The History of Chili
Chili may be the most popular, enduring one-pot dish in American history. Texas loves it so much, they made it the official state food! Though there is no verified chili origin story, its Southwestern roots date back to the late 19th century, when folks in Texas started making chili because of its ease and frugality. It was so easy, establishments called “chili parlors” started to pop up—these parlors were usually housed in sheds where giant batches of chili were made and sold by the bowl (hence the nickname bowl o’red). The cheapness of the meal—which hovered around ten cents for a serving of chili, bread and water—meant that even the very poor had access to a hearty, filling dinner.
Texans were and are, understandably, quite proud of their favorite food. President Lyndon B. Johnson was a big chili lover and said that there was no authentic chili outside of the state. But if you’re from Midwestern states such as Ohio, Michigan or Pennsylvania, you may know the recipe for chili to be something entirely different. These thinner-style types of chili—popularly known as Cincinnati or Coney chili—often contain spices such as cinnamon or chocolate, and are the result of the great wave of Greek and Macedonian immigrants around the turn of the 20th century, who passed through Ellis Island in New York. After encountering hot dog stands on the East coast, they settled further west and started their own hot dog shops where they topped their dogs with a sweet and spicy tomato-based meat sauce. It shared enough similarities to chili that it began to take on the same name.
Types of Chili
Being an easy, filling and inexpensive meal that can be made in large quantities certainly explains chili’s popularity, but it’s also one of the most divisive foods out there—heated debates still rage on about what’s in a classic bowl of chili. Some of the most well-known takes out there are:
Texas-Style Chili: This is one of the country’s oldest and most traditional chili recipes, y’all! The “bowl o’ red” is known for its hearty and spicy beef and chile peppers base—no beans allowed!
Beef and Bean Chili: Outside of Texas, a bowl of this recipe is commonplace and frequents Game Day parties throughout the fall and winter. It gets its flavor from a beef, bean and tomato base.
Cincinnati/Coney Chili: This is the Mediterranean-inspired, spiced meat sauce that often tops hot dogs (Coney), spaghetti (Cincinnati) or even pizza.
White Chicken Chili: This type of chili uses chicken rather than beef, omits the tomatoes and uses white beans for a pale-in-color version of traditional chili. It’s often made creamy with the addition of cream cheese or sour cream.
How to Make Chili
Regardless of your definition of chili, most of us can agree on one thing: however you make it, chili is delicious. Really, there’s no hard-and-fast rule when it comes to the ingredients you need—personalizing your chili is part of the fun. There’s a reason it’s a hugely popular cook-off dish! That said, every meal has a few essential ingredients. To make a basic batch of chili, you’ll need the following:
- A protein: Ground beef is a popular choice, but you can also use ground turkey, chuck roast or shredded chicken. If you’re looking for a meat-free option, you can even use tofu and extra beans. To decide quantity, a good rule of thumb is to estimate 1/3 pound of meat per person and scale the rest of your recipe accordingly.
- Veggies: You can use almost any kind you want. Typically, most recipes call for an onion, a few peppers and then one or two other vegetables such as corn, celery or carrots.
- Tomato and bean base: A crucial element of basic chili is a hearty base. Depending on where you’re from, this is often made from tomatoes and beans. You can use a couple cans of undrained diced tomatoes and if you’re using beans, common types include kidney or black beans.
- Spices: Spices are a must in chili! The best way to find a spice mixture for chili is to make it to your taste and to add more throughout the cooking process. Mix and match two or three from this list: chili powder, cumin, oregano, ground chipotle peppers and cayenne. If you like it spicier, choose more peppers. If you like it milder, go with the cumin and oregano.
Bye, dirty dishes! Chili is the ultimate one-pot dish, so whip out your favorite stockpot, slow cooker, or our personal favorite, a big Dutch oven. Size is the most important element: You will need a big pot to have room to stir, especially if you’re making a large batch. Other than that, you will need a sharp knife and cutting board to chop your veggies, and a mixing spoon to combine the ingredients. That’s it!
The Cooking Process
So, when should you start making your chili? This is a dish that only gets better the more you simmer it; it’s hard to really overcook. So the earlier you can start in the day, the better!
The first step is to cook your meat. You can use a skillet for this step, or a Dutch oven. If you’re using a Dutch oven, you can cook it right in the pot over medium heat—ground beef and ground turkey
are particularly easy—just stir and break up the chunks as they cook. If you’re using chuck roast, make sure all sides of the cubes are seared dark brown before moving on. One super-easy shortcut for chili is to use shredded rotisserie chicken; if your protein is precooked like this, you’ll want to wait and add it with the tomatoes and beans.
Once your protein is cooked, drain if necessary and add your vegetables. Cook for a few minutes or until they start to soften. Then add your spices and stir until everything is coated!
At this point, a dark, sticky crust may begin to form on the bottom of your pan. Deglaze the pan by adding a bit of liquid. Broth is a popular choice here, but you can also use stock, water, red wine or even beer. The mixture will begin to bubble up and you can scrape up the crust until it’s all gone.
Add the rest of your liquid next. If in doubt, use a broth that matches your protein. Let it simmer at this point on low heat for an hour or so. If it looks quite soupy, don’t panic! This is normal. It’ll thicken up as it cooks.
After an hour of cooking, add your tomatoes and beans and continue to simmer. Your chili is technically done now. However, the flavors will continue to deepen. For more complex flavors, let the chili simmer on low heat for up to six hours. Keep tasting, and take it off the heat when it’s to your liking.
It can sit waiting to be served for up to an hour, but if it is going to an event much later, it should be refrigerated. You can put your cooled Dutch oven right in the refrigerator! Arguably, leftover chili is even better the day after cooking because the flavors have even more time to sit.
First time making chili? Here’s one of our best chili recipes to get you started!
Don’t have a ton of time? It’s possible to make skillet chili that’s ready to serve in 15 minutes with just 4 ingredients (really!). Or, just let the slow cooker do all the work for you.