Chunky Chili?

by Ben Miller

For a dish so simple, I can never seem to make a chili that I’m thoroughly pleased with. Usually I just combine a mixture of ground beef, chili powder, a few types of beans, some hot peppers, tomatoes, and a few other seasonings, but that never really seems to produce anything all that great.

So for the Super Bowl I decided to try making chili from a recipe. I ended up going with this one from Simply Recipes. I did so because 1) it seemed rather uncomplicated, and 2) it used whole meat rather than ground. Every chili I’d ever made (and all that I can recall tasting) were made with ground beef, so I was curious how this would turn out.

Overall, I thought it was ok. Better than most of my previous efforts, but it still didn’t feel like I had really created a fantastic chili. (If you’ve got a recipe for one and would like to share it, post it in the comments).

Chili Con Carne

Adapted from Simply Recipes

  • 2 Tbsp red chili powder (I used McCormick’s Mexican chili powder)
  • 1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder (I didn’t have any, so instead I crushed up some piquin peppers that I had bought Ezra from Penzey’s)
  • 1 Tbsp ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
  • 3-4 Tbsp water
  • 4 strips bacon
  • One 2 1/2 pound chuck roast, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • Salt
  • 1 medium white onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 jalapeño chili peppers, stems removed, seeded, ribs removed, minced ( never take seeds and stems out, you’re putting hot peppers in there for a reason!)
  • 1 14-oz can whole tomatoes
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 14-oz can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 14-oz can white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch, dissolved in a couple tablespoons of water (due to dietary restrictions for one of the people I was feeding, I used flour instead, more on why this didn’t work so well later)
  • salt


  1. Combine the chili powders, cumin, oregano, coriander, thyme, and water together. You are basically making a chili paste
  2. Cook the bacon on a skillet until it turns crunchy (throw on a few extra strips for a snack too). When done, remove the bacon and reserve the fat.
  3. Put some of the fat back in the pan and cook the beef in batches, browning all sides and adding salt and pepper. I tried doing this on high heat so that I would only sear the outside, but I think I overcooked it a little bit, because by the time the chili was done I still wished the meat had been a little bit tenderer.
  4. Remove the beef from the skillet, add more bacon fat. Then add the onions, garlic, and jalapenos. Cook for a few minutes, and then add the chili paste. Cook for a few minutes more so that the onions can incorporate the flavors.
  5. Put the meat, onions/garlic/pepper mixture into either  a Dutch oven or large pot. Add in the water, tomatoes (crush them with your hands as you put them in), lime juice, sugar and water. Also crumble the bacon and add it in. Raise the heat so that the whole mixture simmers, cover, and cook for 90 minutes.
  6. The original recipe calls for putting the beans in at the very end, I added them after the 90 minutes. Either way, uncover the chili and let it cook for another 30 minutes.
  7. I found the chili at this point to be pretty thin, so I dissolved slightly more flour than the recipe called for in corn starch (I believe that in general corn starch thickens better, though I can’t confirm this). Unfortunately, the flour really didn’t seem to be doing much as a thickener, and the end result was still pretty thin. Adding cheese and sour cream did help this somewhat. The other problem with flour is that it gave the dish a gravy-like brown color.
  8. If you haven’t added in the beans, do so here and make sure the mixture is nice and hot. Also taste it and see if it needs more salt or anything. Serve with cheese, sour cream, or whatever else you like on your chili.

So what would I have done again? Probably smaller chunks of meat cooked even quicker. More hot peppers to give it more heat. Slightly less water so that it is not as soupy, and I would probably use cornstarch instead.

I know someone out there must have a delicious chili recipe. Anyone want to share?


13 responses to “Chunky Chili?

  1. First of all, beans??? If it has beans in it, it’s not chili, it’s stew.

  2. I don’t really have a chili recipe… whatever is laying around my fridge seems to dictate the ingredients. There are some things I like to do though…

    – I prefer to use pureed corn or beans to thicken chili
    – I also like to roast veggies, puree, and use that as base. Salt/pepper/olive oil and just broil tomatoes, peppers, etc.
    – I’d use a chicken stock instead of water, but tend to use other liquids (like pureed veggies)
    – I do like to deglaze with a beer and cook that liquid down before adding my other liquids.
    – If you have the chance to pick up some whole dried peppers, throw one or two of those in the there when you add the liquid. Great flavor.
    – Hot sauces are a great way to change the flavor when you are close to down but still not satisfied.
    – Chili is rarely amazing after two hours — and it’s always better the next day.

  3. There are three biggies I see in there,

    1) Make your own chili powder. Make your own chili powder. Make your own Chili powder. Make your own Chili Powder. Make your own Chili powder. Here’s one recipe, variations are easy.

    I’ve done both, and home-made chili powder just adds a ton more flavor.

    1a) Chipotle powder doesn’t have the kick of whole chipotles. Get a can of CHipotles in Adobo sauce, and chop up a couple of those, or take the whole can and make a paste. Though it’s harder to measure the heat when it’s a paste.

    2) You probably needed to cook it longer. Chuck gets more tender the longer it braises, so let it go. I doubt you over cooked it when you browned it, since it’s just going to get overcooked and broken down in the Chili. If you have a pressure cooker, toss it all in that and let it go.

    3) Use more flavorful liquids. You can sub in any liquid for another, beer works well, as would stock.

    Also a thickening trick, throw in some crumbled tortilla chips instead of a starch, this will also thicken nicely, but make sure to do final seasoning after you thicken.

  4. One thing I do is cooking the meat whether it’s stew beef (my preference) or hamburger is adding seasoning, usually cumin and the peppers, to the meat while it browns. This is in addition to the salt and pepper of course.

  5. chargeorge hit the biggie, which is to cook it FOREVER if you’re using whole beef. (That’s why ground beef chili is so different from Texas chili. I love them both, but they’re different beasts.) According to a recipe a friend gave me on pot roast from Cook’s Illustrated when I was complaining that, having never made pot roast, I decided to try it and it wasn’t as tender as I’d have liked, chuck needs to get to temperature and then, most importantly, stay at temp for about two – three hours to break down nicely. I’d add an hour to your cooking time.

    If you’re going to use flour to thicken, use a roux. If you don’t feel like making a roux, use instant blend flour (such as Wondra). I have a canister of instant blend that lasts me about three years. All purpose flour really needs fat to be palatable as a thickening agent, whether as a roux or a beurre manee (however that’s spelled). Yes, you can make a slurry with flour, but I never like the results much. And, as you noted, it doesn’t have as much thickening power as a slurry as it does when it’s a roux. No, I don’t know the science behind that. But it’s true. (Being color blind, I admit that I don’t notice the color as much…)

    However, masa is traditional. I know Alton Brown used crumbled tortilla strips. I never have masa around, but have had success using a small amount of corn meal. I tend not to use the coarse corn meal I use for polenta, but the fine stuff I use for corn bread. Add that for the last 15 minutes of cooking. You won’t taste or even feel it, but it will bind the chili nicely.

    I also find that I like a touch more acidity in my chili, but like it sweet, too. I find a hit of balsamic vinegar added to taste for the last half hour of cooking helps a ton. Then I’ll use honey or cider vinegar to balance the taste at the end as needed.

    And, sacrilege though it is, I like about a half pound of frozen sweet corn added for the last 15 minutes of cooking, too. For some reason, the little bites of sweetness perks up the chili just enough, and the starch it releases does thicken it nicely. Yes, this is better in the summer if you get it off fresh corn. But I’m a fan of frozen corn for these purposes, and it’s way easier.

    Finally, I’m not a purist. But the beans don’t add much to the flavor, and do present cooking timing issues, so I always serve them on the side. Pinto beans are traditional. Conveniently, I have plenty of time for a quick soak and cook them at the same time as the chili.

    Note that Texas chili really is a chili stew, as opposed to ground beef chili, which is more like a sauce. So any techniques you routinely use for stew will work for Texas chili, while any techniques you routinely use for tomato sauce will work for the other kind of chili. I love them both, but they really are different dishes.

  6. I generally use a mixture of ground meat and sausage, whether it’s ground turkey and sweet italian sausage, ground chicken and chorizo, or ground beef and andouille.

    I like to make my own chilli powder, just by grinding up variety of different dried chilis. After cooking the meat and the onions and peppers (i like to used seeded poblanos or serranos), I deglaze it with beer (something like a brown ale), then i add some crushed tomatoes from a can. The key for me is to constantly add chili powder (and other spices) throughout the cooking process.

    I sometimes add chocolate and/or a bit of brown sugar as well. I also like to set aside the seeds i take out of the chilis to add later if more heat should be needed.

  7. Midwest Product

    For a dish so simple, I can never seem to make a chili that I’m thoroughly pleased with. Usually I just combine a mixture of ground beef, chili powder, a few types of beans, some hot peppers, tomatoes, and a few other seasonings, but that never really seems to produce anything all that great.

    Maybe this was an oversight, but I don’t see any mention here of onion and garlic. That’s the base I would start a ‘conventional’ chili with (i.e., cook some diced onion and garlic together in a pan, then add the meat & seasonings, then the tomatoes and beans, etc).

    Also, others have mentioned adding a little bit of a sweetener, like brown sugar or chocolate. To that list I would add cinnamon as a valid option.

  8. @Midwest Product Sorry I always lump onion and garlic in with salt and pepper as a given, so I didn’t include it.

  9. My latest chili recipe is a new favorite, using Rancho Gordo Pinquitos. I just made another batch of it, and enjoyed it last night. I can’t get enough of the stuff!!

    Steve Sando from Rancho Gordo sent me a very nice email complimenting me on it as well – a fact that has me swooning.

    You can view my Chili con Carne recipe here.


    ~ Paula

  10. Other commenters already have most of the keys down (make your own chili powder, use sausage, cook forever), although they forgot to warn against the use of the the merciless peppers of Quetzlzacatenango.

    My favorite recipe comes from Cold Weather Cooking, which uses three types of meat, four types of beans, 2 bottles of beer, and allows for plenty of experimentation to build on. After I complete the recipe, instead of simmering on the stove, I usually transfer to a crock pot and cook on high for four hours or low for eight.

  11. Your quest is for something simple. All of the above is too complicated. (Cornstarch?!) I recommend starting with a vegetarian recipe — basically a bunch of beans, tomatoes, spices, and onions/garlic — and then building from there.

  12. I second the cinnamon recommendation. And even though I am an avid meat-eater, I really prefer my chili vegetarian. (I know that sounds like sacrilege.) This is how I make it, although this “recipe” is more like a starting point. I change it up every time I make it a little bit.

  13. Funny that this post and recipe was right before your post in my reader.

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