Better Beef Chili

Mj 618_348_better beef chili
Judith Haeusler / Getty Images

Look, I'm not here to argue what makes a real chili. We all have our personal tastes and regional preferences, and throwing the concept of "authenticity" into this is pretty rich for a dish that for ages was just a brick of dried beef, peppers and suet. However, you can’t really go wrong with a classic "bowl of red" from Texas. A good chili con carne is one of those restorative dishes where you wonder how something so seemingly simple can get such deep flavors. It's also a dish that everyone seems to have a "secret" recipe for. So why not come up with your own?

Meat Matters
The ingredients for a good chili con carne are not complex, according to Kathleen Ryan of Tolbert's Chili restaurant in Grapevine, TX, and director of the World Chili Cook-Off in Terlingua. For Ryan, “coarsely ground boneless chuck tender” is the best beef to go with, and you want to make sure it’s good quality. Instead of buying it at the grocery store, ask your butcher to coarsely grind it for you. 

Simple Ingredients
Some people argue whether tomatoes have a place in a classic chili con carne, but Ryan finds a little tomato sauce adds a nice flavor to the braised beef, and keeps the "bowl of red" actually red. Other than that, ingredients are simple — onions, garlic, and "fresh anchos for making your own chili powder." Those can be lightly toasted in a skillet, ground, and added to your chili powder. (Which you remember how to make from last time, yes?)

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Just Say No to Olives
There are some things that always go with chili — cornbread, fritos, as much sour cream as your heart desires. And there are some things that just don’t. "Macaroni, celery, and black olives" are all things Ryan has seen people add to chili con carne. While experimentation is always fun, sometimes it’s best to stick to the classics.

This recipe comes courtesy of Terulinga Chili Champ Dorene Ritchey

Dorene Ritchey's 5-R Chili


  • 2 lbs cubed or coarsely ground boneless, trimmed beef (chuck or shoulder arm preferred)
  • 1 tbsp vegetable shortening
  • 1-½ tsp Hot sauce
  • 8 oz tomato sauce
  • 2 beef bullion cubes
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, skin surface slit
  • 6 tbsp chili powder (or to taste)
  • 4 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp white pepper
  • 3/8 tsp cayenne
  • ¼ tsp oregano
  • 1/8 tsp crushed bay leaf


Cook meat over medium heat in melted shortening until meat is gray in color. Add hot sauce, tomato sauce, bullion cubes, 1 jalapeño, and water to cover. Simmer, covered, 40 to 60 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add water if needed. When jalapeño is soft, squeeze in juice and discard pulp and seeds.

Mix together chili powder, cumin, onion, garlic, salt, white pepper, cayenne, oregano, and bay leaf; divide into 3 portions. Add one portion spice mixture and remaining jalapeño. Continue to cook for one hour, adding water as needed. Remove jalapeño, squeeze juice into chili and discard pulp and seeds. Add second portion of spice mixture. Continue cooking for another 30 minutes, adding water if needed. Add remaining spice mixture and cook 15 minutes more. (Chili should be kept thick during cooking. Adding too much water keeps the spices from permeating the meat.)

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