Cowboy Candy; Or How To Make Weapons Grade Pepper Spray At Home

When your passion is putting food in jars people tend to find out. Most of my friends know that I spend many weekends canning in the kitchen. They also know that I hate seeing food wasted and generally will try to find some way to preserve anything anyone drops off on my doorstep. This has its advantages and disadvantages. One of the nicer points is that generally I get volumes of free produce. The drawback however is dealing with my wife when she comes home to find approximately 300 pounds of lemons on the countertop.

This weekend I returned from a short trip back east to a message from a friend who told me that he had lemons and jalapenos waiting for me. Lemons are easy. Limoncello and preserved lemons, as well as candy lemons are an annual thing for me. But jalapeños I haven’t done yet. So I started thinking of creative ways that I could use my hot little friends.

After the success of Dilly Beans I decided its time for me to go back to canning roots and try some of the tried and true local gems that people have been making for ages. Forget innovation. Forget variation. Some things are good for a reason.

So here we go. Another recipe I’ve heard about for a while but had never tried is Cowboy Candy. Cowboy Candy is candied jalapeño peppers. Just like with the beans, people rave about these things. They talk about the stuff like it’s crack. Like once you start you’re gonna be fiending in your bedroom crying for another jar. Every recipe I’ve come across comes with the same warning. “Make more than you expect. You’ll go through faster than you think. Your friends will take your entire inventory.” If everyone is this wild about them they must be onto something.

They’re supposed to be amazing on burgers, with cheese and/or crackers, on top of meat as a glaze, as a condiment or straight out of the jar with a fork.

20121212-021224.jpgThe following recipe is found all over the Internet. I don’t even know who to give credit to at this point. Maybe it’s public domain by now? I found it the recipe I followed on a Facebook canning group. But you can find it, word for word, on several sites.

Cowboy Candy
3lbs Jalapeños
2 C Apple Cider Vinegar
6 Cups Sugar
1/2 t Turmeric
1/2 t Celery Seed
3 t Minced Garlic
1 t Cayenne Pepper

The peppers that my friend brought over were red and bit small. So I decided to pick up some larger green ones from the grocery store. Together I felt they made a nice mix, added some variety, and looked appropriate for the holiday season. I used 2 pounds of green and 1 pound of red peppers.

20121212-021606.jpg I’ve made many recipes with many hot peppers in them before and generally don’t wear gloves. However this time you’re going to be slicing at least 3 pounds of jalapeno peppers over the course of probably 20 minutes. It is well worth your time to wear a pair of latex or rubber gloves during this process. You will appreciate this when you need to rub your eye, scratch your nose, or God forbid, use the restroom.

Start by slicing off the very top of the pepper to remove the stem. Then slice the pepper into little 1/4 inch rounds.


20121212-022325.jpgWhen you are finished set the peppers aside. In a large pot combine the apple cider vinegar, sugar, and spices. This is the one point where I deviated from the recipe. I read online that many people found this recipe to be very sweet and they reduced the sugar. I reduced the sugar by one cup. However, I doubled the recipe for the brine.

20121212-022404.jpg Bring the brine to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for five minutes. Then add the pepper slices and simmer for four minutes. You don’t want to be standing right over the pot while the stuff is boiling. The combination of vinegar and peppers coming up into your eyes and lungs is quite overwhelming. I had the fan on over the stove throughout. Use a slotted spoon to remove the peppers and place them into clean jars. Leave 1/4 inch headspace.

20121212-022628.jpgReturn the remaining brine to the heat. Boil it hard for six minutes. Then use a ladle to pour the brine over your peppers in the jars, again leaving headspace. Use a clean paper towel and a dab of white vinegar to clean the rims of the jars.
Process half pints for 10 minutes and pints for 15.

It was suggested that the leftover brine makes an excellent marinade, addition to sauces, or a condiment in and of itself. I went ahead and jarred up what I had left and processed it alongside the peppers.

As with everything pickled these bad boys need to sit for a little while. The suggested time is three weeks. We’ll see how long these last in my pantry before the wife finds them.

I also plan on adding these to my repertoire of easy to make Christmas gifts. Although slicing the jalapenos took a little bit of time the actual process for cooking and preparing the cowboy candy was very easy.



Do you have a favorite family recipe for pickled or candied produce?

Happy canning.


29 Responses to “Cowboy Candy; Or How To Make Weapons Grade Pepper Spray At Home”

  1. 1 Shana December 12, 2012 at 6:18 am

    Wow…that is making my eyes burn all the way out here in Texas lol

  2. 2 Angie December 14, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    Hi I’m hoping to make this this weekend. How many jars did this make??


    • 3 masonjarsandmixingbowls December 14, 2012 at 4:09 pm

      I had just over two puns of green jalapeños and exactly one pound if red ones before cutting off stems. I wound up with 8 half-pints and a little left over. I also had 2 pints and 1 half-pint of brine that I canned to be used for meat in the future.

  3. 4 DoubleSparrow December 28, 2012 at 3:28 pm

    This looks really good! Next time I get some jalapeños, I will be canning them.

  4. 8 Tasha February 8, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    We love this over cream cheese with crackers here in SE Texas. Found your blog on Instagram.

  5. 10 k April 23, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    when you say process, i’m assuming you mean water bath, not pressure canning, right?

  6. 12 KimH June 18, 2013 at 9:01 am

    Next time use TAM jalapenos.. not hot.. just the great jalapeno flavor.. but hey.. free is free. 😉

    These are gorgeous!! I’ve seen the recipe all over the place too.. but yours is quite beautiful.. I love the red & green rings.. perfect! I think I know what friends & family are getting for Christmas this year! 😉

  7. 13 Jan smith July 14, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    When you say you reduced the sugar by one cup but doubled the brine, what does that mean? Double everything but instead of doubling sugar (6 cup) you used 10 cups?

    • 14 masonjarsandmixingbowls July 14, 2013 at 1:36 pm

      The recipe calls for 6 cups of sugar and 2 cups of cider. I reduced the sugar by 1 cup to 5 cups. But I doubled recipe. So it ended up being 10 cups of sugar 4 cups of cider. Does that make sense?

      So yes, what you said. Double everything, but only 10 C sugar.

  8. 15 JanS. January 25, 2014 at 10:39 am

    I am a little late you your post, but my husband and I make Cowboy Candy and can’t keep it in stock. Everybody begs us to make it. We use the same recipe you do, but we add sweet red & yellow peppers and Vidalia onions to the mix. For the slicing, we use a mandolin. My Kitchen Aid mandolin will slice 4 or 5 peppers at a time and keeps all the slices the same.

  9. 16 Gail Mandli January 27, 2015 at 2:50 pm

    I have made these for several years now. After the first batch made in the kitchen, subsequent batches were made on the patio in a turkey fryer. After canning, chop up some of the peppers, mix with cream cheese and put on crackers or put it on your hamburger bun. I’ve used the juice to marinade steaks, chicken, pork, etc.

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  14. 21 Donna Holt August 27, 2016 at 7:05 am

    I doubled the brine cause didn’t know how many pounds of peppers I had , only got 4 half pints but used the brine for onions! Just trying to use it up but still had brine so I process it to.Can it be re heated to make more?

  15. 22 David Karner August 31, 2016 at 4:10 pm

    This was my first attempt at pickling vegetables (have done jams before). We’ll see how they come out. I may have overcooked the peppers – I did more of a hard simmer for 5 minutes. So we’ll see if they turn out mushy. Thanks!

  16. 23 David Karner September 29, 2016 at 1:28 pm

    Okay… it’s been about 2 months. I made half the recipe exactly as written. One jar we opened up after a few days and the other I just opened up. The first jar was almost sickeningly sweet – the sugar overpowered everything. After two months though, some of the sweetness mellowed out and the flavor is pretty good. The heat also mellowed out a bit, but they’re still quite hot. The peppers didn’t turn out mushy. Unless you like it REALLY sweet, I’d maybe cut the sugar by a cup for the full recipe. It’s really good on a bagel and cream cheese!

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  20. 27 Vonna April 26, 2020 at 6:03 am

    So you didn’t follow the recipe as it is written above? You only used 5 cups of sugar and double the brine? How did they taste?

  21. 28 Marion June 27, 2020 at 7:51 am

    I made these last year and was wondering if you know a way to make the brine a bit thicker?

  22. 29 James Larson November 7, 2020 at 12:08 pm

    Good recipe. I’ve made several batches because my six plants just kept producing. Also, I;ve tried half white and half brown sugar. It was good, just a slightly different taste.

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