HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


Chili Ideas

I'm going to a chili cook-off next month and I'm looking for some ideas that'll set mine apart. I've only made chili a couple times and both times they were pretty traditional - ground beef, chili powder, canned tomatoes etc. One idea I had was to do a mix of meats - some ground chuck, and also braise some whole beef short ribs on the bone in the chili and shred the meat at the end. I'm not sure how this would work texture-wise in a chili so I'd be curious to find out if someone else has tried this. My other idea was to add in some veal demiglace at the end, just to up the meaty factor a little bit more.

Any other chili tips?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Based on my experience, albeit quite limited, in making chili.

    Don't use ground beef. Get a chuck roast and cube it into 1/2 inch pieces. Brown the pieces a few a handful a time first.

    Don't use pre-made chile powder. I use around 4-5 different types of ground chiles, anchos, chipotles, guajillo, cayenne, and also a few dried habaneros. All the different chiles bring a different flavor to the chili. Some are upfront spicy and some are back of the throat spicy and others just have good background flavor. I also add in mexican oregano, toasted/crushed cumin seeds, paprika and garlic (sometimes an onion too) . Occasionally I'll add some bottled hot sauce too.

    I personally don't use tomatoes. Just beef, broth/water, and spices. If it needs to be thickened at the end, I stir on alittle bit of masa harina. Enough to thicken it but careful not to add too much or it will get a gritty texture.

    My cooking goes like this. Brown beef. Then saute onion and garlic till soft. Add in 2/3 of total chile mixture and saute for a minute or two. Add beef to pot and cover with broth. Simmer for an hour partially covered. Add second dose of spices and simmer till tender, maybe another hour. Then add some masa harina to thicken.

    1 Reply
    1. re: ESNY

      I toast my chilis and then soak. When they have completely softened put them in to a jar of a blender with a little of the soaking liquid and puree. Strain in to the pot with the meat. Rinse out the blender jar with some more of the soaking liquid and finish straining. This removes any of the skin that might bring a bitter element to the pot. I do this when making posole and some salsas too. I like to give my Mexican oregano a little toasting in the skillet and crumble it into the chili. It brings out a bit more flavor.

      On the dried chilis, if you have never cooked with them before, stem them and split open and remove the seeds and veins. Toast in a dry cst iron skillet flipping to toast the inside and out before doing the soak. Another flavor element is to fry the chili puree in some hot oil before adding to the pot.

    2. For red chili I have been experimenting with adding chorizo - gives a nice red color and adds depth to the beef flavor. About 1/8 - 1/4 of your total meat weight seems about right to me.

      Pork green chili may be unusual depending on which part of the country you are from. I love it with lots of cilantro added right at the end.

      1. I always used braised meat, my favorite is brisket. I will also start with some type of spicy sausage, usually Italian but that's because that's what I usually have around. For a contest that would probably be enough, but for home, I like to use all the leftover ends of roasts that I freeze just for this purpose. I like the meat shredded; the pressure cooker is good to do just the meat beforehand. Then I add all kinds of weird things, like beer, tequila, lime juice, horseradish, cocoa, you name it.

        1. My best chili includes splitting open a couple spicy sausages (chorizo, usually) and including the sausage meat in with the ground beef.

          1. I have a recipe with red wine in it, really adds another note. Though some would say it's not chili, as it has beans in it also. :)

            Also maybe experiment with a small amount of ground pork in the meat mixture? Or even lamb.

            2 Replies
            1. re: JGrey

              Chili which doesn't have beans is more properly called "chile colorado".

              1. re: Sharuf

                Chili that has beans is more properly called bean soup.

            2. Before I made my last batch of chili, I got a few pounds of beef neckbones (they were really cheap and I was curious) and cooked them in a slow oven braise. Got a good deal of intense, gummy broth and some slightly-chewy meat (oh, and a huge pile of depleted bones!). I was thinking beef and noodles, but my wife said "CHILI!!" so that was that. Made the chili as usual with coarse-ground chili meat and a bag of Carroll Shelby's fixin's (from whose directions I deviate by frying the chili powder before adding liquid), used the neckbone broth for part of the liquid, and added the neck meat at the end when I put in the beans (as I must, according to She Who Must Be Obeyed). There was no stunning difference, but an undeniable richness and depth overall - it was a much more substantial and filling dish.

              1. I agree about using cubes or slices of beef rather than ground. I brown separately and add at the end so the meat doesn't get overcooked and tough.

                I've used kidney beans and black beans, I feel most comfortable with kidney.

                I always make chili with lots of sweet green pepper slices and lots of cumin. I had a friend who's wife made it this way and I really liked it, don't know if it's a regional style.

                5 Replies
                1. re: steinpilz

                  Chili contests don't usually allow beans, check the rules.

                  1. re: coll

                    Sorry, I was speaking "non-contestually" (have I coined a new term?). The sweet green pepper and cumin are a great combo though.

                    1. re: coll

                      Chili contests seem to be a culture unto themselves, and have nothing to do with what we folks in the real world think of when we're cravin' a bowl of red.

                      1. re: Sharuf

                        I guess I live in a parallel universe, I always hated beans in my chili especially when there's more beans than meat. I used to sit there and pick out every bean before I would eat it. Most times there'd be hardly anything left! I can tolerate them a lot more lately, but not too many please.

                        1. re: coll

                          Haha. I had to laugh, I'm a vegetarian and make a wicked untraditional chili. :) I however, can never seem to pick the meat out!

                  2. The most amazing chili I have ever made came from Paul Prudhomme's Seasoned America...Texas Chili (Texas Red). Will take some time and effort and many ingredients. The problem with this is that it is filled with fat, and will take some adaption (would have to see it to understand). This could be accomplished several ways...by cutting down the amount of salt pork, or making and giving it some time in the refridg to allow fat to raise and to remove it.

                    It is layered with various chili peppers and other seasonings...it calls for many chopped vegetables such as onions and peppers, tomatoes, celery, garlic, etc....it calls for lots of slow cooking and scraping the bottom of the pot where so much flavor is created several times...well worth finding this cookbook at your library if available.

                    This is a wow way to a winning chili...but not something one should take on without reviewing the recipe...

                    As I said, draw back is the fat..but something well worth looking at!

                    1. I once made chili with oxtails and black beans. I don't usually add beans to my chili, but in this case the beans helped bind the fat that is inherent in an oxtail braise.


                      1. Is the cookoff an International Chili Society cookoff qualifier, or a local fun event? The ICS judges take their job pretty seriously, and the winners have always used whole beef (i.e. not ground), and definitely no beans. From there, it's personal preference, though in the competitions in which I participated hot won out over balanced flavour for judges choice. Our team consistently won people's choice award, though. It was more approachable.

                        Good ingredients included beer, chuck roast or other braising cut, good quality canned tomatoes (Italian brands), fresh spices such as chili powder, cumin, fresh ground pepper (not ones that have been sitting in your kitchen cupboard for a few months), lots of onion, lots of garlic. Slow cooking is good, but I suggest timing your recipe and cooking process to comply with the competition guidelines.

                        Our team developed our recipe by each preparing our own concoctions then having our own blind taste test to determine not only which chili we preferred, but what specific qualities we liked. From there we created a recipe we all liked. Since we were a bunch of marketing people, we also created a theme, logo, aprons with logo, designed our booth to fit the theme, and a song and dance to go with it all. We were in it for fun, and did we have fun!

                        Best of luck!

                        1. One suggestion I'd second is to reduce the tomoto type ingredients and use more of other liquid-ish stuff - like beer or even wine.
                          Basil tastes pretty good in chili.

                          The best improvement I made to my chili was to season several times along the way. ESNY made a mention of this type of thing - but I take it to the extreme with good results.

                          So I brown the meat, adding some chili mixture/powder about half way through. Then I add peppers, and stir in some more chili powder and let that cook a bit. Then add onions - same thing. Then garlic - same thing. Tomatoes - same, etc etc. Whatever ingredients your using, add them one at a time, along with a nice coating of whatever chili spice mixture you're using.

                          1. I usually render some uncured slab bacon in a big pot to get started. Then I add my meat, I usually use a stew cut of some kind (pork or beef) rather than ground meat. I brown the meat in batches, because if you're making a lot of chili and add the meat all at once it braises/poaches rathers than browns. I set the meat aside when the browning is done and start with my onions and garlic, when the onions are translucent I add my first round of fresh chilies (serrano, scotch bonnet, habanero) and chile powder (I used a custom blend that I toast just before I use). When everything is nice and fragrant I put the meat back in the pot and cover with a couple of bottles of beer (I like Negra Modelo or Anchor Steam), bring to a simmer and add some stock or water.

                            I'm on the fence about whether to add beans or tomato. I know a real Texas style chili historically doesn't have either, but when I make chili for myself I like it better with a little of both (and I like small red beans rather than kidney beans or black beans). For competition no beans, and I use less tomato than most recipes call for. One year I poached a few tomatillos, pureed and added to my chili for extra "bright" dimension. Sometimes I roast poblanos and/or some fresh New Mexican reds and chop add to the chili in the last hour to 45 minutes of simmering. Mexican chocolate is also a good addition...used sparingly. I also, like ESNY, add a slurry of masa harina at the end, especially if I'm doing a pork chili.

                            The one thing with chili is that a) it's always better a couple of days after you make it, so start early, and b) NEVER stop re-seasoning it, I find that a chili loses it's heat over time and I have to constantly add more chilies (fresh and powdered).

                            1. i don't cook for contests, but i've loved going to them!

                              i love using cocoa, brewed coffee and cinnamon in my chili - fresh onion and garlic and good quality chili spices (chiles, chili powder, cumin, etc) are a must.

                              1. Did a chili cookoff a couple of years ago, lots of research and prep. Didn't place of course, but made the best chili I have ever tasted.

                                Took the chili-grind beef and basically made a chorizo from it, using the spices for a good texas red recipe.

                                Added demi-glace and brisket pan drippings for deep beef flavor.

                                Smoked some of the ingredients: garlic, onion, fresno chilis.

                                Soaked Mex. oregano in beer for a couple of days in advance.

                                Sea salt.

                                New Mexico red chilis for the base flavor/color.

                                When the chili is to the point that it's almost where you want it, some smoked Spanish paprika gets it done.

                                1. As suggested above,check to see if there are rules.

                                  If not,and they are not experienced judges,cook to your locale.

                                  i.e. the midwest may like kidney beans and tomatoes,the southwest might lean to pinto beans-or none at all.

                                  Here is the website for CASI,and you might browse the winners recipes for ideas.


                                  Keep in mind that comp chili may not be what we serve at home.

                                  If you are out near the left coast,you may lean towards the ICS bunch.


                                  Like many types of cooking,what we leave out of a recipe may be more important than what we try to force in.

                                  Hope this helps a little.


                                  1. This isn't a licenced chili cookoff or anything like that. Just a bunch of friends getting together. So there are no rules really. Thanks everyone for all your suggestions. It sounds like what everyone agrees on is to use a custom blend of chiles and not chili powder and to use whole beef and not ground.

                                    Love the idea about adding some chorizo. My new plan of attack goes something like this: Brown short ribs all over in batches. Start browning some chorizo. Add 2 chopped onions, one green pepper, and several cloves of garlic. Cook till soft. Add a bottle or two of beer and cook down. Add some of the chili mixture - i will include some chipotles in adobo, fresno, poblano, cayenne, and plenty of toasted, ground cumin. Add beef stock, and small can of tomatoes, small can of beans and bring to simmer. Add beef back to pot. Simmer covered for about 2 hours, adding some more of the chili mixture part way through. Simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes or until desired consistency is reached. Take out ribs and cut meat into bit sized pieces. Add back to the pot. Season with salt, a couple spoonfuls of demi-glace, a little vinegar, a splash of tequilla, and more cayenne if necessary.

                                    I've compiled a lot of different people's ideas. My hope is for a bowl that balances the meaty, smoky flavors, with a good bit of acidity, and a little bit of a mystery, "what is that flavor", kind of thing from the beer and tequilla.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: hasday1

                                      Sounds like you've got it covered, hasday1! May I make a couple suggestions with your proposed method? Feel free to ignore them of course! I wouldn't add your green peppers (sweet?) right away with the onion, unless you want them to disintegrate in the chili. If you want them as another layer of flavor, then that's the way to go, but if you want some green and a bit of extra texture, add them in the last hour of simmering. They practically melt away if cooked too long.

                                      I cook in an "unregulated" chili cook off every year, and this year I went to the butcher and got a two inch thick, foot and a half across chuck steak. I cut the meat into very large cubes and made my chili, simmered for a good long time. But then, rather than removing the meat and cutting it later, I took two forks and shredded the meat. I got a lot of positive feedback on the texture, and everyone wanted to know how I did it. I appropriated the method from traditional Mexican cooking and a recipe I have for pork shoulder and Chile Colorado. With beef short ribs I think you'd have a very easy time of shredding the meat this way, I'm sure it will be incredibly tender.

                                    2. I like to add Jack Daniels -- a lot of it.

                                      1. I won second place with a recipe that included cocoa powder, molasses and cinnamon - not enough that anyone could identify what they were tasting but it really gave the chili a depth of flavor. I also use cube meat (shoulder roast) and no beans. I do add tomatoes. I was trying for a recipe with Mexican roots and tried to use traditional Mexican flavors like tomatoes, oregano, cilantro, dried ancho chilis, and the ingredients above.

                                        1. I add a cup of strong black coffee (usually Peet's French Roast or Arabian Mocha Java) to my red chilis... it adds a great layer of flavor, kinda rich and mildly "smokey."

                                          1. the secret ingredient in my family has always been chocolate or coffee in the chili, it adds a hint of flavor thats really hard to define. but its really good

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: RiJaAr

                                              Regarding adding chocolate, would you add toward the beginning of cooking, right when you add all of the liquid? how much cocoa in relation to meat? Would a tbsp per lb of meat be too much?

                                              1. re: hasday1

                                                Not sure what RiJaAr has to say about this, but I've added half a disc of Mexican chocolate to a very very large pot of chili in the past, and anymore would have been too much. Not sure what the weight/volume is on one disc, though. I added it when it was in the simmer stage as I was adjusting and re-adjusting seasonings.

                                                1. re: hasday1

                                                  well, now that you ask, you probably don't want to use a lot of chocolate, just a touch adds a depth of flavor. you don't want people to take a bite and go "wow, chocolate!" and i don't remember when mom added it to the chili. i don't make chili too often either. i would think not right at the beginning, but maybe about halfway through.
                                                  Usually i go the coffee route. about a 1/2 a cup of strong coffee in the simmering stage... or more or less to your tastes.
                                                  Actually i shouldn't say i never make chili, this thread inspired me and i'm whipping up a pot right now

                                              2. BTW, whats the favorite kind of chocolate to throw in the pot? i can't remember

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: RiJaAr

                                                  I've used a Mexican brand, Ibarra. I think Nestle has a Mexican chocolate as well, is it Abuelita?

                                                2. Got a good lesson in cooking for your audience.

                                                  I incorporated a lot of these ideas and came up with a GREAT chili. Nice consistency, nice slow heat, with some smokey flavor and great depth (if I must say so myself)... Unfortunately, I am here in Minnnesota (I'm a transplant) and am unfamiliar with chili practices here. I made sure to dial back the spice level and add some beans to appease the locals. Apparently I didn't do enough appeasing because I finished in second to last. Just goes to show you how much regional differences plays a part in when it comes to things like chili. For those who are interested, Minnesota chili apparently is very tomatoey, fairly sweet, and contains little to no actual chiles. It more resembles a lousy ragout that anything else. Win some you lose some. Thanks again for all your advice, it may not have netted me a medal, but I can now make a mean batch of chili. I'm gonna eat some right now!!

                                                  6 Replies
                                                  1. re: hasday1

                                                    sad to hear you say that - me being a chili fanatic and Minnesotan. I've never had a bowl of sweet lousy ragout 'round these parts. most that i've had and made have multiple kinds of chopped chilis and powders - sounds like you were in a bad group of judges.

                                                    1. re: lollya

                                                      I'm glad to hear your experiences with chili in MN have been better than mine. I just couldn't overlook how similar all the other chilis were. I just figured the other ones were the way Minnesotans like their chili. Glad to hear that this may have been an isolated incident.

                                                      1. re: hasday1

                                                        let's hope so!
                                                        Minnesota can be known for it's 'hotdish' - like food.

                                                        1. re: hasday1

                                                          You know, it's funny, I'm devoted to my chili recipe and have competed in chili cook offs, each time tweaking the recipe in the hopes that I'll win...and I've never placed either! At each contest I've always had a handful of foodies come up to me afterwards and tell me that mine was their favorite -- lots of layers of flavor, degrees of front and back heat, texture of the meat, etc. I don't want to trash talk my competitors, and it could be that my tastebuds are tired after a day of cooking (and tasting and adjusting) my chili, but I usually like mine best too! It's all good fun in any event. One day we'll win! You'll find yourself becoming more and more of a chili head after you have one cook off under your belt. Be warned!

                                                          1. re: ballulah

                                                            Yeah, I got a similar sort of response. There were a lot of confused looking faces peering into my crock of chili during the judging. Afterwards though, a few people that showed up to the event late, after the judging, were raving about my chili and how they didn't even think it was close.

                                                            It's one of those things - if I had it to do all over again, I'd probably make a pretty similar chili. My guess is that if I tried to make a chili that I thought other people would like, I'd still end up in last (and be stuck with a bunch of sucky leftovers).

                                                      2. re: hasday1

                                                        "Tomatoey, fairly sweet, and contains little to no actual chiles"?

                                                        Egads, you must have stumbled across the spaghetti sauce contest.

                                                      3. I'm suprised that nobody has mentioned my chili "secret weapon."

                                                        I know that beans are a controversial ingredient, but I use REFRIED BEANS to add complexity and flavour to my chili. That way, it is more nutritious (if that matters) and purists can't tell it's there by appearance alone!

                                                        1. At dinner yesterday someone suggested using soy as a "secret ingredient" that adds a nice base to chili. I wonder if anybody here has tried this and how it turned out. I also wonder how much you'd need to use.

                                                          1. For anyone interested in using beer in their chili recipe, this recent thread on BeerAdvocate has some brand suggestions that may be of help.


                                                            1. I made this for Superbowl, half with turkey, half w/ beef and pork, to satisfy the various -arians coming to the party... I know you weren't looking for a recipe, but the dark chocolate in this was really interesting...

                                                              1. I'm a purist; I don't believe chili contains tomatoes. I just can’t imagine vaqueros ropin’ and ridin’ the range with cans of Contadina clangin’ around the saddlebags.

                                                                I use small-diced pork butt (or beef) sautéed with lots of onions, garlic, yellow chilies, and Mexican oregano, salt/pepper and chili paste made from scratch with New Mexico and Ancho chilies.

                                                                Throw in some nopales and serve with flour tortillas.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: bkhuna

                                                                  But they always had cans of peaches for dutch oven cobbler :-)