How To: Make a (Basic) Ground Beef Chili

Sam Wilkinson

According to a faithful reader, I'm Ordinary Times's "least thoughtful writer." So I've got that going for me, which is nice.

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66 Responses

  1. J.L. Wall says:

    Just to react before even reading your recipe: what does it make me if my chili recipe doesn’t involve meat? And, worse, if it involves soy-based ground-beef-replacement-product?Report

    • Tom Van Dyke in reply to J.L. Wall says:

      This is a beautiful thing, Sam. You had me at the bacon fat.

      J.L., as long as you have the bacon fat, soy meat substitute is just fine.

      Otherwise you’re a communist, of course—the only thing worse than a chili-less fascist is a chili pervert.Report

    • Alan Scott in reply to J.L. Wall says:

      Meatless is chili is still chili, and can be quite delicious. Soy-based ground-beef-replacement-product sounds disgusting.

      I tried making a vegetarian chili with mushrooms once. it was… odd. But if anyone has a suggestion of things to add to a vegetarian chili besides nasty fake meat or just more beans, I’d appreciate the suggestion.Report

      • Meatless chili isn’t chili. It’s something else. Chili-flavored broccoli. Yum.Report

      • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Alan Scott says:

        I’ve seen it done with starches like diced potatoes. Obviously, the cooking time is much, much less, such that you’d add the potatoes right at the end and give them only long enough to soften up. There are plenty of ways you can get around the use of meat without turning toward either a soy product or a ton of beans (although what’s wrong with beans?).Report

        • J.L. Wall in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

          Diced potatoes sounds like something I ought to try…

          You’ve got me looking forward to cold weather already. I’ll probably hate you for it come January.Report

        • Glyph in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

          The answer is, ‘nothing’.

          Nothing is wrong with beans.

          I don’t make a veggie chili meself, but I have had some decent ones that went the ‘plethora of beans’ route.

          Also, Sam, you failed to mention the best use of leftover chili: Coney Island Dogs.

          Here’s how I do mine:

          Boil the dogs (at least 2, Nathan’s or something similar). While boiling the dogs, stick the buns under the broiler (crisping them allows them to retain their integrity longer – you’ll need that structural integrity) & nuke the chili.

          Pop the dogs in the buns, slather w/ ketchup & spicy mustard, top with the chili, fresh-chopped onions, and plenty o’ shredded cheddar, and stick the whole mess back under the broiler for a minute or two.

          You may need a knife and fork to eat ’em, depending on how loaded you made them. This is not a drawback.

          I am so hungry now.Report

    • Kimmi in reply to J.L. Wall says:

      Just make tamatar rajma and have done with it!
      Off with the meat substitute, add mushrooms if you want something meaty.Report

  2. Paul Cutlip says:

    A Texan would say that since your chili has beans it’s not chili… (I do not subscribe to this particular theory). I would add though regarding ingredients…. Beer.Report

    • Plinko in reply to Paul Cutlip says:

      Ah, I almost forgot, I usually like to add some of whatever beer I’m enjoying.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Plinko says:

        Thirded. I find the ‘breadier’ flavored beers work best (Shiner Bock). Which reminds me, need to stock up on their Oktoberfest brew while I can.

        Along these lines, if you are in a hurry and don’t have time to reduce/simmer/thicken for hours (though arguably if this is the case, you shouldn’t have started cooking chili), you can thicken with masa flour and this also gives it a pleasingly bready hint.Report

  3. Plinko says:

    I’m bewildered by chili without beans, so I’m with you, Sam.
    Also, the handfuls of whatever is super advice.

    For me, chili has always been about leftovers, kind of like fried rice is supposed to be.
    I try to keep my meat intake low via small portions so there’s usually some steak, roast or tenderloin left after we have one for dinner.
    In the Fall, I always try to set those aside in ziplocs in the fridge and use them for chili during the next weekend. Usually I find some smoked sausage as well to go in there, so I’ll have chili with 4-ish meats in it (ground beef, sausage and 2 leftovers). They get added to the cooked ground beef and before all the tomatoes.

    The one thing that caught my eye is the chili powder – some of the things they use lose potency fast.
    I prefer to make my own out of what I keep in the spice cabinet – black pepper, cumin, coriander, oregano, thyme, garlic, aleppo pepper and salt usually. I like mine spicy so I either use a good bit of cayenne and serrano peppers (the serranos early).

    This is usually served over a bowl of fritos with some cheese and sour cream.Report

  4. LauraNo says:

    Never heard of, or thought of, using bacon fat. That is surely an excellent idea! The only thing missing is celery, and a dollop of sour cream at the end, to temper the chili powder. And for kids,
    I put out cooked macaroni they can add to their bowl. I do think you are pushing the autumn thing, summer is not quite 2 months old…Report

    • Kazzy in reply to LauraNo says:

      “I put out cooked macaroni they can add to their bowl…”
      What’s “macaroni”?

      Seriously speaking, if you enjoy such things, find a spot near you that makes fantastic chili-mac. You won’t regret it.Report

      • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Kazzy says:

        Serving chili over pasta is a Cincinnati thing. Their chilis are so strangely flavored, and yet oddly delicious.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

          Indeed. Have you visited Skyline? I haven’t, but heard great things.Report

          • Mike Dwyer in reply to Kazzy says:

            Sam / Kazzy,

            With Louisville being so close to Cincinnati their chili ways have drifted down here. When I grew up we NEVER ate chili without spagetti in it. When my wife and I got married we started using elbow macaroni instead because it was easier for the kids to scoop.

            And I agree that Cincinnati flavorings are unique. Very sweet, which is how I prefer my chili. We have several Skylines here in Louisville. It’s the bomb.Report

    • Michael Cain in reply to LauraNo says:

      “I do think you are pushing the autumn thing, summer is not quite 2 months old…”

      Lows have dipped into the high 40s the last couple of nights here (suburbs west of Denver), so I’m willing to cut him some slack on starting to practice. Being able to burrow in under the covers to sleep on the occasional August night is one of the small guilty pleasures that comes with living in a high semi-arid climate :^)Report

  5. Patrick Cahalan says:

    My chili recipe was lost at the wedding.

    Kitty’s is light-years better than mine ever was.Report

  6. Miss Mary says:

    Instead of bacon fat a vegetarian would use…?Report

    • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Miss Mary says:

      Communist food. The culinary equivalent of the Trabant.Report

    • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Miss Mary says:

      Whatever fat you use in other recipes. I’ve made it with olive oil before, and never suffered for it.Report

      • Miss Mary in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        Thanks Sam. I don’t currently cook well, but I’m trying to learn to feed myself. It’s not going well. I burned Rice Krispie Treats the other day. Perhaps I will use the crock pot for chilie.Report

        • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Miss Mary says:

          If you’re going to use a crockpot, I’d recommend doing the onions, garlic, and whatever meat you’re going to use on the stove. Keep the temperature low. It’ll take a bit longer to brown everything, but that means you won’t burn it AND you’ll have time for a cup of coffee and/or another hot beverage of your choice. Then, pour everything you’ve got into your crockpot, add whatever else (spices, tomatoes, beans, etc), set the crockpot to low, and walk away for eight hours. Stir it every once in a while if you can.Report

        • Kimmi in reply to Miss Mary says:

          Learn to make (good) ramen. Use boiling water.
          Want me to post a series on “basic cooking”?Report

  7. Alan Scott says:

    My recipe calls for unsweetened baker’s chocolate, fresh peppers, fresh romanita tomatoes when I can get them.

    Usually recipes I’ve seen call for an un-drained can of tomatoes or tomato sauce. I like to use drained or fresh tomatoes and either spicy V-8 or El Pato sauce (or both, if I’m making a big enough batch).

    For peppers, I ususally use anaheim chilies. I used jalapeños once — I loved the taste, but I do not know how to handle jalapeños properly: my hands stung for three days after making that batch.Report

  8. Nob Akimoto says:

    Beans in your chili? Godless Communist!Report

  9. Kazzy says:

    Would it offend anyone if I said Sam’s post make me hate everyone else here, that I want to be his best friend, and that I’d rather make the rest of you into chili than read another post that doesn’t involve bacon fat? No? Good!

    Sam, want to come over to play tomorrow?Report

  10. Frank says:

    Speaking as an award winning chili cook (ok so it was 3rd place… in Mon Co… and I’m pretty sure it was a sympathy vote), I have to say Sam’s spot on. Also, people who don’t like beans in chili are the same sort of people who think it’s ok to buy an orange sports car. Or that Frank Sinatra was a better singer than Dean Martin. Or who honestly believe there is no difference in the taste between soda with high fructose corn syrup and soda with sugar. Just fundamentally and empirically wrong wrong wrong.

    My meager additions to Sam’s recipe – when you grab the cup o’ joe, dump in half a cup or so into the chili. Espresso is better, but harder to get. Grab some chocolate and toss it in. Not much, but some. The better the chocolate, the better the taste (obviously). I’d put in some peppers – green bell, red bell, yellow if I got’em, along with whatever hot peppers I wanted (serrano, jalapeno, habanero, whatever strikes your fancy). If you wanna get fancy with color, toss in some corn (preferably fresh, but frozen works good too). It’s a little unconventional for a lot of people, but it does add something to the mix. Plus it’s a starch so it adds some body. Finally, MORE COWEBELL!! No… wait… that’s not right. stupid typos. MORE CUMIN!!! Everybody needs more cumin in their life.Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to Frank says:

      For my chili recipe, I use chipotle obtained from the Mexican tienda down the way. Ditto adobo.

      I’d use cocoa powder instead of “chocolate”. If you must use chocolate, use the darkest baker’s chocolate you can obtain.

      The Mayans and Aztecs have been drinking xocolatl time out of mind.

      Xocolatl Recipe:

      1 1/2 cups water
      A generous dollop of chopped green chilli, at least a tablespoon. Old El Paso’s can will do just fine.
      4 cups water
      2 teaspoons vanilla extract
      1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder


      Bring 1 1/2 cup water to a boil in a pot; add the chilli pepper, seeds included, to the boiling water and cook at a boil for 5 to 10 minutes. Strain the chilli pepper and seeds from the water and return the water to the pot.

      Add 4 cups water to the chili pepper-infused water, reduce heat to medium-low, and bring to a slow boil. Stir the cocoa powder and vanilla extract into the boiling water; cook and stir until the powder dissolves completely, 5 to 10 minutes.Report

  11. George Turner says:

    My chili recipe in progress has 22 ingredients, which I came up with by Googling prize winning chili recipes and then entering the data into a spreadsheet so I could normalize the ingredient amounts. There were a half-dozen ingredients that were common to almost all prize-winners (beef, tomatoes, tomato paste, light red kidney beans, Bloemer’s Chili Powder, cumin, onions, salt) and then outliers like a touch of Coleman’s English mustard, vinegar, garlic, green peppers, sugar, chocolate, lime juice, paprika, thyme, sage, fennel, etc, used in small amounts in one recipe or another.

    One trick I use is to boil about a third of the meat instead of browning it normally, which produces a non-chunky meat like a Cincinnati style chili or a thin chili-dog sauce. Then add regular browned ground beef so the chili has both hunks of meat and a substantial meat component in the liquid/tomato sauce component.Report

  12. Burt Likko says:

    Beans go in my Chili. I use ground turkey rather than ground beef because I like the coarser texture that results. I brown the meat in an onion and garlic reduction much as described in the OP. A Dutch oven is my preferred vessel since I make it a gallon at a time. I find canned tomato paste adds richness and adobo sauce adds smoke and heat. Lastly, celery is a critical ingredient.Report

  13. dhex says:

    thanks to sam i grabbed a bottle of young’s double chocolate stout from the grocery store today for some chili tonight. i can’t use garlic (wife is allergic to the oils) but i do throw in black beans and some masa.

    i’d prefer to load up on garlic and habaneros but we can’t have everything we want all the time.Report

    • Sam Wilkinson in reply to dhex says:

      “(wife is allergic to the oils)”

      Have you considered divorce?Report

      • dhex in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        i get my shot now and then when she and the wee bairn are out of town or whatever. i can still use garlic powder, sad though it may be. i’ve had to learn how to cook nearly everything sans garlic. it sucks, but it’s not the end of the world. i generally overdo it when i cook alone anyway, the last daddy only batch was a whole bulb of garlic and eight habaneros for a not very large batch. it was good but a little too hot.

        two really big thumbs up on the chocolate stout, btw. i’ll know more in an hour but it looks like this is the business. i usually use sam smith imperial stout but the local supermarket decided they should charge 6 bucks a bottle (?!?!) from the usual 3.50 so i saw the young and decided to go for the eye of the tiger.Report

  14. carr1on says:

    I add Warning Brand Fire Roasted Salsa into the chili towards the end. It gives it a nice smoky tangy flavor. I guess if I really loved my family, I would take the time to personally roast the Hatch chills, but alas…

    Wal-Mart also sells Chili Ready Tomatoes, which are diced tomatoes with chili powder. A nice little extra kick (very little).Report

  15. Kimmi says:

    Chili Advice:
    1) Penseys has wonderful chili powder.
    2) Powdered anchos make the best base for chili
    3) Add powdered chipotles (smoked jalapenos) to taste.
    4) More Cumin! (also coriander)Report

  16. damon says:

    I’ve used ground turkey, beef, or bison. I vastly prefer the last two.

    I prefer black beans in my chili.
    I use a shed load–a shed load–of cumin in my chilli.

    Generally, it’s ground meat, onions, tomotoes, garlic, cumin (see above), black beans, salt, pepper, chicken stock, and time. Yes time. This stuff gets better 24-48 hrs after making.

    I’ve also been known to add some fresh spinach for a more heathly dish. 🙂Report

  17. Tod Kelly says:

    I hadn’t gotten around to saying this yet, but I love that we’re doing more cooking posts these days.Report

  18. Mike Dwyer says:

    When I was considering turning my anthropology BA into an MA I half-jokingly told a friend that my thesis was going to be an ethnographic study of American culture using barbecue and chili preferences by region. IMO they are the two most definitive types of food to come out of the United States.Report

  19. b-psycho says:

    Anybody ever try chili with deer meat?Report