As a boy living on Texas’ westernmost border in El Paso, John Lewis grew up eating roasted Hatch green chiles the way Southerners in other regions eat gravy—with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. “I like green chile in everything,” says the acclaimed pit master, who decamped for Charleston, South Carolina, to open Lewis Barbecue in 2016. The corn pudding he serves there is loaded with the spicy New Mexican peppers. “It’s easily our most popular side dish.” And the enchiladas at his newest Holy City venture, Juan Luis—which serves what the chef describes as “border cuisine” rather than Tex-Mex—come topped with a kicky house-made Hatch green chile sauce.
As with French Champagne and certain old-world cheeses, rules apply to Hatch chiles: they only come from New Mexico’s Hatch Valley, the epicenter of the state’s chile production (and where Lewis’ great-grandparents once owned a farm). A Labor Day festival kicks off the region’s fall harvest; the scent of fire-roasted chiles pulls tens of thousands of visitors from all over the world to the tiny village of Hatch (population: 1,590). Roasting stands pop up all over town and locals place orders in quantities upwards of twenty pounds to see them through the winter. Lewis attended this year’s festival and brought back a mess to Charleston. (Editor’s note: If you’re in the Lowcountry this weekend, he’s hosting a free Chile Roast in the parking lot at Lewis Barbecue on Saturday from 2 to 5 p.m., complete with guest chefs, live music, and a new Hatch green chile lager bottled by Revelry Brewing.)
If neither Hatch nor Charleston are in your upcoming travel plans, you can still bring the flavor home with Lewis’ buttermilk green chile biscuits. “Think of them like those Red Lobster cheese biscuits—with green chiles,” he says. Lewis sources fresh chiles straight from Hatch farmers; for home cooks without a direct hook-up, he recommends the online outfitter Zia Green Chile. Zia sells fresh chiles, but also shelf-stable jars of already roasted, peeled, seeded, and chopped peppers, cutting your prep time in half.