34 Of Our Spiciest Recipes Bring the Heat in a Big Way

From fiery habaneros to slow burning dried chiles, here are the world's fieriest, fiercest recipes

We love heat. The burn from spicy foods is addicting, and we can't get enough. It's not all about in-your-face heat, though: the world's most fantastically flaming peppers shine brightest when used in complex, layered dishes that have a big enough flavor to handle the burn. From the world's finest curries to the best zesty tacos, it seems our obsession is shared with folks all over the globe.

But there are some standouts: China is full of spicy food, and nowhere is this more true than in the province of Sichuan, home of the titular peppercorns, which are known for producing a citrusy, mouth-numbing effect that combine with the region's blazing chiles for a flavor known as ma la. One of the most iconic Sichuan dishes is mapo tofu, in which tofu and ground beef are cooked in a vibrant red chile sauce; another being Sichuan pork wontons, bathed in red chile oil. India, too, is known for bringing the heat. Vindaloo is a Goan with Portuguese roots that gets tartness from vinegar and tamarind and plenty of heat from a variety of chiles. Coming back to the US, we have our own spicy classics that run the gamut from sauced-up bar grub (yes, you, Buffalo wings) to the hybrid jalapeño-fortified cuisine we've created with our Southern neighbor.

Ready to bring the burn with the absolute best spiciest recipes in our arsenal? Consider this your fair warning. And we recommend not drinking water: it just makes it worse.

Korean Spicy Stir-Fried Pork Belly (Jeyuk Bokkeum)

jeyuk bokkeum stir fried pork
Bokkeum is an umbrella term given to dishes—often made with inexpensive, strong-flavored cuts of meat—that are stir-fried over high heat. Pork belly is the most popular version, but other classics include octopus, mackerel, and dried anchovies. The sweet and spicy gochujang-laced marinade helps the meat caramelize as it cooks. Get the recipe for Korean Spicy Stir-Fried Pork Belly (Jeyuk Bokkeum) »Jason Lang

Mexico City Spiced Edamame

Mexico City Spiced Edamame
We first had this spicy dish, dusted with plenty of cayenne pepper and brightened with lime, as a starter at Brooklyn's Xixa, a Mexico City-inspired restaurant from the owners of Traif. It makes a great simple snack with an ice-cold beer. Get the recipe for Mexico City Spiced Edamame »Farideh Sadeghin

Milagu Rasam

Milagu Rasam
"Pepper is for colds and coughs, and turmeric heals wounds," says cookbook author Viji Varadarajan. In his native South India, milagu rasam, a broth made with those key ingredients, also includes a dose of tamarind, which is believed to help heal sore throats. Get the recipe for Milagu Rasam »Todd Coleman

Lao Tomato Dip

Lao Tomato Dip
Penn Hongthong, the author of Simple Laotian Cooking (Hippocrene, 2003), taught us that charring the vegetables for this dip is the secret to its smoky flavor. Get the recipe for Lao Tomato Dip »Farideh Sadeghin

Nashville Hot Chicken

Nashville Hot Chicken
The secret to Nashville's famous hot chicken is in the layering: The bird is marinated in a spicy buttermilk brine, then dredged with more flour and spice, double-fried, and finally slathered with a fiery butter paste to create a crunchy, peppery coating. One bite into its burnished orange crust reveals first a tangy crunch, and then a deeper, complex spice that leaves a lingering fire behind. Adjust the heat by adding as much—or as little—cayenne as you like. Get the recipe for Nashville Hot Chicken »Landon Nordeman

Sichuan Tofu and Ground Beef in Red Chile Sauce (Mapo Tofu)

Sichuan Tofu and Ground Beef in Red Chile Sauce (Mapo Tofu)
This spicy braise, garnished with mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorns, is one of the region's most well-known dishes. Get the recipe for Sichuan Tofu and Ground Beef in Red Chile Sauce (Mapo Tofu) »Ariana Lindquist

Cilantro Mojo

Cilantro Mojo
Bright, earthy and spicy, this garlicky cilantro sauce hits all the right notes for a summer-time cook-out. Get the recipe for Cilantro Mojo »Todd Coleman

Sichuan Pork Wontons (Chao Shou)

Sichuan Pork Wontons (Chao Shou)
The recipe for these tasty pork wontons is from noodle shop owner Ma Yingjun. Get the recipe for Sichuan Pork Wontons (Chao Shou) »Ariana Lindquist

Chicken Vindaloo

Chicken Vindaloo
This tangy, spicy curry from Goa, India, has roots in vinh d'alho, a stew brought to the region by Portuguese colonists. Now an Indian restaurant staple, it comes in countless variations—some fiery, some mild—from the subcontinent to the British Isles. Get the recipe for Chicken Vindaloo »Landon Nordeman

Goanese Pork Vindaloo

Goanese Pork Vindaloo
The word vindaloo is a garbled pronunciation of the popular Portuguese dish carne de vinha d'alhos (meat marinated in wine-vinegar and garlic), which made its way to India in the 15th century along with Portuguese explorers. In Goa the dish was tweaked, incorporating chiles, tamarind, black pepper, cinnamon, and cardamom. When it was exported to England, it became another hot curry, losing its vinegar tang and spice complexity, but this version stays close to the Goan original. Get the recipe for Goanese Pork Vindaloo »Ingalls Photography

Padang-Style Chicken Curry (Gulai Ayam)

Padang-Style Chicken Curry (Gulai Ayam)
Chicken thighs can also be used to make this aromatic Indonesian curry. Get the recipe for Padang-Style Chicken Curry (Gulai Ayam) »Ingalls Photography

Sichuan Noodles with Spicy Pork Sauce (Dan Dan Mian)

Sichuan Noodles with Spicy Pork Sauce (Dan Dan Mian)
For this beloved dish of China's Sichuan province, a tangle of wheat noodles is topped with a spicy, pungent pork sauce. This recipe is adapted from one in Fuschia Dunlop's Land of Plenty (W.W. Norton & Company, 2003). Inspired by an article in SAVEUR No. 154 (March 2013), it first appeared in our Jan/Feb 2014 SAVEUR 100 issue with the article 20 Years of SAVEUR: Capital of Heat. Get the recipe for Sichuan Noodles with Spicy Pork Sauce »Saveur

Yunnan-Style Breakfast Noodle Soup

Yunnan-Style Breakfast Noodle Soup
This popular breakfast in China's Yunnan Province starts with fresh rice noodles and ground meat in a bare-bones pork broth, then gets customized with as many as a dozen condiments. Yunnan mi xian noodles (round and spaghettilike) or mi gan (flat and wide) are traditional, but any size rice noodle works, and dried varieties are fine in a pinch. Find fresh rice noodles in the refrigerated section at most Asian markets. Get the recipe for Yunnan-Style Breakfast Noodle Soup »Matt Taylor-Gross

Spicy Cashew-Peanuts

Spicy Peanuts
Toss cashews and peanuts in caramelized sugar, fish sauce, garlic, and chile for a powerful, can't-stop-eating bar snack. Add the lime, shallot, and basil right before serving so the nuts stay crispy. Get the recipe for Spicy Cashew-Peanuts »Matt Taylor-Gross

Mezcalita de Piña

Pineapple Margarita
Made with mezcal, grilled pineapple, jalapeño, and lime, this take on the classic margarita is smoky, sweet, and spicy, with an herbaceous kick from cilantro. Get the recipe for Mezcalita de Piña »Matt Taylor-Gross

Gamjatang (Spicy Pork Neck and Potato Stew)

Gamjatang
A classic hearty Korean stew made with meaty pork neck, potatoes, and nutty perilla seeds. Sesame seeds cannot be substituted for the perilla in this recipe; seek perilla seed, also called wild sesame seed, out at Asian markets. Optional but recommended: Serve this dish with its accompanying dipping sauce. Get the recipe for Gamjatang (Spicy Pork Neck and Potato Stew) »Matt Taylor-Gross

Quick Basic Kimchi

Quick Basic Kimchi
Getting tired of your plain winter root vegetables? Throw some homemade kimchi on there to spice up a standard dish. Get the recipe for Quick Basic Kimchi »Matt Taylor-Gross

Chicken and Prawn Curry

chicken prawn curry
Characteristic of the region's curries, this intensely spicy one from chef Kevin Joseph of Durban's The Oyster Box hotel gets its heat not from chiles, but pastes made of fresh garlic, ginger, and onions, plus lots of curry powder. Though not cooked long, the sauce is rich and thick thanks to heaps of ground spices and unsweetened coconut cream. Get the recipe for Chicken and Prawn Curry »Crookes & Jackson

Watercress with Spicy Chile and Sesame Vinaigrette

Watercress with Spicy Chile and Sesame Vinaigrette
Peppery watercress, nutty sesame seeds, and earthy Korean chile flakes are brought together with an easy lemon vinaigrette in this wonderful cold-weather salad. Get the recipe for Watercress with Spicy Chile and Sesame Vinaigrette »Justin Walker

Pakistani Slow-Cooked Lamb Stew (Dumbay Ki Nihari)

Pakistani Slow-Cooked Lamb Stew (Dumbay Ki Nihari)
A rich, spicy stew topped with bright cilantro leaves, a squeeze of citrus, and thin-sliced hot chiles, nihari is the ultimate comfort food. Get the recipe for Pakistani Slow-Cooked Lamb Stew (Dumbay Ki Nihari) »Saveur

Yucatán-Style Shredded Pork Tacos with Achiote (Cochinita Pibil Tacos)

Yucatán-Style Shredded Pork Tacos with Achiote (Cochinita Pibil Tacos)
This pibil recipe, inspired by one used at Chando's in Sacramento and prepared in a Dutch oven, pops with earthy achiote paste and citrus juices, yielding a luscious, spicy pulled pork. Get the recipe for Yucatán-Style Shredded Pork Tacos with Achiote (Cochinita Pibil Tacos) »Dylan + Jeni

Thai Green Papaya Salad (Som Tum)

Thai Green Papaya Salad (Som Tum)
At Seattle's Little Uncle, chefs Poncharee Kounpungchart and Wiley Frank dehydrate Oregon bay shrimp and crush them into a green papaya salad, where the crustaceans amp up the umami flavor. Get the recipe for Thai Green Papaya Salad (Som Tum) »Ingalls Photography

Chettinad Pepper Chicken (Koli Milagu Masala)

Chettinad Pepper Chicken (Koli Milagu Masala)
This richly spiced chicken dish is adapted from a recipe in Madhur Jaffrey's classic Flavors of India (West 175 Publishing, 1995). According to Jaffrey, "What gives this a very special southern flavor is the use of fennel seeds, curry leaves, and, of course, the pulse (legume) urad dal. This is definitely a dish you will want to make very frequently." We couldn't agree more. Get the recipe for Chettinad Pepper Chicken »Ingalls Photography

Kashmiri Chile-Braised Lamb (Rogan Josh)

Kashmiri Chile-Braised Lamb (Rogan Josh)
Smoky red Kashmiri chile powder and rich ghee are the foundations of the sauce for tender lamb shanks in this classic dish served as part of the Kashmiri feast called wazwaan. Cooked for weddings and other auspicious occasions, the wazwaan is comprised of 36 dishes, the majority of them lamb. The wazas, or cooks, who prepare the meal come from long lines of chefs schooled in the art. Get the recipe for Kashmiri Chile-Braised Lamb (Rogan Josh) »Ariana Lindquist

Triple-Cooked Spareribs with Chiles (Lu Rou)

Triple-Cooked Spareribs with Chiles (Lu Rou)
These lavishly spiced ribs have some serious heat and require an overnight marinade, so be sure to plan accordingly. Get the recipe for Triple-Cooked Spareribs with Chiles (Lu Rou) »Ariana Lindquist

Sho' Nuff Noodles

Marcus Samuelsson's Sho' Nuff Noodles
We first fell in love with these lightly spicy lo mein noodles when chef Marcus Samuelsson dropped by our kitchen to test drive some recipes for his Harlem restaurant, Streetbird Rotisserie. Laced with oyster sauce, ginger, and yuzu kosho and tossed with pickled mustard greens, the dish is a medley of sweet, tangy, spicy, and sour. Get the recipe for Sho' Nuff Noodles »Farideh Sadeghin

Braised Zabuton with Coffee Beans

Braised Zabuton with Coffee Beans
The small flap of meat between the chuck and the rib eye in Wagyu is called the zabuton, meaning "cushion" in Japanese. Nicely marbled with intramuscular fat, the little-known cut—sometimes dubbed a Denver steak—is buttery and rich. Get the recipe for Braised Zabuton with Coffee Beans »Andre Baranowski

Kashmiri Lamb in Chile Sauce (Mirchi Qorma)

Kashmiri Lamb in Chile Sauce (Mirchi Qorma)
Tender lamb simmers in a fiery sauce in this recipe from Adhoo's in Srinagar, Kashmir. Get the recipe for Kashmiri Lamb »Ingalls Photography

Thai Charred Squid (Pla Muek Yang)

Thai Charred Squid (Pla Muek Yang)
This grilled squid dish, covered in a tangy sauce and topped with peanuts and cilantro, is a Thai roadside treat. Get the recipe for Thai Charred Squid (Pla Muek Yang) »Matt Taylor-Gross

Shrimp Tacos

Don Pepe's Chiles de Árbol Salsa and Guacamole
Every element of this taco—inspired by those at Don Pepe Taqueria in Fresno—is amped up, from the red rice simmered in a blend of chicken stock and puréed tomatoes to the quick-marinated shrimp. Use large flour tortillas as tacos or wrap them into a burrito. Get the recipe for Shrimp Tacos »Dylan + Jeni

Japanese-Style Chicken Wings

Japanese Fried Chicken
Sansho, the Japanese equivalent of Sichuan pepper, adds kick to these sake-and-mirin-marinated wings. A fresh squeeze of lemon brightens them up for serving. Get the recipe for Japanese-Style Chicken Wings »Nicole Franzen

Fish Ssäm with Spicy Chile Sauce

Fish Ssäm with Spicy Chile Sauce
Ssäm, which is Korean for "wrapped," refers to the lettuce wraps that enclose spicy grilled fish in this recipe from Matthew Rudofker, executive chef at New York City's Momofuku Ssäm Bar. Get the recipe for Fish Ssäm with Spicy Chile Sauce »Farideh Sadeghin

Spicy Thai-Style Zucchini Carrot Salad

Spicy Thai-Style Zucchini Carrot Salad
Matchstick ribbons of zucchini and carrot mingle with grassy, fresh herbs, and roasted peanuts in this salad inspired by the flavors of Thailand. A pungent, savory, tart dressing brings the dish together. Get the recipe for Spicy Thai-Style Zucchini Carrot Salad »Matt Taylor-Gross

Carnitas Tacos (Michoacán-Style Braised Pork Tacos)

Carnitas Tacos (Michoacán-Style Braised Pork Tacos)
At the Viva Taco bus in Turlock, Silvestre Valencia adds jalapeño pickling liquid to the pork braise, which tenderizes the meat and keeps it from drying out. Get the recipe for Carnitas Tacos »Saveur