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A guide to smoked paprika

A guide to smoked paprika

Paprika is one of our all-time favourite spices. It brings unique smokiness and spice all sorts of dishes, from comforting stews to punchy marinades. To really get the best from this ruby-hued ingredient, though, it’s important to understand the distinctive characteristics of each variety.

Paprika is always made from peppers that are dried then ground down into a powder, but this process, and the type of peppers used, can vary hugely.

Hungarian paprika comes in six different varieties, from the more delicate Különleges to Eros, which is fiery and hot. Grown mostly in the south of the country, Hungary’s favourite spice crops up in all sorts of dishes – it’s that unmistakably intense underpinning flavour in a hearty goulash, or vibrant hum of heat and spice in the aptly-named chicken paprikash.

Spain, where it’s known as pimentón, is the second heartland of paprika. There are three main varieties: dulce, the sweetest and mildest, agridulce, which is moderately spicy, and the hottest, picante. While Hungarian paprika is usually dried in the sun, Spanish versions take things up a notch, smoking them dry (often over oak, as is typical in the La Vera region, where much of the country’s supply is produced). The resulting flavour has an incredible intensity that forms the building blocks of much of Spain’s cuisine, from wonderfully fragrant paella to a heady flavouring for chorizo and salami.

When it comes to the cooking, paprika is one of the most versatile spices in the rack. The two essential varieties to start with are a mild, sweet one and a spicier, smokier one. These will allow you to begin to experiment with the differing attributes of this wonderful spice.

It’s difficult, when cooking with paprika, for much to go wrong, but there are a couple of points to consider:

  1. Heating the spice will unlock its natural flavour, but be careful not to go overboard as paprika can easily burn – cook with a little olive oil gently over a low heat for no more than a minute
  2. As paprika only comes dried, choose the freshest you can – stored in an airtight container, it should last around a year, but after this it will lose its aroma and may become chalky

How to use smoked paprika

  1. It’s worth noting that when it comes to spice levels, paprika will never give your dishes the same blow-your-socks-off heat as, for example, cayenne pepper or dried chilli flakes. Instead, expect a warming but palatable heat with a smoky, more complex profile. Don’t be afraid to be generous; many Hungarian recipes call for at least one tablespoon to achieve sufficient depth of flavour.
  2. You can try spiking a soft cheese with a layer of smoked paprika and heating until gooey, as in the baked paprika cheese recipe from the July 2015 issue of Jamie magazine – just add crusty bread for dunking.
  3. Alternatively, combine with honey in a killer barbecue marinade to bring out paprika’s natural sweetness, or use with beans and pulses, as these will soak up the amazing flavour. The peppers from which paprika is made are part of the nightshade family, as are potatoes and tomatoes, so dishes that combine the three – think patatas bravas – will all work well. Or, go simple: a sprinkling on scrambled eggs or in an omelette will give these basic dishes an extra dimension.

If you’re inspired to pimp your larder and try out some new varieties of paprika, check out the July 2015 issue of Jamie magazine and read about our trip to the home of the world-famous family-run Chinata brand, who shared some brilliant recipes using their excellent homegrown paprika. Plus, you can get a taste of some yourself: go to the Jamie magazine shop to take advantage of an exclusive offer on a special gift set, which includes the mild and spicy versions of La Chinata’s premium smoked paprika, which isn’t available in the UK. What better excuse to turn up the intensity in all your favourite dishes?

Words by Heather Taylor, photography by David Loftus

Spice Hunting: A Guide to Paprika

I'd be willing to guess that paprika is one of the most common spices in America. For decades it's been an iconic classic for dishes like deviled eggs, and it's one of those common cover-ups for bland chicken breasts. It's also received quite a bit of attention in recent years from food journalism, prompting many readers to righteously toss out their ancient, lifeless bottles and take to merchants or the internet in search of the "right stuff."

And then they hit an impasse. Like most spices, paprika has different varieties or grades. But it surpasses others in terms of just how many of those varieties are easily obtainable. Which does the newly enlightened spice hunter buy? Here are two main guidelines.


Not all paprika is spicy. Some has all the heat of a bell pepper. Paprika is nothing more than dried and finely ground capsicums, and different regions grow peppers with different heat. Paprika marked as "sweet" will have almost no heat at all. It has the warm flavor of ripe peppers and sunshine, as well as a complimentary bitterness. "Semi-sweet" or "semi-hot" varieties still are relatively mild but carry some kick, like a cross between red bell pepper and cayenne. "Hot varieties" carry significant heat, though it's still much more nuanced and flavorful than red pepper flakes or cayenne. If you want to incorporate more chiles into your food but can't handle much heat, the bitter and sweet flavors and aromas of paprika are for you. And chileheads who want to singe their nostrils can go right ahead with the hot stuff knowing they're getting more flavor than from other hot peppers.


The recent darling of food fanatics everywhere has been Spanish smoked paprika, or pimentón. Unlike Hungarian-grown paprika, in which the peppers are slowly sun-dried, pimentón is slowly smoked over a fire, imparting an unbelievably rich and smoky flavor. The resulting smoky-sweet powder can be put on pretty much anything demanding a warm, complex flavor profile. Like all paprika, you can find pimentón with varying degrees of heat: dulce is mild, agridulce is semi-hot, and picante is the hot stuff, but again more focus on flavor than heat.

A couple notes on use: as you can only buy paprika ground, make sure you're buying the freshest you can. Its flavor dissipates quickly and stale paprika tastes like chalk. Also, as tempting as it is to sprinkle some raw on dishes for garnish, you won't really get much flavor that way. It needs to be heated in a moist environment, preferably oil, to really release its flavor. But as paprika burns quickly, don't let it spend more than a few seconds in hot oil before adding something water-based.

I love pimentón, and if I had to only have one paprika on hand this would be it, but there are times when its smoky flavor can be a little overwhelming. For more Hungarian-inspired comfort food dishes like chicken paprikash, goulash, or paprikash krumpli (a potato and onion stew enriched with bacon or Hungarian sausage), you're best sticking to unsmoked Hungarian varieties.

If you're thinking of purchasing new paprika, I'd recommend semi-sweet Hungarian, which has a balanced, bittersweet flavor, and hot pimentón for more complex kick. Those two should cover most of your paprika needs. But why stop there? With a spice as versatile as paprika there's no reason to hold back.

Get cooking with paprika with this recipe for Tomato Sauce with Roasted Garlic and Paprika »

How to Make Smoked Paprika

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Smoked paprika provides a big smoky flavor that is an essential component of many dishes that call for it. However, it can also be harder to find in stores than other types of paprika. If you’re cooking something like a Spanish paella that calls for smoked paprika, but you don’t have any on hand, don’t worry! You can probably find an acceptable substitute in your spice cupboard to save the day. On the other hand, if you find yourself cooking with smoked paprika all the time, you can try smoking, dehydrating, and grinding fresh peppers to make your very own homemade batch to have handy.

What's the Difference Between Sweet, Spicy, and Smoked Paprika?

When it comes to the must-have spices in your cabinets, paprika is at the top of the list. But not all paprika is the same. You can find several different kinds at stores and markets, and each one serves a different purpose.

WATCH: 5 Thing You&aposre Doing Wrong With Spices

Every kind of paprika is made from grinding the dried red peppers of the Capsicum annuum shrub, which is native to areas like Central America, South America, Mexico, and the West Indies. However, depending on the pepper, where it&aposs grown, and how it&aposs prepared, paprika can look anywhere from orange to bright red and taste sweet, smoky, pungent, or spicy.

Different cuisines around the world use this spice to flavor and color food, making paprika a major player in all kinds of dishes you can make at home. To help you decide which kind you should reach for the next time it&aposs in a recipe, we&aposre breaking down the main kinds of paprika and how to make the most of them to achieve the right flavors.

Step-by-Step Guide:

Step 1: Rinse and Prepare

Keep in mind only use fresh peppers, and throw away rotten ones. Wash and dry your peppers. Make sure your peppers are clean before drying.

Remove the ribs, seeds, stems, and the center of the peppers. Remember to wear gloves when you’re doing this step because their oils can burn your skin, and it’s not like it will go away immediately.

Slice the peppers into thinner ones or rings. If you do it in large quantities, use a vegetable chopper will be faster. You can also leave the peppers whole if you prefer, but they will take much longer to dry. If you use whole peppers, remember to cut a slit across each entire pepper to make sure that the smoke can penetrate.

Step 2: Smoke

Have your smoker ready for the dried peppers you’ve prepared. This smoking process will take about 3 hours if you’re using an electric smoker or longer if you’re using a regular smoker. It also depends on the size of the peppers and the humidity where you live.

While smoking peppers, remember to turn them a couple of times. It would be best if you used the tongs to turn them easier. Keep smoking until you see them gradually dry out. The smell of smoking chili peppers can make you cough, so turn on the kitchen hood.

Step 3: Dry

Your smoked peppers are already fragrant, but they are still pretty much wet and fleshy, which is not very ideal for storage. To achieve a more intense flavor and aroma, you can dry paprika directly under the sun like the traditional process.

But if the weather is not favorable, you can dry them in the oven as well. Set the range at the lowest possible setting and turn the peppers a few times. Remember to dry the peppers long enough for them completely dry inside out.

Step 4: Prepare for Use

To get the best taste and preserve your smoked and dried peppers’ smoky flavor, I recommend only grind them once you’re ready to use them.

Your smoked and dried peppers should be stored in a sealed container and placed in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. If kept well, they can be used for several weeks.

Step 5: Storage

Smoked paprika doesn’t precisely go wrong, but it loses potency in a period of six to eight months. Your smoked paprika should be stored in a closed cupboard, drawer, or anywhere away from direct sunlight and moisture. And remember to keep paprika away from the oven so that it will not be affected by high temperature.

Smoked Paprika Is the Solution to Your Cooking Fatigue

Rekaya Gibson has more than a decade of experience writing about food, drinks, and travel. She is the author of "The Food Temptress Wine Journal" and "Cooking on a Dollar Store Budget" and owner of the Black Cookbook Directory.

Most kitchen cabinets contain paprika, but have you considered adding the smoked variation (also known as pimentón) to your spice collection? The aromatic red powder undergoes an extra finishing step—getting dried and smoked over oak coals—and comes in sweet, mild, and hot to please varying palates. Its versatility expands beyond traditional recipes beyond chorizo and paella, giving meats and vegetables a smokiness that tastes like they have been cooked on an outdoor grill.

"Not only is it an essential component in rubs, stews, grilling, barbecuing, braising, and sauces, it's a great finishing spice that can be sprinkled on literally anything where you want a sweet and smoky zing, and pairs really well with oils and butter," explains Meherwan Irani, executive chef and owner of Indian street-food restaurant Chai Pani and founder of Spicewalla. He even revives frozen naan by getting it hot, spreading butter or ghee on top, and sprinkling it with some smoked paprika.

Chefs utilize smoked paprika in unexpected ways to make cooking at home extra appetizing. Irani prepares a flavoring oil by heating safflower or grapeseed oil to about 275 F, then steeping fresh ginger, garlic, black pepper, coriander seeds, black peppercorns, a whole red chili, pinch of salt, and smoked paprika. Once the garlic and ginger look like they're starting to brown, he allows it to cool, then strain and store in a mason jar. "It's a brilliant drizzle over hummus, soft cheeses, roast salmon, steaks, any kind of mezze," he says.

Smoked paprika is another one of Irani's go to when roasting potatoes. Simply toss the spuds in salt, pepper, olive oil, garlic powder, rosemary, and smoked paprika, then roast in the oven on a sheet pan. He also likes to mix smoked paprika with mayonnaise of choice to add smokey zing to sandwiches, burgers, and tuna salads.

Plant-based Charity Morgan raves about her favorite spice as well. She fell in love with smoked paprika after smelling it for the first time and often substitutes it in recipes that call for regular paprika. She also uses it in a nontraditional dish: potato salad.

Private chef Jumoke Jackson (also known as Mr. Foodtastic) owns a catering and event planning firm in Washington, D.C. He recommends adding 1/2 teaspoon of smoked paprika to hot honey butter for even more flavor. Chef Marc Vidal of Boqueria, a tapas bar and restaurant in New York City, makes a smoked paprika vinaigrette that he folds into cooked lentils or beans, drizzles over scrambled eggs and uses as a pork shoulder marinade.

Smoked paprika is available in local grocery stores and specialty shops. Some online retailers such as Spicewalla, La Tienda, and Cost Plus World Market sell it in tin cans, the best option for maintaining freshness. The condiment is reasonably priced and worth every penny. Keep in mind, a little goes a long way, so start with a small amount of smoked paprika and store the rest in a cool, dark place.

If you're new to smoked paprika, there are plenty of ways to introduce the spice to your cooking. Put this crockpot chicken and vegetable dinner on in the morning and leave it until dinnertime. The one-pot meal will be a guaranteed hit with the entire family. Another option is this no fuss baked chicken. It cooks in about 50 minutes and adds a little pizzazz. These delicious sweet and smoky Carolina pork ribs also cook in the oven and their goodness comes from the easy smoked paprika-flecked sauce. The marinade is the star in this grilled cedar plank salmon, helping produce a moist, savory fish, while the spices in this red lentil soup highlight the earthiness of the vegetables (swap the chicken broth with water for a vegetarian alternative). Lastly, smoked paprika provides color to this quick and simple sweet potato dip. Break out the pita chips, turn on Netflix, and enjoy your night in.

Lets talk some good old pork booty! This versatile cut of meat comes from the shoulder area of the pig. Many people interchange pork shoulder or a Boston butt, but they are actually two separate cuts (pork butt is above the shoulder on a pig). Either way, the method for making pulled pork with these two cuts is the same, low and slow process that I’m breaking down below.

Here are a few beginner cooking tips to note before we get started! A pork butt or shoulder is a pretty large cut of meat, often ranging between as small as 5 lbs. (rare) and as large as 18 lbs. (definitely on the heavy side) on average.

This cut is TOUGH and needs low and slow cooking to break down the tissue and cartilage to be the pulled or chopped pork of your dreams.

Meaning, it takes time and lots of it. Read through, prepare, and don’t just jump into this without covering all your bases so you have a successful cook.

Ok, thanks for coming to my #teachertedtalk

How do I prep the pork for the smoker?

Every home pit master has their own methods, here are a few that I prefer to do pre-smoking and what I find works for me!

Remove your meat from any packaging, rinse off excess juice and pat it dry. Look the meat over to remove any excess silver skin (literally silver, shiny looking connective tissue that won’t break down well on the meat and tends to make it tough).

Look your shoulder/ butt over again and remove any larger, thicker areas of fat. Using a carving knife or boning knife that bends nicely to keep as much meat on the cut as possible during this process. It doesn’t have to be perfect, do your best to be thorough!

Scoring the Fat-

If you have ever scored the outside of a ham, you can also do this with a pork butt as well. Locate the area of the meat with the fat cap (usually the top area with a an inch of fat or more). Lightly slice through the fat vertically, then on an angle horizontally with a knife.

This cross hatch grid pattern creates a cool look when smoked on the grill and helps the smoke and flavor penetrate closer to the meat while maintaining flavor and moisture. Sometimes I trim my fat cap down (don’t completely remove it) as well. Experiment with which method your prefer!

If you make your own you can also just stick to using a standard SPOG (salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder) rub. I also always prefer some smoky paprika to add smoke flavor (NO LIQUID SMOKE PEOPLE) and maybe a little red pepper flakes for a spicy kick if you’re so inclined.

How do I set up the grill and cook my pork butt?

Every pork butt is different and so is every grill. Whether you have a pellet grill, off set smoker, or a ceramic style charcoal grill like I do (I use a Big Green Egg for this cook), note that you may have a different experience than I did, but general rules and techniques absolutely still apply.

internal meat probe to help watch and track the internal temp of the pork. Pork tissue breaks down nicely and becomes tender starting around 195 but sometimes I go a little past if the pork needs it (between 200-203 F.). You can test the tenderness by using your meat thermometer and moving it around inside the pork. It should feel like “melted butter”. When you insert the probe and it easily cuts through the meat, then its a good indicator that the tissue will easily shred and pull apart.

How do I prevent my pork from drying out during a low and slow cook?

The key is moisture! After the bark sets (the outside rub portion can’t be wiped off with your finger and looks almost burnt on) you can spray every hour with some of my Texas style mop sauce (keto friendly), some people like to use apple juice, or dilute your favorite BBQ sauce with some apple cider vinegar.

Giving the bark a quick spritz once an hour or so throughout the cook helps the smoke adhere better, keeps the bark from cracking and drying out the meat, and prevents it from falling off as well.

Why does the pork temperature suddenly stop for a long period of time during cook, or even decrease during the cook?

That my friends, is called the stall. I remember the first time this happened to me and I freaked out that I messed up my food or my grill was no longer lit. But actually, it’s just a point in the process where the meat sometimes needs a little help to keep cooking.

Though you can be patient and wait out the stall (could be several hours) you can also wrap the pork too and speed it along. I have done it both ways and enjoy the pork with either method.

How do you wrap the pork butt?

Get two sheets of heavy duty foil and slightly overlap them. Add a few pads of room temperature butter and add some room temperature sauce (if desired) over the foil to help keep the bark moist. Wrap the pork butt/ shoulder fat cap side down and tightly secure the foil around the meat.

Place it back on the grill and insert the probe and you will notice it will help increase the cooking speed. If time is not an issue, I vote to leave it unwrapped personally. This keeps the bark crispy and delicious!.

How do I know when it’s done?

Though temperature is a helpful indicator (remember that 195 F mark I mentioned), don’t be afraid to listen and be in tune with your BBQ instead. Use the temperature as a guide but feel it out! I have had some pork butts cook nicely by that 195 F mark and as high as 206 F. It’s done when its tender!

Resting, pulling, sauce and serve-

Once the pork is done, take it off the grill and leave it wrapped. If it isn’t wrapped, wrap it now to help keep it warm. I also like to roll mine into a towel and set it in an insulated bag or in my microwave to rest for at least and hour.

Serve as is, with keto tortillas to make pulled pork tacos , make nachos, or make a hash with eggs! The options are endless and this recipe is so stinking delicious.

Want to try grilling up some other fan favorites, check out these popular grill recipes as well-

Your Guide to Shopping for Spanish Paprika

Smoked or unsmoked? Mild or spicy? Here’s how to navigate the multiple varieties of pimentón.

Pimentón, or Spanish paprika, is essential to the country's cuisine. It contributes brick-red color and fruity chile flavor (and sometimes smokiness) to dishes from paella and migas to patatas bravas and espinacas con garbanzos. It is available smoked or unsmoked and in a range of heat levels from mild to spicy, which can make shopping for it a bit confusing. The first step is to decide whether you want a smoked or an unsmoked product. Smoked pimentón comes from La Vera in Spain's Extremadura region. There, the peppers used for pimentón are dried slowly over smoldering oak fires for up to two weeks, giving them a distinct smoky taste and aroma. Unsmoked pimentón hails from a region in southeastern Spain called Murcia. Both areas have earned Denominación de Origen Protegida (DOP) status and adhere to processing standards distinctive to each region. When shopping, look for the region name, and then choose the heat level that works for your recipe.

Barbecue Applewood Chicken Breast

Skinless and boneless breasts are one of the best barbecue chicken cuts. They’re easy to buy, need minimal meat preparation, and only need an hour in the electric smoker.

This barbecue chicken breast recipe is juicy and smoky and an instant crowd-pleaser. The all-purpose BBQ chicken rub includes a mixture of paprika, thyme, and chili powder to infuse the chicken with flavor. They are cooked over applewood and served whole or in slices.

Cooking With Paprika

The type of paprika (whether sweet, spicy, or smoked) will determine how it is used in cooking. A basic, mild-tasting version will add a pop of color without overwhelming the flavors of the dish and can be added to marinades and rubs or sprinkled over a finished dish like hummus.

A paprika with more flavor, like Hungarian and Spanish, takes a starring role in recipes. Sweet or hot versions are the main ingredient in traditional Hungarian dishes such as chicken paprikash and goulash, contributing significant flavor and a deep red hue to the dish. The powdered spice is added along with other ingredients and cooked over low heat. Spanish smoked paprika will make the most impact in a dish, as the smokiness becomes the predominant flavor, like in a slow-cooked chicken and vegetable recipe or broiled mahi-mahi. Keep in mind that replacing one type of paprika for another can significantly change the taste of a dish.

Most recipes call for simply adding the spice directly to a recipe, but for paprika to fully release its flavor, scent, and color, it should be quickly cooked in a little oil first. (Many Hungarian cooks swear by this step.) It can go from heavenly to bitter and unpalatable if it cooks even a few seconds too long, so pay close attention.

Pull Apart Bread with Smoked Paprika Butter

1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons honey
3 teaspoons dry active yeast
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoons coriander seeds
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 eggs
1 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
1 teaspoon smoked Hungarian paprika
¼ to ½ teaspoon hot Hungarian paprika
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon milk or heavy cream
Flake salt
Smoked Paprika Butter (see recipe below)


In a small saucepan, warm the milk and honey to 110F. Pour into a large bowl and add the yeast. Stir and let stand 5 minutes until foamy.

In the meantime, heat a small frying pan over medium heat. Add the coriander seeds, caraway seeds, fennel seeds, cumin seeds and coriander seeds. Shake the pan and toast until aromatic, 30 seconds. Remove from the pan immediately and place in a mortar. With a pestle, coarsely grind the seeds. Reserve 2 teaspoons of the seeds for the top when baking the rolls.

Add the flour, butter, 2 of the eggs, coarsely ground seeds, sweet, smoked and hot paprika and salt and either by hand or in a stand mixer knead the dough until soft, and smooth, about 4 minutes, adding additional flour as needed.

Place the dough in an oiled bowl and turn the dough to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until double in size, 1 to 2 hours. This can also rise in the refrigerator overnight. If so, remove from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature, 1 hour.

Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with parchment and draw a 10 X 10-inch square on the parchment centered in the middle of the baking sheet. Turn the paper over.

Punch down the dough and turn out on a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough into 6 pieces and each of those pieces into 6 pieces making 36 balls. Form each into a round seamless shape. Place 1 ball on each corner of the square. Arrange the remaining balls evenly, 4 on each side, to fill the square. Arrange the remaining 16 balls about 1/2-inch inside the square of dough. Cover loosely with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until double in volume, about 30 to 40 minutes.

Preheat an oven to 375F. Whisk the remaining egg with milk or cream and brush the top of the rolls gently with the egg wash. Sprinkle the reserved toasted and coarsely ground seeds and flake salt onto the top distributing evenly. Bake until golden brown, about 18 minutes.

Remove from the oven and serve warm with Smoked Paprika Butter.

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons sweet Hungarian paprika
1 teaspoon smoked Hungarian paprika
½ teaspoon kosher salt

Place the butter, sweet paprika, smoked paprika and salt in a bowl and mash together.

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