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Chili Powder Substitutes and Recipe

A variety of chili powder substitutes that you most likely have in your pantry.


We’ve all been there, you had your heart set on a big pot of chili on a cool day. You sautee your meat and onions and are at the ‘add 2 tablespoons of chili powder’ part of the recipe. You open your spice cabinet only to find your jar of chili powder is empty! 😧 I’ve been there more times than I can count, which is why 1) I am an expert in substitutions and 2) I now make my own in large quantities!

Chili Powder finds its way into many recipes. The obvious example is that big pot of chili or chili con carne. Whether it is beef, turkey or vegetarian-based chili, a couple of tablespoonfuls of chili is invariably included in the recipe. I use chili powder as the base of my taco seasoning, as they are very close in composition. The spicy flavor of chili powder or seasoning finds its way into barbecue sauce, beans, rubs for meat, Tex-Mex recipes, Mexican cuisine like enchiladas and so much more.

So, what are the Best Chili Powder Substitutes?

A glass jar with spices and a wooden spoon.

#1 Make your own Homemade Chili Powder

In most things, I am in the ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ camp. To avoid the dreaded ‘no chili powder’ dilemma, I make and keep a good-sized jar of my own chili powder on hand. And when it starts getting low, I make more. Because I make my own, I make it just the way we like it, with a nice chile pepper base and lovely smoky flavor. But, I leave out salt and sugar. You can nab my Chili Seasoning Recipe here and use it as a jumping-off point to make your own chili powder with a unique flavor profile. Once you’ve fine-tuned your chili powder, make some extra and give your chili seasoning mix as gifts!

#2 If you don’t have the chile powder on hand to make the aforementioned chili seasoning?

A close up of red and yellow dried chili peppers.

In case you didn’t already know, there is a difference between chile with an ‘e’ and chili with an ‘i’. Chile powder, with an ‘e’, is just straight up, dried, and ground chile peppers. Some common hot pepper powders are cayenne pepper (sometimes referred to as red chili pepper), ancho chile powder (made from dried and ground poblano peppers), and chipotle peppers (made from dried, smoked, and ground jalapeno pepper). Surprisingly, each chile powder does have a distinct flavor. I’m partial to the smoky and deep flavor of chipotle chile powder, so always have that on hand.

Chili powder or chili seasoning, with an ‘i’, is the spice blend commonly made with chile powder and other spices.

OK, so now that we have that out of the way, what do you do if you don’t have chili powder or seasoning, ancho chile powder, or chipotle chile powder in your pantry?

Don’t panic, you will still have that pot of chili or pinto beans tonight. Just combine the following ingredients and use the spice mix as the chili powder substitute or where a recipe calls for chili powder or chili seasoning. Store what you don’t use in an airtight container.

  • 2 tablespoons paprika (smoked paprika will not only give you the smokey flavor, but also a bit of heat)
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon oregano
  • 3/4 teaspoon of cayenne

#3 Taco seasoning has a similar flavor profile and so is an excellent substitute

A jar of taco seasoning with a label that says \'taco seasoning.\'

Taco seasoning and chili seasoning are very similar, the differences being that chili seasoning has more paprika and chile pepper, while taco seasoning is heavier in cumin. You can’t pull out the cumin, but you could add a bit more paprika powder or chile powder (if you have that on hand). If you do use taco seasoning plus paprika in place of chili powder, add the paprika in a small amount and taste. Every taco seasoning is different, so it is hard to give a hard and fast rule.

#4 Improvise!

So, you don’t have chili powder blend, chile peppers, all of the ingredients for #2, or taco seasoning in your pantry? Well, first things first, get them on your grocery store list. And second, let’s make a chili powder replacement with what you have on hand!

  • If you have paprika, cumin and oregano, use them in a 2:1/2:1/2 ratio. Then increase the fresh onions and garlic in the recipe for a chili powder substitute.
  • No cayenne pepper powder? If you have a bottle of red pepper flakes on hand, grind some of them up. But be very careful when doing so. Whatever you do, don’t breathe in the dust that results from making the powder form.
  • Check your pantry for other chile powders. Ancho powder and chipotle powder are the most commonly used in chili seasoning, but others will work as well. They will impart different flavors and will have a different heat level (chipotle imparts a mild heat while you’ll get a more moderate heat with the ancho). Check the Scoville scale before you dump a tablespoon of Carolina Reaper powder into your chili.
  • Depending on the recipe you are making, you could substitute liquid hot sauce. If you have Tabasco sauce, you could substitute it for the chile pepper powder. Bear in mind that Tabasco has added vinegar and salt. Sriracha is another alternative, but it has added garlic and sugar. These are just two of a myriad of hot sauces out there. Check the label to see what additional ingredients are included before you add them to your soup, chili or beans and adjust accordingly.
A bottle of tabasco sauce.

At the end of the day, your improvised pot of chili might taste different than what you typically have. But that might not be a bad thing! You might actually enjoy it more. And if you don’t, you’ll be sure to stock your pantry with enough chili powder so that you don’t run out in the future!

Can You Substitute Cayenne Powder for Chili Powder Seasoning?

Speaking from experience, no. Cayenne powder is just dried cayenne peppers…pure pepper. I made the mistake of trying to substitute cayenne powder in my taco seasoning recipe and it was just not good, but it was hot! 🌶

Is Chili Sauce a good Chili Powder Substitute?

You would think it’s just the sauce form of chili powder, but no. Check the label on a bottle of chili sauce and you’ll find ‘tomato puree, white vinegar, high fructose corn syrup, salt, corn syrup, onions, spice, garlic powder, and natural flavoring.’ I guess the ‘spice’ or ‘natural flavoring’ could be chile powder, cumin, oregano, but I don’t think so.

Other Kitchen Substitutions

I am all about making what I have in my kitchen work for me, as opposed to jumping in the car to run to the grocery store! Not only is it easier on my time and my wallet, but I like the challenge of working with what I have on hand. If you are similarly minded, check out my suggested substitutes for Old Bay Seasoning, Tomato Sauce, and Honey.

To refer back to this list of Best Chili Powder Substitutes in the future, bookmark this page or pin the following image.

Several chili powder substitutes, including taco seasoning, tabasco and smoked paprika.
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