Sport Peppers: The Famous Chicago Hot Dog Peppers

chicago dog sport peppers.
Sport peppers are short, pickled, hot peppers that resemble small tabasco peppers and are an essential condiment for the Chicago-style hot dog, Italian beef sandwich, and other sandwiches.

What Kind Of Pepper Is The sport Pepper?

Sport peppers are a bite-sized variety of Capsicum annuum, but beyond that classification, there’s a great deal of speculation.

While you can purchase jars of pickled sport peppers and sport pepper seeds, many believe the name “sport pepper” is a catchall for various Mexican chili peppers, including the serrano. Others, such as Tom McGlade from the Vienna Beef Company, say it’s a cultivar of its own called the Mississippi Sport Pepper.

Regardless, the small, thin shape of the sport pepper resembles that of a short serrano or a larger tabasco pepper. Unlike tabasco peppers, however, the sport pepper is mature and ready while green versus red.

Pickled sport peppers.
Pickled sport peppers.

Are sport Peppers Spicy?

Sport peppers give a tangy heat to sandwiches or hotdogs. On the Scoville heat scale, sport peppers measure 10,000-23,000 Scoville heat units (SHU). This makes sport peppers medium hot, giving them approximately the same heat profile as the serrano.

For perspective, let’s look at the relative heat levels for some well-known peppers.

  • Serrano pepper, 10,000-25,000 SHU
  • Sport pepper, 10,000-23,000 SHU
  • Jalapeno pepper, 2500-8000 SHU
  • Pepperoncini pepper, 100-500 SHU

Are sport Peppers The Same As Pepperoncinis?

Sport peppers are often confused with pepperoncini peppers (unless you’re a Chicagoan). Although the two peppers are often used the same way, they differ.

Although they’re both pickled, the pepperoncini is a much milder pepper than the sport pepper, often lighter in color, and much easier to find outside of Chicago. This is likely why it’s so often mistaken for the traditional spicy topping.

What Are sport Peppers Eaten With?

If you’ve ever had a Chicago-style hot dog or an Italian beef sandwich, you’ve probably had sport peppers—or at least been offered them as an option.

They’re considered a standard condiment when putting together the iconic hot dog, typically served on top in addition to yellow mustard, onion, tomato, neon green sweet pickle relish, a pickle spear, and celery salt.

If you need help with the proper way to assemble a true Chicago dog, check out this recipe from AllRecipes.

chicago hot dog with sport peppers
Authentic Chicago hot dog with sport peppers.

The other Chicago favorite—an Italian beef sandwich—isn’t complete without giardiniera, a spicy vegetable relish made with cauliflower, olives, peppers, celery, carrots, and marinated in a seasoned brine.

Giardiniera can is used in many ways and can be hot or mild depending upon which peppers are used. In Chicago, sport peppers are generally the pepper of choice when making giardiniera.

Where To Buy sport Peppers

If you’re in Chicago or the surrounding areas, sport peppers are readily available in most grocery stores. Outside Chicago, it’s a different story.

There are few local shopping options for sport peppers in most areas. But if you’re not in immediate need, they can be easily ordered from several online retailers, including Amazon.

Substitutes For sport Peppers

If you’re outside the Chicago area and craving a Chicago dog, you’ll need to be prepared to find a suitable substitute for sport pepper.

Luckily, some stand-ins can do the trick:

  • Pickled pepperoncini peppers or banana peppers. These mild, pickled peppers will add a vinegary pop to your hot dog and is perfect for those who aren’t fans of heat. And they’re easy to find in nearly any grocery store, making them the most accessible option.
  • Pickled jalapenos peppers. These are often used in place of sport peppers, especially in areas where sport peppers are hard to find. But although they have more heat than the pepperoncini, jalapenos are considerably milder than traditional sport peppers.
  • Pickled serrano peppers. These are the best choice if you can’t find sport peppers. Unfortunately, although they’re easier to find than sport peppers, they’re much less common than jalapenos or pepperoncini.

Can You Grow sport Peppers?

Yes, sport peppers are easy to grow in most climates.

Seeds are available for purchase through many online retailers. They require the same growing conditions as other warm-weather chili peppers:

  • Full sun
  • Warm temperatures
  • Well drained soil

Sport peppers will likely need to be started from seed as they can be hard to find as seedlings in nurseries. They’ll do well both in the ground and in containers. Once planted, they can take approximately 80 days from germination to production.

For authentic Chicago-style sport peppers, you’ll want to pickle them after harvesting. Here’s a simple pickling recipe for sport peppers.

Disclaimer: When purchasing sport pepper seeds, it’s advisable to read the product information closely. Because the designation “sport pepper” encompasses many pepper varieties, the information will often specify the pepper species in the seed package. 


Lorin is a writer, editor, photographer, and loves a culinary adventure. She routinely climbs up the Scoville heat ladder using peppers and spice to update and create new recipes for friends. Over the years she's become a pepper aficionado, growing and cultivating several varieties in her home garden.

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