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11 February 2020

Sport Peppers are hot chili peppers common across the Southern US and are a key element of the famous Chicago style hot dog. They are usually pickled and big on flavor. Learn all about them here.

Scoville Heat Units: 10,000 – 23,000 SHU
Capsicum Annuum

Chicago is known for many things, and one of them is the renowned sport pepper on the Chicago style Hot dog. Sport Peppers are hot peppers which are common across the Southern US and are basically the key element of the Chicago style hot dogs, which provides a spicy and hot flavor that brings it all together.

You’ll often find sport peppers in jars served around beef joints and restaurants in the Chicago area, like Vienna Beef or Buona Beef. Apart from hot dogs, sport peppers can be a perfect companion for all sorts of sandwiches and even make an excellent pizza topping.

They are also highly popular thing on Italian beef sandwiches, another Chicago area classic.

Sport Peppers Appearance and Flavor

The Sport pepper is a small green pepper which gets pickled in vinegar and turns pale green, so they are essentially pickled peppers. These peppers are never longer than 1.5 inches. The pepper resembles a small green tabasco pepper that has been pickled. They are somewhat hot and offer a tangy, vinegary flavor. Together, they offer a suitable tangy flavor that almost everybody likes instantly.

How Hot are Sport Peppers?

Sport peppers offer a nice level of medium-hot heat, measuring in at a range of 10,000 – 23,000 Scoville Heat Units on the Scoville Scale. Compare that to an average jalapeno pepper of 5,000 SHU and the sport pepper is anywhere from 2 to nearly 5 times hotter. These peppers are more comparable to serrano peppers or perhaps milder tabasco peppers.

You can find brands that offer different heat levels of mild, medium and hot.

What kind of peppers are used for sport peppers?

Sport peppers taste great and are loved by many, but there are question about their original origins. Although their seeds are sold separately, some believe sport peppers to be simply pickled serrano peppers in a seasoned brine. They are believed to originate in Mexico and are of the cultivator of Capsicum Annuum. The name ‘sport’, though, can refer to a wide variety of pickled peppers in that family. 

Are sport peppers the same as pepperoncini?

While they are quite similar, some people mistakenly believe that pepperoncini peppers are the same as sport peppers. They do taste somewhat similar, but pepperoncinis are quite a bit milder in heat and flavor.

What kind of peppers are on a Chicago Style Hot Dog?

Although Chicago Style Hot Dogs have many seasonings, toppings, and sauces which make them the love of Chicago foodies, the sport pepper is the only official pepper used to top them. In fact, these peppers are one of the most dominant flavors on a Chicago style hot dog, which includes all-beef hot dogs, yellow mustard, green sweet pickle relish, diced white onion, roma tomato, dill pickle spears and celery salt.

These peppers are great on sandwiches and hot dogs because they are bite sized and you can get little bit with each bite.

What’s a good substitute for Sport Peppers?

Sport peppers are essential for a true Chicago style hot dog, but if you’re in a pinch and need something else, an easy substitute is the pickled jalapeno. You can get them from almost every mart or supermarket near you. Or if you are okay with a milder flavor, pepperoncinis are easier to find. Some people also use serrano peppers as a good substitute. One more thing you can do to get your hands on these peppers whenever you want is to order some sport pepper or its seeds online.

Where to Buy Sport Peppers

You can often find them in the condiments or pickles section of your local grocery store. Or, order sport peppers from Amazon (affiliate link, my friends) to make it easier on you. Vienna Sport Peppers is a hugely popular brand. Buy Vienna Sport Peppers Here (affiliate link, my friends!)

Got any questions? Drop me a line anytime. I’m glad to help.



  1. At first you say ” Sport Peppers are mild chili peppers” then you say “Sport peppers offer a nice level of medium-hot heat” and then you say “an average jalapeno pepper of 5,000 SHU and the sport pepper is anywhere from 2 to nearly 5 times hotter. These peppers are more comparable to Serrano peppers”. Serrano peppers are neither mild nor medium-hot. Serrano peppers are hot, literally.

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Elmer, you are correct and I have updated the post to clarify. They really aren’t “mild”, though you can find mild versions sold from different brands. The definition of “hot” or “medium-hot” is really a matter of taste. I consider them more “medium-hot” in the vast range of pepper heat. Best to go by Scoville Units for a truer ranking.

  2. I had them in Chicago. Love them! Miss them terribly. I have not been able to find it in the LA area.
    I ordered seeds.
    Do you have a recipe for the brine?

  3. Rob Jenkins

    Sport peppers grow upright, serranos don’t. I’m growing both, mainly because some say they “might be the same”and I wanted to find out. They are not.
    Maybe they taste similar, but they are not the same.
    Sport peppers resemble Tabasco peppers growing.
    Hope mine taste like the ones I had in Chicago when brined.
    1st year Sport pepper grower.

  4. Domenico Tassone

    Great article…sport peppers are also the essential ingredient of the Italian-American giardinera condiment mixes sold in and around Chicago: Hot, Medium and Mild. Probably some affiliate $$$ for expatriate Chicagoans as it can be hard to find outside of the area. I read there is a New Orleans history to these peppers, too.

  5. Valued Customer

    Love the articles, but as an avid gardener, I would appreciate a source for seeds as well as the finished product

    1. Rob Jenkins

      Tomato sells seeds. That’s where I got mine.
      1st year Sport pepper grower.
      Seeds were hard to germinate, even using heat pads. And I tried 2 methods.
      1 plant I got I cloned. Clone will be overwintered and my source for next years crop, hopefully.
      Again, hard to germinate from seed, but I have no choice in CA.

  6. They sound exactly like the peppers that can be included as a part of the optional accompaniments to our friday and saturday late night after pub favourite, the Doner kebab? Also known as the ‘elephant leg’ on a skewer – is it something you have in the states?

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Gary, no, I have never visited one, but I’d guess there are other similar pickled peppers in many different locations. Sounds great!

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