You know the drill. You've clipped or printed out a recipe that's supposed to be tonight's dinner. Except, the grocery store betrays you—not having those few essential items you need. As an editor at Chile Pepper magazine, for me that usually means a certain chile necessary to test or develop a recipe. For example, in certain regions, some chiles like cayenne are impossible to find fresh.
The key to finding an adequate chile replacement is knowing its heat level, sweetness, and smokiness. We pooled our resources to come up with a substitution guide for whole chiles. While it focuses on whole fresh or dried chiles, you can always use a hot sauce in lieu of ground chile. The chart, after the jump.
Anaheim: A mild green chile named after the California city, this pepper also goes by the name "California chile" and is often used for chile rellenos; the red strain is called Chile Colorado. Substitution: Canned green chiles or fresh Poblano chiles
Banana Pepper: The sweet pepper, shaped like its namesake fruit, is also called yellow wax pepper. Substitution: Any mild chile like Anaheim or even bell peppers
Bhut Jolokia: Also known as Naga Jolokia or ghost chile, this is the world's hottest chile. Substitution: Red Savina Habanero (lots of them)
Cayenne: A bright red, hot pepper, usually sold dried. Substitution: Chile de Arbol or Guajillo. Crushed red pepper flakes are from cayenne, so it would be the easiest substitute, along with ground cayenne powder.
Chipotle chiles in adobo: The smoked incarnation of the jalapeno that's mixed with adobo sauce. Substitution: One tablespoon ketchup + 1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke + 1 jalapeno
Habanero: A small, lantern-shaped chile that's intensely hot. Substitution: Scotch Bonnets or double the dose of jalapenos
Jalapenos: Smooth, dark green chiles that can vary from medium-hot to hot. Substitution: Half the amount of Serrano chiles
Pasilla chile: The dried, medium-hot chile also goes by chile negro. Substitution: Ancho chile (sweeter) or Mulato chile (earthier flavor)
Scotch Bonnets: They belong to the same chile variety as the habanero. Substitution: Habaneros
Serrano chiles: A hot, slightly-pointed chile available in various colors. Substitution: Habanero or jalapeno chiles
Thai chiles: A thin-skinned chile typically found in red and green, popular in numerous Asian dishes. (Bird chile is the name of the dried form; drying the chile gives it the hook shape, similar to a bird's beak.) Substitution: Fresh or dried cayenne peppers or serrano chiles.
Also, Gourmet Sleuth has a magical solution: just plug in the missing ingredient and the website will spit out a substitution.
Additional research by Stacy Camacho.