I know that to be really safe, especially with really hot peppers or large quantities, gloves are the way to go. But often I don't really need gloves: I have a small quantity of something not too hot (jalapeños or serranos), and I have a reasonable tolerance. How should I chop or mince them, minimizing the amount of capsaicin I get on my hands?

  • Very carefully... – MikeTheLiar Mar 8 '13 at 18:49

I won't claim that this is universal, and I probably wouldn't try it with scotch bonnets or ghost peppers, but this is what I do with poblanos, seranos, jalapenos, and the like:

  • Treat them like any other vegetable when you prep, using good knife skills, and a well sharpened knife—good skills minimize how much you touch the product anyway.
  • Don't touch your eyes or face or anything you don't have to.
  • When you are done, wash your hands in soapy water.

Here is how I would dice a jalapeno (I like the red ones the best) or similar small pepper. For this, I would use a paring knife. For a larger pepper, like a poblano, I would use chef knife or a santuko:

  1. Cut off the stem end so only the fleshy part of the pepper remains. It will be a little cone. Optionally, cut a tiny part of the tip, to make it easier to separate the flesh, but it is not absolutely required.
  2. Cut a a slit into the side of the pepper through the flesh and into the cavity... then... continuing the same motion...
  3. ... turn your knife parallel to the flesh, and run the edge of the blade around the inside of the pod so that you are essentially peeling the skin from the core of seeds and membranes. This is much easier to do than to describe in text.
  4. Discard the seeds and membranes.
  5. Unroll the pepper, skin side up, and flatten the flesh of the pepper out, so it is like a piece of paper. It may split a little when you do this, that is fine. It is easiest to flatten with the outside facing up, but easiest to cut with the outside of the skin facing the cutting board.
  6. Turn the pepper sheet over, so it is skin side down. Cut it into long, thin strips—juliennes.
  7. Cross-cut the juliennes into dice.

If you want a hotter product, and a more rustic one, with a small pepper, you can simply:

  1. Cut of the stem end.
  2. Slice the remaining pepper into circles or coins, thinly.

If you want very hot dice, you can then:

  1. Pile up the coins, and chop through them several times in the standard rocking motion with a chef's knife.
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    I would add that you should make sure you don't cut yourself while doing it. I cut myself once while cutting habaneros, and whoo-boy that was not fun. – MikeTheLiar Mar 8 '13 at 18:50
  • I would use my mini-processor if I had to do a habenero!! – SAJ14SAJ Mar 8 '13 at 18:51
  • @Jefromi I have tried to describe it, but this is something better shown in a video.... – SAJ14SAJ Mar 8 '13 at 19:04
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    Excellent! I'll just mention one common variation: you can also cut the pepper in half, core the halves with a spoon, then flatten and julienne the halves. I find this gives me more control over how much of the membranes I remove. – Cascabel Mar 8 '13 at 19:20
  • How does soapy water help? I thought capsaicin was water-insoluble. – verbose Feb 13 '17 at 21:51

I have used this method with Scotch Bonnets and Habaneros. Jalapenos are tame in comparison. All bets are off with Ghost Peppers. Those are weapons grade.:

  • Before dealing with the pepper, rub oil (olive is fine) on your fingers making sure you get it embedded around your finger nails.

Besides that, the simple ways you can minimize burn:

  • Avoid touching the cut surfaces of the pepper. The pepper skin is relatively tame.
  • Avoid touching the juice on the cutting board.
  • Use your knife to manipulate and move the pepper around be board.

p.s. don't even think of taking a bio-break in the middle of dealing with peppers.

  • Why does this work, capsaicin is very oil soluble? – TFD Mar 12 '13 at 1:49
  • @TFD the oil blocks the skin pores (mucous membrane) so capsaicin can't get in. Oils and capsaicin are hydrophobic, so the oil does pick up the unabsorbed stuff. – MandoMando Mar 12 '13 at 2:03
  • I would expect that the capsaicin would be soluble in the oil, so it'd actually work by substantially diluting it, and making it easier to remove most of it later. – Cascabel Mar 23 '13 at 11:58
  • @Jefromi wiki says you'd have to dilute 200,000 to 1 not feel it. Even if you did 100 to 1, you'd only go from Scotch Bonnet to equivalent of Jalapeno. You can test your theory on your own by diluting the pepper oil to your satisfaction and touching it with bare hands. All I can say is, we made hot oil with S.Bonnets (only once) and the mere touching of the oil sent people screaming. To my mind, the clogged pores theory is prevalent. – MandoMando Mar 23 '13 at 15:14
  • Wikipedia is talking about making it completely undetectable to your tongue, which is way way more sensitive than your skin. And it doesn't have to be undetectable, just not painful. Or from the other side, jalapeños don't hurt much if at all, and the amount of oil is very very small, so achieving 100x dilution wouldn't be hard. My original point was that if your pores are clogged with oil, another oil that can mix with it will still mix and diffuse through. – Cascabel Mar 23 '13 at 18:19

Just use a scrap of paper to hold the chile with

A 100 mm square-ish piece would suffice to hold most chiles. Just lay the paper over it on the cutting board, and pinch it gently

If the paper gets wet or oily, grab another piece

Any scrap paper would do, but glossy "junk mail" types would tend to be more water proof, and free. Discard paper after use

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