You Know Nothing Chili

You Know Nothing Chili

So many moons ago (let’s say 15-20 years ago), I thought I made bad-ass chili. I made it super hot and super chunky and folks said they liked it. Maybe they did. Maybe they were being kind. But as Ygritte was fond of saying: “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”

Now I know better and also realize that making awesome chili is a journey, not a destination. My chili now is better – much better, but I don’t think the journey is fully complete yet. One secret I did learn from my amazing wife Susan was that the chunks don’t matter – it’s the chili liquid (is there a word for that?). Strive to give that deep red broth a serious depth of flavor and just a touch of heat – everything else will follow.

So here is my current chili recipe – it’s a riff off one of the great recipes from Cook’s Illustrated, modded over the years into our chili. Enjoy!

This recipe make a pretty big pot of chili – enough for three-four dinners for the two of us and yes, it freezes very well.


  • 1 1/4C dried pinto beans
  • 1 can red kidney beans
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 (28oz) can of crushed or diced tomatoes
  • 6 dried ancho chilis
  • 4 dried de arbol chilis
  • 3 T cornmeal
  • 2 t oregano
  • 2 t cumin
  • 2 t cocoa powder
  • 2 t molases
  • 2 1/2 C chicken stock (or broth)
  • 2 large onions, diced
  • 3 jalapeño pepper, diced (seeds removed)
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 4 garlic gloves, minced
  • 3 lbs rib eye steaks, ideally 3/4″ thick
  • 1 1/2 lb ground chuck
  • 1 bottle/can pilsner beer
  • Salt, pepper, chili power and cayenne power for seasoning

Start by pulling out your large chili pot and setting it on the stove. Add 3-4 quarts of water, a hefty pinch of salt and your dried pinto beans. Bring it to a boil, then cover, remove from heat and let stand for 90 minutes. This is a quick brine done in lieu of soaking them overnight.

While the beans are soaking, stem and de-seed your ancho chilis and tear them into roughly 1″ squares. Heat a large heavy frying pan to medium high and put in the chilis and toss them to release their aroma. Don’t let them smoke but get them close. This will take 6-8 minutes – when done, pour them into your food processor.

Add to the processor the de arbol chilis (stemmed and seeded) – these are the spicy ones. Add in the cornmeal, oregano, cocoa, cumin and a pinch of salt. Pulse and blend until you’ve got it into a nice powder. With the processor running, slowly pour in a 1/2 C of chicken stock until it forms into a thick paste. Use a spatula to transfer the past into a small bowl – this is your homemade alternative to chili power, and it’s a game changer!

After the beans have soaked, drain them in a colander and set aside. At this time, I’ll also open, drain and rinse the canned black beans and kidney beans – I’ll transfer those to a bowl separate from the pinto beans, since the pintos need to cook longer. I’ll just use a paper towel to dry out the chili pot and get it back on the stove.

Dice up the onions, jalapeños and peppers – I like a chunky dice, but you do you on the size. Heat 2T of oil in your chili pot to medium high and add the veggies and sweat them down a bit until they start to turn translucent. Add in the garlic and stir until fragrant – just about a minute. Now add in your chili paste, canned tomatoes and molasses and stir to combine. Next, pour in 2C of chicken stock and your pinto beans and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Low and slow from here on out!

Now is a great time to dice and trim your rib eye meat (or whatever cut you are using) – I dice into about 3/4″ cubes and then season the pile with salt and pepper.

Take however much ground beef you are using and heat up your frying pan and brown it, breaking it up into large chunks. Lightly season with salt and pepper. When browned, use a slotted spoon to transfer the ground beef to the chili pot and stir to combine. Drain off all but about 2T of the beef grease.

Working in two-three batches, add in your rib eye chunks and toss to brown, then use the slotted spoon to transfer to the chili pot. I try to get a nice dark caramelization on the beef chunks. When done with the meat, I’ll use about 1/2 of the can/bottle of beer to deglaze the pan and add that goodness to the chili. I’ll take a swing or two of the beer and pour the rest into the chili pot, stir and adjust the temperature so that it’s just simmering with the lid on.

Let cook for at least 90 minutes to two hours, stirring occasionally. After about 90 minutes, I use a small spoon to sample and taste the broth. I’ll adjust seasonings with salt, pepper, cayenne pepper and store-bought chili power if needed (not much adjustment is needed). At about the two hour mark, I’ll add in the black beans and kidney beans and cook for at least 30 minutes more. If it looks too dry (it probably won’t), just add some additional chicken stock.

Pro tip: this chili is actually better if you cook it the day before – say cook on a Saturday then eat on Sunday. Just put the whole pot in the fridge (after it’s cooled down) and pull out on Sunday – add what your are going to eat into a medium saucepan and rehydrate with a little chicken stock. Spoon the rest into some Tupperware and freeze for an upcoming tase weekday meal!

We serve ours with raw chopped onion, a dollop of sour cream and some shredded cheddar cheese in each bowl and then serve with oyster crackers and a cold beer. Holy cow!

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