Texas Chili

If you live in any of the 49 states besides Texas, the word "chili" usually conjures up images of a thick stew with ground beef, beans, tomatoes, possibly some other vegetables and a brown sauce made from a packet of grocery store chili seasoning, containing mainly cumin. There are certain other forms that chili takes as well, such as white chili (using any white meat and beans), Cincinnati style chili (a  Mediterranean-spiced meat sauce used as a topping for spaghetti) and vegeterian chili (blasphemy). 
In Texas, it's a whole different dish, and they call it by its historical name, Chili Con Carne. This translates as "chili with meat" and it literally just that: chili peppers and meat. Texans keep the tradition of the old west alive as the first chili was made by cowboys on cattle drives
using the dried beef they brought along, pounded into blocks with dried peppers and suet... These could easily be boiled in a pot for a meal.
Lets get something out of the way right now. The original chili never included beans. As chili grew in popularity and people started experimenting with it, things like beans and rice were sometimes added as filler to extend the dish and make it last longer.  In the 60s, people started having cookoffs to determine who could make the best bowl of chili. Out of these cookoffs, two socities were formed. The International Chili Society (ICS), and the Chili Appreciation Society International (CASI). Both of these orginizations have made rules to be followed in the making of all contest chilis and both strongly stand by traditionalism and the "no beans" rule.


Traditional Red Chili
is defined by the International Chili Society as any kind of meat or combination of meats,
cooked with red chili peppers, various spices and other ingredients, with the exception of BEANS and PASTA
which are strictly forbidden. No garnish is allowed.

Chili must:
a. Be cooked on site the day of the cook off.
b. Be prepared from scratch (no commercial chili mixes).
c. Contain no fillers (beans, macaroni, rice, hominy, etc.)
d. Be prepared in as sanitary a manner as possible.
  1) You must be willing to taste your own chili.
  2) Cooking conditions are subject to inspection.
e. Be prepared in the open (no motor homes, closed tents, etc.).

My recipe:

2 1/2 Lbs Tri-Tip Beef
1 8oz can of Hunts tomato sauce
1 14.5oz can of Swansons beef broth
1/2 can of Swansons chicken broth
1 beef bouillon cube
1 chicken bouillon cube
3 Tbsp Gebhardt chili powder
1 Tbsp New Mexico pepper powder
1 Tbsp Chipotle pepper powder
1/2 Tbsp Serrano pepper powder
1/2 Tbsp Ancho pepper powder
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp Mexican oregano
1 Tbsp brown sugar


The reason you see pepper powder in most Texas recipes is that you can have consistent results every time you make a batch. Fresh peppers differ in ripeness, taste etc. Plus, the original cowboys didn't have room for a ton of fresh vegetables that would just dry out on the trail in a few days anyway!
If your store doesnt carry a selection of finely ground peppers, you can make your own using a coffee grinder and dried pepper pods found in just about any grocery store, usually with the Hispanic foods. Be sure that you will never want to use this grinder for anything else again because it will taste like peppers forever.

The first thing you want to do to remove the stems from the peppers.

Spilt the peppers lengthwise and remove all the seeds.

Cut the skins up into little pieces that will fit in the coffee grinder.

Grind into a fine powder. It sometimes takes a couple passes to get it really fine. If your peppers are still relatively pliable, you can dry them out more by putting them on a baking sheet in the oven for a few minutes, but watch them carefully!

These powders can be stored for a while but keep in mind they do lose their flavor and spice level if left too long. I will talk about types of peppers in a minute.


Meat selection is very important for Texas style chili. You will find that out of all the winning recipes dating back decades, very rarely do they use any form of ground beef. What you want is a stew meat like chuck. Many competition chili cooks have found that tri-tip is a very good meat to use as well, based on its texture and taste. You can get any meat you want ground, but request that it be 3/8 inch "coarse" grind, which is actually also known as "chili" grind. Depending on the grocery store, it may already be available in the meat coolers.

When meat is ground, it shortens the connecting fibers and it requires lesss time to break down and make it more tender. True Texas chili is cooked for a few hours and small tender meat will become mush.
I use tri-tip, which is very hard to find, but Trader joe's has it occasionally.

You ideally want to cut the meat into 1/4 to 1/2 inch cubes. I go even smaller for my recipe based on personal preference.

Put all the meat into a large frying pan and begin cooking it on low heat. If it gets too hot too quick, the connective fibers contract too much and it creates really tough meat.

When the meat starts to grey, drain as much liquid as you can from it and coat the pieces with the onion powder.

Cook / sear until the pieces start getting little its of almost-burned brown spots on them.

Transfer the meat into a large pot.


There is an insane amount of different peppers one can use for chili, but the most favored and often used in Texas chili is the New Mexico. The others are where it all comes to personally pereference. Experiment. There is more to hot peppers than just Habanero and Ghost.
I use a combination of New Mexico, Ancho for its fruitiness, Serrano for its spice level and Chipotle for its slight smokiness.
I also use Gebhardt chili powder bcause it was one of the first commercially available chili powders, first sold in 1896, and out of the 40 or so chili recipes on the ICS site itself, there only about 5 that don't use Gebhardt's. It's both a tradition and a delicious ingredient that blows all other commercially available chili powders away.
When it comes to oregano, look specifically for Mexican oregano. There is a big difference between the Mexican stuff and the stuff you use for Italian dishes.
I throw one chicken and one beef bouillon cube into the pot both for flavor and as an MSG additive. It's a sneaky trick for competiton chili chefs to get the judges craving more of their batch.
You cant have chili with cumin, and garlic powder is self explanitory.

Put all the spices besides the bouillon cubes and brown sugar into a small bowl and mix it up.


Back to the pot. Add the broths, tomato sauce and bouillon cubs to the meat.
Take HALF of the spices from the seperate bowl and add them.

Stir everything around and make sure the meat is mostly submersed.

Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer, enough to create small bubbles on surface, but not a rolling boil.
Cook for one and a half hours, stirring occasionally.

Add the other half of the spices. This is done because the fiest half was meant to cook into the meat, this second half will be the initial contact flavor that stays with the sauce and hits your tongue first. A lot of competition chefs go even further and divide their spice dumps into 3, leaving the last one until just before turning in their sample to the judges.

Cook for another hour and a half, stirring occasionally.
This is the point where you see the sauce start to thicken a bit.

The consistency of the perfect bowl of Texas chili should be enough to stand a spoon in the pot and have it slowly fall over. You don't want a soup, but you also don't want a paste.
When there is about 30 minutes remaining, add a tablespoon of brown sugar.

The sugar is the final thickener but it also pulls all of the flavors together, adds another flavor level (sweet) and gets rid of any bitterness caused by the peppers or cumin.

Cook for the last half hour and then congrats, IT'S DONE!!!!