Few foods conjure up more subjective superlatives than barbecue. Chili is one of them. You’ve got Texas, meat and no beans, please; Cincinnati, served over noodles; New Orleans, served over rice. The list goes on and on …
Texans lay claim to popularizing chili, and there’s evidence to prove that the Lone Star State isn’t just posturing. In the late 1800s, “chili queens” sold chili con carne in San Antonio, and it was a San Antonio chili stand at the 1893 World’s Fair that had folks from across our nation lining up for a bowl of meaty comfort.
While many claim to have “the best” recipe in this savory culinary category, in our humble opinion, the South in general is the true top dog in the chili business. Just check out some of our favorite chefs and cookbook authors who know a thing or two about stirring up a mean pot, and then give their recipes a whirl.
Chef Brack May — Cowbell — New Orleans, LA
Chef Brack May, of Cowbell in New Orleans, LA, is all about meat quality in his chili (you must try his burgers next time you’re in The Big Easy), and he grinds beef in-house with a grinding plate that has half-inch holes. Chef Brack recommends asking your butcher for coarsely ground or chili-ground meat, or says you can cut it into a small dice yourself.
If you’re not planning to be in New Orleans anytime soon, whip up a batch of his amazing Cowbell Chili, and savor the flavor!
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 5 pounds grass-fed chuck coarsely ground
- 1 1/2 cups chopped onions
- 2 Tablespoons minced garlic
- 2 poblano chiles diced
- 1/4 cup pureed raw smoked bacon
- 1 Tablespoon Mexican oregano crumbled
- 1 Tablespoon toasted cumin powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 4 Tablespoons chili powder
- 2 minced jalapenos with seeds
- 1/2 minced habanero chile seeds and ribs removed
- 2 cups crushed tomatoes
- 1 12-ounce beer (Cowbell uses Pabst Blue Ribbon)
- Water to cover
- 4 cups cooked pinto beans
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- Gastrique ingredients below
- For the gastrique:
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 Tablespoon Tabasco
- 2 Tablespoons Steen's Cane Vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 cup beer
- Salt and pepper to taste
- In a heavy Dutch oven, heat the canola oil over high heat. Sear the beef in batches. Add the onions, garlic and poblano chiles. Add the bacon. Cook for 20 minutes.
- Add all of the remaining ingredients except the pinto beans, cilantro and gastrique. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and skimming off excess fat. Add the beans and cook for 20 minutes or until the desired thickness is achieved.
- Taste for seasoning. Finish with cilantro and gastrique. (instructions below)
- For the Gastrique:
- Combine all of the gastrique ingredients in a small saucepan. Stir to mix.
- Heat until the sugar melts.
Chili Con Carne
Matt Lee and Ted Lee (The Lee Bros.) — Charleston, SC
Brothers Matt and Ted Lee have authored three cookbooks: The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook and Simple Fresh Southern, which have won a combined five James Beard and IACP cookbook awards. Their latest release, The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen, came out last spring and has been called “a work of art” by Pat Conroy and “a gastronomic tour-de-force” by The Wall Street Journal. In addition to their company, The Lee Bros. Boiled Peanuts, which sells foods essential to any Southern pantry, and their cookbooks, Matt and Ted write for numerous publications including The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Travel & Leisure, or you can experience their food firsthand. Working in conjunction with Duvall Events, the fellows will design a menu for you and your group, supervising and producing a Charleston experience like no other.
In the meantime, we got the boys to give us a hint of their tasty talents and humor by sharing their incredibly awesome chili recipe that is “informed by our parents’ move to Dallas from Charleston when we were in college,” Ted explains.
“Dallas folks know how to rock a chili, and you know Dallas IS the South, by the way. Dallas folk bring house-presents of pickled peaches and fresh eggs from their farms … Now if that isn’t Southern, what IS I ask you?!?” demands Ted.
“This recipe is a Texas chili con carne that nods toward classic, traditional versions, which is to say it’s simply beef (cubed chuck) that’s been slow-braised in a thick soup of dried chilies and crushed tomatoes that’s seasoned with toasted cumin and Mexican oregano. As in a mole or a salsa, the depth of flavor comes from the combination of dried chilies used. Here, our blend is guajillo (or pasilla), mulato (or ancho), New Mexico and chipotle; if you can’t find New Mexico chiles, substitute guajillo. The chocolate chips stirred in toward the end of cooking also nod toward a traditional mole. The semisweetness mellows and rounds out the flavor of the chili.
“To serve, we overlap three warm, griddled tortillas in a wide-bottomed bowl and ladle the chili over it and let guests adorn it themselves with a panoply of accompaniments: avocados (sliced); radishes (diced or quartered); fresh jalapeño (sliced into rounds or, alternately, seeded and finely diced); cilantro, Cotija cheese, crema (a loose, Mexican sour cream, comes in a squeeze bottle); limes (cut into wedges or small eighths) for squeezing.”
Try it for yourself:
Chili Con Carne
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup fine stone-ground cornmeal
- 2 Tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt and more to taste
- 1 Tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3 1/2 pounds beef chuck or shoulder cut into 3/4-inch cubes
- 3 14.5-ounce net weight cans beef broth
- 1 1/2 ounces whole dried guajillo or pasilla chiles about 6 chilies
- 1 ounce whole dried whole New Mexico chiles about 4 chilies
- 1 ounce whole dried mulato or ancho chiles about 2 chilies
- ½ ounce whole dried chipotle chiles about 2 chilies
- 6 Tablespoons vegetable oil plus more as necessary
- 1 1/2 pounds yellow onions (2 very large onions) trimmed, peeled and chopped
- 12 cloves chopped garlic about 1 head
- 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
- In a large bowl, mix the flour, cornmeal, 1 1/2 tablespoons of the salt, and pepper together with a whisk until thoroughly combined. In batches, dredge the beef in the flour mixture by dropping handfuls in the bowl, tossing the pieces to coat, and then tossing them from hand to hand to shake off excess dredge. Reserve.
- Pour the beef broth into a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Stem and seed the chilies, and tear them (as best you can—the chipotles, depending on how they were dried, may resist such treatment!) into flat pieces. Pour six tablespoons of the oil into a very large (8 – 12 quart) heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat and when it shimmers, toast the chilies in the oil until fragrant—about 15 seconds per side—and transfer them to the hot beef broth, submerging them beneath the surface. When all the chilies are in the broth, cut the heat on the broth and let stand about 10 minutes.
- Turn the heat under the pot to high, and brown the beef in batches, taking care not to crowd the pieces in the pan and adding oil by tablespoons if the bottom of the pot becomes dry.
- Once all the beef is browned, reduce the heat to medium and add the onions, garlic, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, stirring them in the pan until they become fragrant, softened and translucent (but not brown), about 6 minutes. Pour two-thirds of the chili-soaking liquid into the pan, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom.
- Transfer the remaining chili-soaking liquid, chilies, and the remaining teaspoon of salt to a food processor and process to a smooth puree. Transfer the puree to the pot, and add the crushed tomatoes. Add the beef, stir to combine, and when it returns to a simmer, continue to cook over very low heat at the barest simmer, stirring every 15 minutes or so, for 2 hours.
- Stir in the chocolate chips until thoroughly melted and incorporated and continue to cook until the beef is very tender, about 30 minutes to an hour more.
- Serve hot, in wide bowls, with accompaniments.
Early Girl Eatery Vegan Chili
John and Julie Stehling — Early Girl Eatery — Asheville, NC
John and Julie Stehling met in Charleston, SC, where they both worked for John’s brother at the Hominy Grill. From Charleston, they traveled across the country and throughout Asia before they settled in Asheville, NC, and opened Early Girl Eatery in 2001. They serve good, locally sourced, honest food from morning until evening. It all rocks.
In John’s mind, “The key thing to really good chili — no matter what style the chili is or what ingredients are used — is the seasoning. It’s not a particular seasoning or the amount of heat, but rather a balance in flavor,” he explains. “It’s the right sweetness, acidity, saltiness and yes — bring some heat — not for the sake of lighting people up and making them cry, but as part of the flavor and the balance.”
That’s the long answer from John. The short answer? You need at least 24 hours, he says. “Chili is better reheated. If you think it’s great when you make it, then tomorrow when you reheat it, it will be better and might actually be great.”
Early Girl Eatery Vegan Chili
- 4 yellow onions chopped
- 12 cloves garlic minced
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 2 red peppers seeded
- 2 green peppers seeded
- 2 poblano peppers seeded
- 2 Anaheim peppers seeded
- 3 jalapenos retain seeds
- 1 #10 can tomato puree
- 3/4 #10 can of water
- 9 large tomatoes
- 8 teaspoons Miso
- 6 Tablespoons chili powder
- 4 teaspoons black pepper
- 2 teaspoons oregano
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 4 teaspoons cumin
- 4 pounds tempeh salted, peppered, browned on flattop
- 1 #10 can kidney beans, drained
- Sauté the onions and garlic in the oil in a large pot until the onions are clear.
- Add the peppers and saute longer.
- Add the remaining ingredients, except the tempeh and kidney beans, and cook for 2 hours.
- Add the crumbled tempeh and kidney beans and cook for 20 minutes longer.
Tom’s 10-Alarm Chili
Tom Parker Bowles — Author, columnist, food journalist
Okay, okay, he’s not a Southerner. In fact, he’s not even American. But Tom Parker Bowles is like an adopted Southerner, who has adopted us right back. Yes, he is from across the pond. Tom, besides being a prolific and noted author of numerous cookbooks, magazine columns and such, is the son of Camilla Parker Bowles, the Duchess of Cornwall, and stepson and godson to Prince Charles. But his connection to the American South runs deep. Just look at his book, The Year of Eating Dangerously, where he recounts his travels around the world with food. His only American pit stop? Nashville, TN. That’s right. The good brother Tom. And when it comes to chili, Tom says, “It’s more religion than mere food. At the heart of a great chili lies cumin and chili,” he states, adding, “Now, I’m an Englishman, so I don’t dare preach about this being a Texan classic.”
Even though Tom has spanned the globe in search of the world’s best and most interesting food, he honestly believes that “a good bowl of red is one of the greatest dishes on earth.”
His recipe is from one of his cookbooks, Let’s Eat: Recipes From My Kitchen Notebook. Be warned. Tom has quite the palate for heat.
Tom's 10-Alarm Chili
- 4 Tablespoons Groundnut oil plus additional as needed
- 8 pounds Shin of Beef chopped into 10 chunks
- 4 red onions finely chopped
- 6 dried chipotle chilies soaked in water for 30 minutes, then finely chopped
- 6 dried ancho chilies soaked in water for 30 minutes, then finely chopped
- 4 habanero chilies finely chopped
- 5 cloves of garlic finely chopped
- 3 Tablespoons cumin seeds toasted in a hot pan, then ground to a powder
- 2 big pinches of Mexican oregano
- ½ teaspoon cayenne
- ½ teaspoon chili powder
- 4 Tablespoons tomato puree
- Worcestershire sauce
- Tabasco sauce
- 1 ¾ pints of fresh beef stock or canned
- Serve with:
- Grated cheddar cheese sour cream, crushed crackers, chopped red onion, fresh coriander leaves, tortillas or boiled white rice
- Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Heat the oil in large casserole over high heat. Brown the meat in batches. Set aside.
- Add a little more oil. Soften the onions in the oil about 10 minutes, then add all of the chopped chilies and garlic. Cook gently for 5 minutes. Add more oil as you go if needed. (You may want to open the windows because it gets pretty intense with all those chilies cooking.)
- Add the cumin, oregano, cayenne and chili powder. Cook for a few minutes then add the tomato puree and a big glug of Worcestershire and Tabasco and cook 2 more minutes.
- Return the browned meat to the pan, stir and add the stock.
- Bring just to a boil, then cover and cook in oven for 4 to 5 hours until the meat is meltingly tender. Serve with toppings.
Sweet Potato Chili with Black Beans and Garbanzos
Martha Stamps — Bergamot & Co. — Nashville, TN
Chef Martha Stamps, of Nashville, TN, has a beautiful way with both words and food. Her delicate Southern speech and warm verse echo the way she works with ingredients, carefully and deliberately, coaxing as much flavor as she can from each ingredient. Martha and her food are that comfy, nurturing steaming bowl of soup you have on a chilly afternoon, the fireplace ablaze, a puppy asleep by your side atop a cozy blanket. Seriously. She warms your soul. Just check out her cookbook, New Southern Basics. Live it, learn it, love it.
You can order her delectables from the weekly-evolving takeout menu at Bergamot & Co. by emailing your order to [email protected] , or if you’re in Music City, join West End United Methodist Church members, their guests and the community at large for Wednesday’s evening meal. Simply make reservations at marthastampscatering.com by 5 p.m. on Monday for each Wednesday meal. You can even take your meal home if you don’t have time to stay. It’s just $10 for adults and $5 for children under 10.
Here’s a taste of one of her yummy chili recipes:
Sweet Potato Chili with Black Beans and Garbanzos
- 4 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion diced
- 1 red bell pepper stemmed, seeded, deveined and diced
- 1 poblano pepper stemmed, seeded, deveined and diced
- 4 garlic cloves minced
- 1 large sweet potato 1½-pounds scrubbed and diced (no need to peel)
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 Tablespoons chili powder
- 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
- 1 beer
- 1 14-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained
- 1 28-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 teaspoons cocoa powder
- Serve with:
- Handful of roughly chopped cilantro
- Queso fresco
- 2 limes cut into wedges
- Hot sauce
- Heat the olive oil in a heavy soup pot. Add the onion, and saute until it begins to soften. Add the peppers, garlic and sweet potato, then stir in the oregano, coriander, cumin and chili powder. Saute for a few minutes, then add the tomatoes and beer. Stir and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to medium, and cook about 5 minutes, then add the beans and salt and pepper to taste. Stir and simmer for 20 minutes, until the sweet potatoes are soft and the liquids have thickened. (Add water or tomato juice if it gets too dry.)
- Stir in the cocoa powder and cook a few minutes longer.
- Ladle the chili into bowls, and garnish with a generous heap of cilantro. Serve with queso fresco, lime wedges and hot sauce.
Whether you rely on favorite family chili recipe or try one of these tempting options, we hope you’re inspired to whip up a batch of something warm and delicious as the winter temps dip below freezing. Enjoy!
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