11 Ways to Use Cayenne Peppers [& How to Dry Them Properly]

cayenne pepper plant

Fresh cayenne peppers have become one of my favorite things to bring out of the garden. And while I love growing them, even just one cayenne pepper plant will give off a LOT of peppers over the course of the gardening season.

So what the heck are you supposed to do with all those cayenne peppers? You can make red pepper flakes, cayenne powder, your own version of Frank’s hot sauce, and more!

That’s why I made this list of favorite recipes and uses for cayenne peppers.

Uses for Cayenne Peppers

There are a ton of uses for these spicy peppers. You can use them both fresh and dried up. And they aren’t super spicy like other hot peppers, they add a little New Mexican flair to the kitchen, and I can make my own homemade cayenne pepper and red pepper flakes!

cayenne pepper ripening

Fun fact – the pepper is technically a berry – crazy, right? Apparently, all nightshades are technically berries.

Similar to bell peppers, cayenne chili peppers start out as green and then move to red, and if they are left on the plant long enough they will turn orange.

You want to pick cayenne peppers when they’re red, or almost fully red (they will ripen off the plant after a day or two). And then, they’re ready to use!

1. Cayenne Pepper Powder

cayenne powder

No more buying it from the store! You can dry your cayenne peppers and create your own cayenne pepper powder. And it tastes WAY better than store-bought.

You’ll need to dry them out for this one, but if you have a dehydrator, it only takes a few hours.

Once fully dry, place your dried peppers in a food processor and process until they are finely ground.

The powder will keep for up to a year in an airtight container. This makes it very convenient when using it in recipes that call for cayenne pepper powder, especially if you have made large quantities of the powder at one time.

2. Red Pepper Flakes

red pepper flakes

Instead of grinding them up into powder, you can also create red pepper flakes. Follow the same steps in terms of drying them, but keep the seeds in, and instead of grinding them all the way down, just pulse the food processor until they’re a good consistency.

An even better option is to use a mortar and pestle and grind them up by hand. That way, the machine won’t overdo it and give you cayenne powder when you wanted red pepper flakes.

3. Medicinal Uses of Cayenne Peppers

These bright red peppers have been used in herbal medicine for centuries. Today they are used to manage inflammation, relieve gas and constipation, and lower blood pressure.

They also help with various types of pain such as headaches, sore muscles, menstrual cramps, etc. (There is a lot of information out there debating the effectiveness of cayenne on this last one, but it is my experience that it works.)

4. Spicy Tea

cayenne pepper tea

If you are feeling a little stuffy, or want a little extra “pick me up” in the afternoon, you can add some cayenne pepper powder to your tea.

The cayenne pepper does wonders for what I call “opening up the brain”. I know that sounds nuts, but cayenne pepper will really wake you up.

5. Pizza Toppings

This is one of my favorite uses. I usually dip pizza in hot sauce (don’t judge), but when there are fresh peppers in the garden, I’ll slice them up and put them on top of my pizza along with basil from the garden.

This combo is delicious, and it gives your pizza a little spice!

6. Stir Fry

If you like spicy food, there are a lot of great stir fry recipes that will call for some kind of pepper to be added. I like using cayenne’s because while they’re spicy, they’re not as spicy as jalapenos, so I can actually enjoy my dinner 🙂

7. Cayenne Pepper Sauce (AKA Hot Sauce or Hot Pepper Sauce)

cayenne hot sauce

You can make homemade cayenne pepper sauce too! A lot of the big name hot sauces are made with cayenne peppers.

Here are a few favorites, and I didn’t even realize they were made with cayennes until recently:

  • Frank’s Red Hot
  • Crystal Cayenne Hot Sauce
  • Tabasco sauce (they use more than just cayenne, but still pretty cool!)

Yum! But you can make homemade hot sauce, and it’s super simple!

If you’re looking to store this hot sauce for a while, you’ll want to follow a recipe that is NCHFP approved (the home food preservation people). Here is a link to a great (and safe!) pepper sauce recipe.

Here’s what you’ll need for this recipe:

  • Cayenne Peppers
  • Minced Garlic
  • Sliced Onion
  • Cilantro
  • Diced Tomatoes
  • Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Water

Cayenne pepper sauce is delicious, but when storing food, you want to make sure you follow their guidelines so as not to sicken yourself or anyone else.

But hey, you just made your own hot sauce, and that’s pretty badass!

8. Cayenne Pepper Infused Vinegar

When you are ready to use your peppers, remove the stems and slice them up. Place in a white or clear glass jar. Pour in your favorite vinegar (I prefer apple cider vinegar).

Seal tightly and store in a dark place for at least two weeks before using.

9. Spicy Ketchup

Spicy ketchup is a delicious way to use your cayenne peppers. And it’s super easy to make.

Use around 12-15 whole peppers and mince them into small pieces. Chop up one habanero or 2 jalapenos and add this to the minced blend.

Put a cup of vinegar into a saucepan, add 2 cloves of garlic and then bring these to a boil. Once boiling, add in your minced mixture and let it simmer and break down for about 15-20 minutes until it’s a more cohesive mixture.

Add in a bottle of ketchup and 1/4 cup of brown sugar. Let this cook down on low for around 2 hours.

10. Cayenne Ristras

cayenne ristras

If you dry your peppers and have a ton leftover, you can also give them away as gifts for your gardener friends. Ristras are essentially a ton of peppers strung together to dry. If you’ve ever been to an open-air market, you’ve probably seen them.

You can give them to friends and family, or give them out as Christmas gifts. They’re beautiful and festive!

11. Use Them to Keep Animals Out of the Garden

Every year, I feel like I hear about a new pest in the garden. Between squirrels, rabbits, deer, and raccoons, there are so many animals you want to keep out of the garden.

Luckily, most of them are not fans of the smell of cayenne pepper. You can sprinkle the powder on your plants, or make a cayenne pepper spray with garlic, and spray it on the plants you don’t want them to prey on.

How to Save Them for Later

Let’s talk about how you can dry or preserve cayenne peppers.

Dry Them in the Dehydrator

If you have a dehydrator, you can use it to dry out your cayenne peppers. If not, I’d highly recommend getting one as it comes in handy a LOT when growing your own garden.

A dehydrator is similar to an oven, but it also has a fan that helps pull moisture away from the food being dried.

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How To Dry Cayenne Peppers in the Dehydrator

You’ll want to take precautions when cutting these open, so I’d recommend gloves. Otherwise, you might end up with some in your eye or other unexciting places.

1. Wash and dry your peppers. This helps get rid of any garden guck. Yea, I said it 🙂

2. Cut off the stems and cut them in half longways

3. Remove the seeds (or don’t if you like extra spicy!) and set them aside if you’re going to be saving seeds for next year’s harvest.

4. Place your peppers on the dehydrating trays, pretty well evenly spaced. Make sure nothing is overlapping one another.

5. Set the dehydrator to 125 degrees Fahrenheit for 6-8 hours. I like to check on them after 4 hours just in case. With differing environments and weather outside (and inside your home), these cooking times will vary so you want to make sure you’re checking them regularly. We don’t want actually cooked peppers, just dried ones

6. You’ll know they’re ready when they crack with a little pressure or when you bend them.

Once they’re ready, you can store them in the freezer or grind them up for cayenne powder now!

Air Drying Peppers

I like this method because you bring a little New Mexican flair to your home.

And it’s super simple! All you need is some good garden twine and the excess of peppers you want to dry out.

I make little loops in the twine, and then I stick the stem of the pepper in and pull tight. Some people use buttons and other fancier methods, but this is quick and it works!

air dry cayenne peppers
This was from my first time hanging them to dry, pretty cool looking!

Not Ready to Use Them Just Yet? Freeze Them Whole!

You can freeze cayenne peppers whole and use them at a later date. They’ll keep for 6-12 months depending on how well they’re stored.

You can then thaw these and dehydrate them in a dehydrator and then create your own cayenne pepper powder. Or create one of the other recipes above!

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