Proper Pepper Handling Instructions

When you first start cooking with some real heat, you’re going to be tempted to treat chile peppers just like any other ingredient. Don’t.

Think about it: there’s a reason it’s called Pepper Spray. The capsaicin that is the major irritant in self-defense sprays is the exact same thing inside chile peppers. There are oils on these peppers that could irritate you at best, burn you at worst. So let’s be smart here.

The first thing you need to do is wear gloves. Plastic disposable gloves will do just fine. Never touch chile peppers as you’re cutting them with your bare hands. If one of the gloves tears or something while you’re cutting, stop and immediately replace it. You’ll thank me later.

The other thing you need to do is not mix anything. Take normal cross-contamination steps like you would if you were using raw meat. Cut your peppers on a washable cutting board AWAY from your other foods. I always deal with chiles last. Once you’re done cutting and prepping them for your dish, be sure to stop using the cutting board and knife. Wash them in hot, soapy water. I usually run them through the dishwasher after, just to be sure. Wash down anything that the peppers, or you with your gloves on, may have touched. Including the faucet handle.

And now, if you’re anything like my kids and don’t listen to my great advice that comes from years of experience, what can you do if you have hot pepper hands? First—water isn’t going to help you. It’s an oil, and oil and water don’t mix, remember? Do this instead:

–Try to touch as little as possible. Your hands are now chemical weapons. Again, remember the pepper spray bit from before? Don’t touch your eyes, nose, lips, or any other sensitive areas until you’re sure you’ve gotten it all off. Be really sure.

–rub your hands with a little vegetable oil. You are in a kitchen, you probably have some laying around. The oil in it will help counteract the oils in the peppers. It’s hard to wash that stuff off, though. You’ll have some smooth skin to show for it.

–or try dish soap. If Dawn can get oil off a bird’s feathers, it can get chile oils off your hands. Wash your fingers and make sure you even get under your nails.

–alcohol will also help. I know they recommend rubbing alcohol, but if you’ve got some high-proof beverages around, they help too. It should start to dissolve the oil enough that you can wash it off with some soap and water. Just, you know, stay away from flames until you’re sure it’s all washed off.

–something else you might have in your kitchen: vinegar. It’s acidic, and it will help counteract the burn. You’ll also smell like a salad.

–If you get it in your eyes, blink your eyes a lot and cry. The tears will help. Rinse your eyes with cold water or a saline solution.