What my granddaddy and a lot of Southerners call sport peppers are little green and red and sometimes yellow hot peppers, Capiscum annuum, similar in taste to Tabasco and the Thai chiles found in many Asian markets. I store my sport pepper sauce in the refrigerator, not in the pantry, which means I hardly need to cook the peppers first. The sauce doesn’t last as long as it otherwise would, but the flavor is brighter. Use on slow-cooked greens when you want a jolt of flavor.–John Besh

LC Sport Pepper Primer Note

If you’ve yet to be acquainted with the sport pepper, allow us to introduce you. In the south, a bottle of sport pepper sauce awaits on darn near every table, not for dipping your grubby fingers into so you can snag a pepper for your sandwich but rather for you to shake and dribble willy-nilly. Those in the know rely on the vinegary twang to anoint cooked greens, fried chicken, and, though the taste isn’t quite the same as Tabasco or Crystal, just about anything you’d douse with bottled hot sauce. Can’t find sport peppers? Use whichever skinny pepper of whatever Scoville heat unit you can tolerate.

Sport Pepper Sauce

Sport Pepper Sauce

4.88 / 8 votes
This sport pepper sauce is used to dribble on everything in the south–fried chicken, especially. If you're unfamiliar with sport peppers, they're little green and red and sometimes yellow hot peppers, Capiscum annuum.
David Leite
Servings96 tablespoons (1 1/2 cups)
Calories3 kcal
Prep Time5 minutes
Cook Time10 minutes
Total Time15 minutes


  • 2 cups mixed sport peppers or small, slender Thai chile peppers
  • 1 quart (4 cups) white vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons salt


  • Scrub the sport peppers under cool running water. Leave them whole unless they’re terribly large, in which case you can halve them lengthwise. Place the chiles, vinegar, and salt in a medium pot, bring to a boil, and let ‘er rip over medium–high heat for 2 minutes.
  • Working quickly and using a slotted spoon or tongs, divide the chiles evenly among several hot, sterilized jars or bottles. Using a sterilized funnel, carefully fill the jars or bottles with the hot liquid. Seal the jars or bottles according to the manufacturers’ directions. Let rest at room temperature until cool.
  • Stash the bottles or jars in the refrigerator for at least 1 week before using to let the flavors develop. The “sauce” will keep in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.


Serving: 1 tablespoonCalories: 3 kcalCarbohydrates: 1 gProtein: 1 gFat: 1 gSaturated Fat: 1 gMonounsaturated Fat: 1 gSodium: 49 mgFiber: 1 gSugar: 1 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2009 John Besh. Photo © 2009 Ditte Isager. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

This sauce is a keeper. I ended up leaving most of the peppers whole and cutting a couple of large ones in half so that they fit into the jars better. I tasted it at 3 days and again at 6 days and it is noticeably better at 6. It tasted bright without the harsh vinegar taste that it had at 3 days. We tried it on sautéed Swiss chard and it was amazing. I had to use store-bought peppers for this batch and the sauce is hot but not too hot. I will try it with Thai peppers out of my garden later in the summer and I think we will like it even more.

Wow—perfect pickle with a multitude of uses. So easy to make year-round. I used to make mine with peppers, garlic vinegar, and soy sauce, but I did not cook the peppers in vinegar. Had it on pork burgers and it was delicious. Cooking it for 2 minutes takes the bite out of the peppers a little. It is in the fridge aging now. Can’t wait to test it in a week.

Simple spicy recipe to always have handy to add to any stew, pasta, or other dish you like with a little kick. The taste reminded me of some spicy Asian homemade sauces I have had in the past, so I was surprised to find out it is a Southern recipe. Shows how food cultures blend so amazingly.

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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  1. David, and group.. question. I made a batch of peppers like this.. used a Gertzmeiner and salt instead of vinegar.. came out nice and hot. . BUT.. should I add in white or rice vinegar change the PH, to allow it to sit at room temp instead of the fridge?
    Obrigado para o tempo e atencao.
    Manuel Couto

    1. Hi Manuel, yes, the PH needs to be adjusted in order to prevent botulism for a low acid food like peppers. One of the best sources for information is the the National Center for Home Food Preservation website at http://nchfp.uga.edu. There is also a good explanation on preserving peppers at the Colorado extension service http://www.ext.colostate.edu/PUBS/FOODNUT/09314.html. Once properly pickled with vinegar, the peppers will either need to be canned and processed, or kept in the refrigerator.

    1. No, ruthie, they’re actually quite different. I believe sport peppers are less pickled in flavor, more robust in terms of a kick. I’ve actually seen sport peppers referred to as “dynamite sticks.” Ahem. I guess whether sport peppers are an adequate substitute for pepproncini depends on your use as well as where you’re from, cuz no Chicagoan I know would allow a pepperoncini close to their Chicago-style dog…

  2. We’ve recently taken to making pepper sauce with ghost peppers. Wow! It goes a long way. It’s crazy hot. A couple teaspoons added to a pot of beans does wonders for the flavor. They have fantastic flavor but are so very hot that a little goes a long way. We also dry them. I use them whole dried in beans and boiled peanuts, kinda like a bay leaf, take it out at the end. Don’t want to be responsible for someone unexpectedly having a bite of one.

    1. Swell suggestions, nola2chi. Seriously swell. Many thanks for taking the time to comment, greatly appreciate it.