you can use those. In this case, you’ll use 2 tablespoons of flakes in place of 3 teaspoons of the granulated garlic.
And finally, a word about the celery seed and cayenne pepper. The celery seed adds a little special umami to our cowboy candy that can’t be added any other way.
Don’t worry if you’re not a celery fan, these don’t eat like celery pickles. They’re a subtle addition that brings a little extra savouriness and they’re relatively easy to find in even moderately stocked grocery stores.
The cayenne pepper, unlike many other ingredients, is optional. It’s true that cayenne pepper packs a real punch heat-wise, but it’s a different heat and a different flavour than the super fruity fresh jalapeno brings.
Cayenne is earthy and a little smoky, and I really enjoy that in our candied jalapenos. If you’re looking to mitigate some of the heat, feel free to omit this.
Candied Jalapenos Recipe
Quite a few folks have asked WHEN exactly to start timing the boiling of the peppers. You begin timing them once the liquid has returned to a full rolling boil. That means that the liquid does not stop boiling when you stir it.
As soon as it reaches a full rolling boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and let it simmer gently for 4 minutes. To clarify further, you will not be boiling them hard for 4 minutes, you will bring them to a boil then drop the heat and simmer.
Many, many people have asked me whether they messed up the recipe because their peppers look all shriveled after simmering them in the syrup, packing them in jars, and canning them. The short answer is no.
But truly they WILL look shriveled when you jar them up if you’ve simmered them properly. They will re-plump as they spend their 4 weeks of rest time in the jar between processing and opening.
Yes, I said 4 weeks. My husband has been known to crack a jar at the two week mark out of desperation for candied jalapenos, but he will absolutely agree with me that they improve immensely in flavour and texture when left to mellow for at least 4 weeks after processing.
Try to be patient. You’ll be rewarded.
How to serve cowboy candy:
We love candied jalapenos a.k.a. cowboy candy on cream cheese and crackers, obviously… But we also love them in sandwiches, on Bacon Wrapped Hot Dogs, salads, taco soup, tortilla soup, tacos, and pizza. or chopped up in dips!
The sky is the limit. I kind of suspect my husband would eat them on breakfast cereal if he didn’t know I’d wonder about his sanity.
Are you worried it will be too difficult? I promise it isn’t!
Wearing gloves, remove the stems from all of the jalapeno peppers. The easiest way to do this is to slice a small disc off of the stem-end along with the stem.
Discard the stems. Slice the peppers into uniform 1/8-1/4 inch rounds using either a chef’s knife or a food processor fitted with a slicing blade. Set these aside.
In a large pot, bring cider vinegar, white sugar, turmeric, celery seed, granulated garlic and cayenne pepper to a full rolling boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
Raise the heat to HIGH, add the pepper slices, bring the contents of the pot to a hard boil, then reduce the heat once more and simmer for exactly 4 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the peppers, loading into clean, sterile canning jars to within 1/4 inch of the upper rim of the jar.
Return the pan full of syrup to the burner and once again turn heat up under the pot. Bring the syrup to a full rolling boil. Boil hard for 6 minutes.
Use a ladle to pour the boiling syrup into the jars over the jalapeno slices. Insert a chopstick or butter knife in down to the bottom of the jar two or three times to release any trapped pockets of air.
Adjust the level of the syrup if necessary. Wipe the rims of the jars with a clean, damp paper towel and fix on new, two-piece lids to finger-tip tightness.
Place jars in a canner carefully and cover with hot water by 2-inches. Bring the water to a full rolling boil.
When it reaches a full rolling boil, set the timer for 10 minutes for half-pints or 15 minutes for pints.
Let the jars rest in the hot water for 5 minutes, then use canning tongs to transfer the jars to a cooling rack.
Leave them to cool, undisturbed, for 24 hours. When fully cooled, wipe them with a clean, damp washcloth then label.
Allow to mellow for at least two weeks, but preferably a month before eating.