If you are out of chili powder or just want a new twist on chili or Mexican cuisine, your options range from creating a spice blend, to using prepared substitutes, to choosing from hundreds of hot, capsicum peppers. The amount of the new ingredient to use depends on its potency and the desired heat in the final dish. Generally, use the same amount of a substitute spice as and use more peppers or sauces than chili powder.
Spice It Up
Substitute one spice with similar hot flavors to chili powder, or combine two or three spices to give your dishes depth of flavor and produce more interesting tastes. Your options include red pepper flakes; black pepper; Szechuan pepper, resembling black pepper with a spicy, pungent flavor; smoked paprika, with a mild smoky heat; and cayenne powder, a bright red and hot spice from cayenne chilies.
Straight From the Bottle
Hot sauces and salsas give dishes the same heat as chili powder, along with additional ingredients or flavors. Mexican salsas, in either green or red varieties, typically include chunks of tomatoes, onions and garlic, while Asian sriracha hot sauce contains vinegar, sugar, salt, ripe chilies and garlic. You can experiment with any of the other hot sauces on the market, from all-purpose vinegar-based varieties to those made with smoky, barbeque flavors or liquor-flavored varieties.
Hot and Hotter Chilies
Chopped fresh or dried chilies provide the same heat as chili powder, with smaller chilies, such as jalapenos or pequin chilies, typically containing more heat than larger ones, such as poblanos or pasillas. Tame the heat of any of these chilies by removing the seeds and membranes -- they don't lose heat during cooking. Either wear plastic gloves when working with hot chilies or wash your hands thoroughly after chopping them so that you avoid burning yourself with capsaicin oils in the peppers.
A Noteworthy Choice
Smoky and fiery, chipotle peppers in adobo sauce make such a good alternative to chili powder that you might make them a permanent substitution. Available in the Mexican section of your grocery store, chipotle chilies are dried and smoked jalapeno peppers that are moist from being canned in adobo sauce, a blend of the chilies with herbs and vinegar. Puree or chop the chilies and sauce, and then use them in a one-to-one substitution for chili powder or use a little extra for even more heat.