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What makes a good chili?

Just went to a chili cookoff.. I'm not really much of a chili expert but I found myself wondering what makes a good chili? I'd love to try my hand at making some now. It was also interesting to see what people put in them. Someone added apricots and cinnamon to their chili..
So what makes a great bowl of chili? Anything interesting you use to make your chili different from everyone else's?

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  1. As a chili "purist" I would have to say NO BEANS! In Texas the real chili does not have beans! I think the beans came about during the depression to stretch the budget.

    Having said that, I won't give you my recipe, but I will say that good meat, leftover black coffee, beef broth, and a bit of bakers chocolate make my chili really good! You should look at some authentic Mexican chili recipes for more ideas.

    1. I've tasted a few chili-cookoff chilis, and much of it has been edible, some pretty good...but I remain convinced that the recipe that comes with the Carroll Shelby brown-bag chili kit, very simple and straightforward, is about as good as you'll get. The only thing I do differently, and this I insist on, is that after the meat has browned I sprinkle the chili powder over it and stir and fry that for a while before adding any liquid.

      Anyone mentioning CHILI on any of these boards, as I'm sure we'll find out, is just asking for a lot of conflicting and very strong opinions: beans or no beans, tomatoes or not, onions or green chiles or not. I remain agnostic in that I'll use any or none of these things as I please, and whatever meat (beef, turkey, pork, whatever) I want at the moment. I would sooner open a can than face chili with apricots in it, or cinnamon if it comes to that, but it's your chili you're interested in, not mine. Make yourself happy.

      1. I like beans in my chili, as well as both ground and cubed meat (whether red or white chili). The various textures make for a better mouthfeel. I also use both fresh and dried peppers, which vary on availability and mood. And when making a good spicy red chili, my SO likes to add raisins for a touch of sweetness. I thought it was weird, but it's pretty darned good. Kind of like Cincinnati style, which uses cocoa and cinnamon.

        1. Enough heat to make it exciting, enough flavor to keep it interesting. My personal "secret ingredient" is chilpotle peppers in adobo sauce, the kind that come from Mexico in little cans. Plenty of flavor AND heat!

          1. My chili is never really the same twice but it always includes Guajillo chili peppers and sage.

            1. Cinnamon is a classic Cincinnati style chili ingredient. Where was the cookoff? Personally, I'm a fan of both Texas style chilis (larger pieces of meat, almost always beef and nothing else but spices) and Cincinnati style with a finer ground beef, tomato and, usually, cinnamon and often served with pasta and cheese. Because of that, I also like a combination of styles and often put cinnamon in my chili, regardless of the size of the beef cut.

              1. I'm not crazy about cubed beef cause it seems like dog food... and I'm not crazy about ground beef cause it seems sort of soupy... so what I do is BBQ a beef brisket for 8 or 9 hours, then chop and shred it down and make my chili with that. Un-uniformly chunky, with a deep smoky taste. Tomatoes, chipotles, etc, etc. Brisket's the secret!

                1 Reply
                1. re: woodburner

                  Three rules I follow:
                  1. Fry the spices (dried chiles, onion, garlic, cumin, etc.) in a little butter/oil mix before adding meat or liquid. It's an Indian cooking technique that IMO gives a richer, deeper flavor.
                  2. Different textures. Can be achieved by addition of beans, cubed or shredded meat, chunks of onion/tomato, or other.
                  3. A. B. T. = anything but tofu.

                  I don't think I'll ever understand the concept of "Cincinnati chili". To me it tastes like a cloying Bolognese sauce. I imagine most hard core Southwestern chili chefs could survive a bowl or red with some beans in it. But odds are a serving of 5-way Skyline would give them an aneurysm.

                2. i agree with and use the additions cinnamon, chocolate and leftover brewed coffee....i didn't get these as cincinnati style, rather stumbled across it by experimenting with some jarred mexican mole sauce -- i read the ingredients and thought, hey - why not just add the main flavors to the chili while cooking it!

                  i add beans and just use ground beef, cause that's how my mom always made it.

                  i love chipotles and lots of traditional spices (smoked paprika, oregano, cumin) also be sure to use fresh onion and garlic. i also use lots of premade chili powder, either my own mixture or spice-store purchased.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: hitachino

                    Chili...perhaps the most loved comfort food in N.America? And probably as many recipes as there are chili lovers.
                    To solve the dilemna of cubed beef vs ground beef I find that using a tougher cut of beef (often tastier than the "higher" cuts), can be made tender by cubing it, or cutting it into small chunks and pulsing it in a food processor. Not enough to make it like a pate, but enough to tear the muscle and sinew into something that looks like you shredded it with a dull machete. Then brown it and add as many types of hot peppers as your taste buds can stand. Usually I have about 10-12 kinds available. Some fresh, some dried, some powdered or flakes. Add a few dark kidney or chili beans if you must, mostly for filler. They don't seem to make it taste any better or worse. Cumin, for sure, and sometimes a bit of chocolate. Diced tomatoes for color, plenty of chopped onions and garlic to make a "sauce" for the real stars of any chili: the Beef and the Hot peppers. Let it simmer all day. A fine Bowl of Red, indeed.

                    1. re: fastfred

                      I would think that with an all day simmer, you wouldn't have to worry about processing tough cuts of meat. Three or four hours will tenderize chuck roast even if it is left whole.

                  2. Chipotle adds a distinctive flavor. I like to use several diferent kinds of chilis for varied flavor. I chop the cheapest piece of beef I can find since it is going to "stew" for several hours. Along with the beef, some chorizo adds more flavor. Starting to sound like a recipe. With what's already mentioned, a large onion chopped up, a can of crushed tomatoes, as many as three kinds of dried beans, not a lot, and salt, pepper, and chilli powder. Oh, some beer, too.

                    Adjust amounts to suit yourself. You may make it tomato-ie or not, wet or dry, firey hot or mild and smooth. You can use beans, rice, spaghetti or elbow mac noodles - or not.

                    The only thing I'm pretty sure you cannot do is put fish in the chilli.

                    1. I'm with Alton Brown. Great chili is all about chiles. Roast and grind some fresh and dried ones, make your own powder.

                      Everything else is a matter of opinion, but the chiles are the key.

                      1. A holistic sense of what you want, experimentation with an infinity of possible ingredients until you identify yours, and slow cooking.

                        1. Time.
                          For me time is key to making a good chili, and if that means overnight even if it's resting, to me that is key. It has to be spicey, one that earns a great cold beer. and beans. The beans need to be soaked overnight. I prefer a small red bean.
                          Ones that are not tough or too large and with just the right bite andy are creamy inside. I want onion that is diced small, tomato based using canned whole tomatoes crushed with my hands (cores removed) Serrano chilies.Depending on how much I'm making determines how many chilies- probably 4-5 finely chopped/seeds and all.

                          California dried chili powder - dark in color purchased at the Mexican deli. Cumin-not too much so that you get bitterness, but enough for that defininte smokiness. I use some beef stock too for flavor and brown the ground beef (drain the fat) and add carnitas (thin steak) mixed with raw garlic to permiate the meat chopped very fine and then put into the chili raw.

                          The other thing I do is take a little butter and oil and cook the spices first making a paste, oregano crushed very fine, cumin, onion powder, garlic powder, salt pepper and dried chilies. Then add that to the tomatoes, then once the liquid is hot, add the beef. I use a lot of sauteed small dice onion,

                          I whisk in some cornmeal to thicken it. It must be thick, not "stand your spoon upright" thick, but thick and creamy with just a little fat glistening on top.
                          Pretty standard, my only quirk is to add (while it's cooking), a chunked cut bell pepper and
                          carrot, remove berfore serving.