If you are a gardener like me, you spent most of your winter drooling over seed catalogs, ordering seeds, and trying to figure out where the heck you'll put those things you ordered that you had to have but don't currently have a place for! If you have a vegetable garden and have never made your own paprika, this will be a slam dunk idea for you. Even if you don't really garden, this is one of those things that may just change your mind.
There are certain things that are just orders of magnitude better when you produce them yourself. Tomatoes, of course, are at the top of that list. Dried herbs like oregano and thyme are on the list, too. I only learned a few years ago that paprika was right up there.
Though there are many ways to finagle this, honestly, I highly recommend three "special" pieces of equipment for this operation. The first is a cold smoke generator. I bought and like the Smoke Daddy smoker. I cut a hole in my Weber grill and it is an amazing way to smoke all kinds of things. It was a little bit of an investment (about $150), but it will last me for a good long time, and now I'm expanding into smoking other foods, too. The second is a countertop dehydrator. I have the Nesco and really recommend getting one with a temperature control setting. The last one is a Nutribullet or similar type blender. You can use a regular blender, but the powder is very fine and can be irritating to breathe. The Nutribullet is completely enclosed. I like that I can pick up and shake it while pulverizing the powder to be sure it isn't clumping on the bottom.
All right, so let's talk about pepper varieties. The best bet is a pepper specifically bred for making paprika. Baker Creek carries a variety that makes a phenomenal paprika! It has a bit of spice, so I usually blend it with a sweeter pepper to be sure it's not too hot. While you can use pretty much any red, sweet pepper, I recommend you try to stick with thin-walled peppers that are good for drying. The thicker walled peppers make a powder that tends to clump. This isn't a huge deal since it breaks apart fairly easily if stored properly, but if you can find some good thin-walled peppers like Criolla de Cocina, you'll have really good results.
Harvest the peppers when fully ripe. Only use peppers that are in good condition, without any holes of soft spots. Since the powder will not always be cooked before consumption, the best way to minimize any chance of foodborne illness is to sanitize the peppers before beginning. Rinse the peppers and then dunk in a bleach solution for one minute. You want to be sure to use plain bleach that says it is okay to use for food surfaces (without fragrance, etc.). If it is standard strength bleach, use 4 teaspoons per gallon of water. Also, be sure the water is warmer than the peppers themselves to minimize any potential for any of the wash water being sucked into the pores of the fruit. Rinse the fruit one more time with clean water and you are good to proceed.
Cut the peppers and remove the stems, seeds, and white pith. Place the peppers on racks. This photo shows them cut side up. I have since started turning them cut side down because I noticed the peppers often accumulate moisture in them that way, and we want to minimize that. Cold smoke the peppers heavily for three hours (by cold smoke, I mean no heat added, not that the peppers are "cold" or anything). I experimented with a few different kinds of wood for the smoke and found cherry was, by far, the best.
The next stop is to dry them thoroughly in a dehydrator. If your dehydrator has a temperature control, set it to 145F. While drying, the peppers will release A LOT of smokey aroma. I dry mine outside under a covered porch. It usually takes 12-16 hours to dry them completely in an average humidity location. You want them to be absolutely, completely dry, crisp and crunchy all the way through. There is no such thing as over-drying them, so if you are unsure whether they are done enough, wait a bit longer.
The last step is to run them through a blender of some kind. Again, I highly recommend a Nutribullet type contraption. Then, sift the powder through a fine sieve to remove any larger pieces that didn't break down. I store my powder in jars with plastisol type seals (jelly jars or the like) with a food grade moisture absorber (available on amazon for a very reasonable price). If completely powdery and dry when complete, it keeps very well for over a year.
My mom had been in Europe and bought some Hungarian smoked paprika about the time I started experimenting with this. After she tried mine, she made it clear that she thinks mine is way better! How's that for a recommendation!?! I have found so, so many uses for this stuff. Now that I make my own, I find I use smoked paprika way more often than I used to. It's just so darn good! I wish the state would let me make it to sell, but they won't without a commercial kitchen, so I figured I'd just have to tell you how to make your own! Trust me, it's so worth it!