The Less Spicy Swap For Perfect Jalapeño Poppers

Jalapeño poppers are delicious in their own right. When they're prepped with precision — creamy cheese, crispy bacon, and a crispy pepper — this appetizer is impactful and adored. It's hard to imagine this fan-favorite getting any better. But, with a Scoville rating of 2,500-5,000, biting into a jalapeño pepper isn't for everyone. For those pepper-popper lovers who can't handle the heat of a jalapeño, there's a more subdued option: pepperoncini.

These bright yellow-green peppers, also commonly referred to as Greek Peppers, offer a tangy and mildly spicy flavor. Their Scoville rating (100 to 500), to many tasters, pales in comparison to the jalapeño. Capsaicin burn, when your skin is exposed to the alkaloid, causes many jalapeño popper preppers to use plastic gloves to cut the spice out of the peppers. Even a seeded jalapeño can still be too hot for some as the heat lives in the membrane, or the pith, and the ribs. 

While they are often confused with banana peppers, pepperoncini peppers stand out as a delicious alternative to the jalapeño pepper. They're a similar size and shape, making for the perfect bite as an appetizer, side, or finger food at a party.

How to use pepperoncini

If you're lucky enough to have these growing in your garden, pick your peppers the morning of to give them an even fresher taste and texture. Some grocers keep fresh pepperoncini in stock, but you might have to shop around. You can use jarred pepperoncini too. Since these are pickled, usually with added vinegar and other spices, drain the juice before patting the peppers with paper towels. Peppers need to be as dry, so there's a crispiness after they bake or fry. No one likes a soggy popper. 

You can retain the pepperoncini brine to make condiments or use it in José Andrés' perfect pickled pepper cocktail. If you're feeling adventurous, you can drink it after a workout or long stint in the garden, as pickle juices can aid in hydration

Pepperoncini peppers have a mild heat, so they don't have to be seeded — unless you prefer a seedless snack. The membrane can remain intact as well, especially if you're using the jarred type. The less fussing with the pepper, the better. Chop off the stem, cut the pepper in half, and add your desired filling. You're already adapting this recipe to fit your spice preference; get creative and add ingredients that you think work well together. Roast them in the oven at around 450 degrees Fahrenheit for just under 10 minutes.

Add more to your poppers

You don't have to stick to the usual cream cheese 'only' routine for these updated poppers. Try pepper jack or gouda to add uniqueness to your appetizer experience. Or combine another variety to cream cheese to add a flavorful dimension such as cheddar or havarti. Just make sure you avoid red flags when buying cheese by not getting your dairy from places with overly bright overhead lights, a warm fridge, or non-dated products.

Prefer plant-based options? Non-dairy 'cheeses' have come a long way, especially with a plethora of non-dairy milks available. Add a creamy vegan cashew queso to bring a level of richness to your dairy-free pepperoncini treat. 

Want to take your batch of pepperoncini poppers to the next level? Add golden-brown caramelized onions, panko or breadcrumbs, chopped olives, fresh cilantro, or sliced deli meat to the top. Personalizing your favorite foods is one of the most exciting aspects of cooking — especially when you can cater to a wide range of preferences.