Candied jalapeños, more commonly known as Cowboy Candy, is an old-fashioned sweet/savory preserve that’s absolutely delicious with crackers and cheese. They’re sweet and tangy, a bit like a relish and when you add in the heat from the jalapeños you’ve got a recipe for a well-rounded preserve that’s as unique as it is delicious.
The first time I ever had cowboy candy it was atop a wheel of oozing, buttery brie. I’d tried red pepper and even jalapeño jelly before, both of which I enjoy, but something about the added crunch of candied jalapeños was enough for me to fall in love with this extremely versatile condiment.
With a bumper crop of jalapeño peppers to process this year, I tried my hand at making my own cowboy candy. And guess what? It couldn’t be easier to make from scratch!
Now that my pantry is full of the stuff, I’m constantly discovering new ways to use it — whether in a sandwich, on top of nachos, or as part of a perfectly spicy cocktail, it’s always good.
Are you ready to make your own cowboy candy? This guide contains everything you need to know about making and preserving your own candied jalapeños.
How to Make Cowboy Candy
To make a yield of 8 pints or 16 half-pints, you’ll need about 4 pounds of fresh jalapeño peppers. I tend to use green jalapeños because they don’t pack quite as much heat as the more mature peppers, but if you love your peppers spicy I’d recommend peppers that are entirely red or just beginning to turn red.
Preparing Jalapeños for Cowboy Candy
This is true for all spicy peppers, but especially so if you’re working with large batches: always wear gloves when handling jalapeño peppers.
I’ve found that even after I’ve washed my hands with soap and water, the heat can still linger, and if you’ve ever touched your eye unwittingly after handling hot peppers you’ll know how painful that experience can be.
When chopping the peppers, I like to remove the stem first and knock out any loose seeds. By no means is it necessary to remove all the seeds or the membrane, you can simply start slicing from tip to tip without worrying about the seeds if you’d prefer.
I like to slice the peppers in 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick rounds, but you can also chop them up into small pieces for a relish-like texture. If you have a kitchen mandolin, this is a great time to use it.
Syrup for Cowboy Candy
Once the jalapeños are ready, it’s time to make the syrup.
As the name suggests, these jalapeños are candied using a syrup made from apple cider vinegar and white sugar. To make the syrup, we’re going to add 8 cups of sugar, 3 cups of apple cider vinegar, and a selection of spices (garlic powder, turmeric, celery seeds, and cayenne pepper) to a large saucepan.
Next, the syrup is brought is a boil over medium-high heat. You’ll want to give the mixture a good stir so that the sugar completely dissolves. When the syrup is boiling, bring it down to a simmer and set the timer for 5 minutes.
After the timer goes off, you can then add the sliced jalapeño peppers to the syrup.
I can’t emphasize the need for ventilation during this step enough!
Once the peppers are in the syrup, they’ll release eye-watering spicy fumes. I always open as many windows as possible and turn up the stove fume hood as high as possible. Or, if this is something that’s available to you, I’d suggest doing this part outdoors (especially for large batches).
Since the weather is still nice during jalapeño season, I like to make cowboy candy in my outdoor canning kitchen.
Simmer the jalapeño pepper slices for another 5 minutes while you prepare your jars and 2-part lids.
Using a slotted spoon, carefully transfer the sliced jalapeños directly from the saucepan into the jars, leaving a 1-inch headspace between the peppers and the top of the jar.
Bring the jalapeño-free syrup back to a boil, again for 5 minutes. When the timer goes off, ladle the hot liquid into the jars, adding additional syrup as needed to maintain the 1-inch headspace in each jar.
When the jars are filled, use a non-metallic utensil, such as a chopstick or plastic knife, to remove air bubbles. Screw on the lids until fingertip tight. At this point your cowboy candy is ready for the water bath canner!
Canning Cowboy Candy
To get started with canning cowboy candy, prepare a hot water bath canner.
Load the jars, whether you’re using half-pint or pint jars, into the canner once it’s heated up. Process half-pint jars for 10 minutes and pint jars for 15 minutes.
When the processing time is complete, turn the heat off and let the jars sit in the hot water for 5 minutes before removing them. This allows the jars to cool slightly and helps prevent liquid loss due to siphoning as the jars cool.
Place the jars on a towel on the counter and let them come to room temperature, usually about 12 to 24 hours depending on the ambient temperature and the size of the jars.
When the jars have come to room temperature, check to make the lids are sealed. A sealed lid will be slightly concave, pointing downwards. If you suspect a mis-sealed lid, simply store the finished cowboy candy in the fridge and enjoy it within a week or two.
Store properly sealed jars in a cool, dark place until ready to use.
Ways to Use Cowboy Candy
As a condiment, cowboy candy is similar to a spicy relish.
My favorite way to use it is one a cheese and charcuterie plate — it’s delicious with all kinds of preserved meats, with cream cheese and goat cheese, brie and camembert, as well as sharp cheddars and aged goudas.
In a similar vein, cowboy candy is a wonderful addition to grilled cheese sandwiches, especially with a hearty sourdough or rye bread. And speaking of bread, you won’t believe how tasty cornbread is topped with a spoonful of cowboy candy.
If you don’t mind some sweetness on your tacos or nachos, cowboy candy is a tasty added touch. Likewise, it’s just as at home when garnishing a bowl of homemade chili as it is on a burger or hot dog.
A fan of cocktails? The syrup used to make cowboy candy is almost as valuable as the peppers themselves! Try these recipes for a jalapeño Paloma or a jalapeño-spiked bourbon gimlet, using the cowboy candy canning syrup in place of the jalapeño simple syrup.
Ways to Preserve Jalapeños
Looking for more ways to preserve a bumper crop of jalapeños?
- Pickled Jalapeño Peppers
- Canning Plain Peppers (Hot or Sweet)
- Dehydrated Jalapeño Peppers from Crave the Good
- Roasted Red Jalapeño Chili Powder from Chili Pepper Madness
- Jalapeño Jerky from Jerkyholic
Adapted from Diane Devereaux’s cookbook The Beginner’s Guide to Canning.
Adapted from Diane Devereaux's cookbook "Beginner's Guide to Canning," this sweet and tangy recipe for cowboy candy is delicious served with burgers, deviled eggs, cream cheese, and baked beans.
- 4 lbs. jalapeño peppers
- 8 cups sugar
- 3 cups apple cider vinegar
- 1 Tbsp. garlic powder
- 1 tsp. ground turmeric
- 1 tsp. celery seeds
- 1 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional, for more heat)
- Prepare a water bath canner, jars, and 2-part lids for canning.
- Remove the stem from the jalapeño peppers, gently knocking out any loose seeds.
- Using a sharp knife, thinly slice the peppers into 1/8- to 1/4-inch rounds.
- In a large pot, stir together the sugar, vinegar, garlic powder, turmeric, celery seeds, and cayenne pepper.
- Bring the ingredients to a boil over medium-high heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved completely.
- When the liquid is boiling, lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Add the jalapeño slices and simmer for another 5 minutes (make sure to have a window open or other source of ventilation during this step).
- Lay out the jars and lids on a cutting board and, using a funnel and slotted spoon, fill the jars with the jalapeños. Be sure to leave 1-inch of headspace between the peppers and the underside of the lid.
- Simmer the syrup for a further 5 minutes, before ladling into the jars.
- Remove air bubbles and add more liquid if needed to ensure 1 inch of headspace.
- Apply lids, screwing the outer band until fingertip tight .
- Place the jars in the hot water canner, bring to a boil, and process for 10 minutes (if using half-pint jars) and 15 minutes (if using pint jars).
- Once the timer has gone off, wait 5 minutes and then remove the jars.
- Place the jars on a clean surface and allow the contents to come to room temperature (around 12 hours).
- Check the seals on each jar, storing any unsealed jars in the fridge.
- Store cowboy candy in a cool, dark place until ready to use.
*Devereaux's original recipe calls for 1/2 cup of whole mustard seeds. I usually omit them for two reasons: 1)it changes the texture significantly and 2) the end result is very similar to bread and butter pickles, but much sweeter. If you want to include them, add them with the rest of the spices and prepare as described.
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Summer Canning Recipes
Looking for more ways to preserve the harvest this season?
- Canning Blueberries
- Zucchini Relish
- Canning Peppers (Hot or Sweet)
- Canning Tomatoes (Whole or Halves)
- Canning Corn