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It's a Chili cook-off! Need special ingredient suggestions

I'm participating in an (amateur) chili-fest in a few weeks and want to do a test batch this weekend. I'm not an avid chili maker - but my friends seem to think I'm a pretty good cook so I can't disappoint!

My plan is to use a fairly generic base recipe, then experiment with some unique ingredients. (good plan/bad plan?)

I'm looking forsome suggestions - I know there are some SUPER passionate Chili people out there. What to do? Meat suggestions? Other ingredients?

Help! Thanks so much~

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  1. sometimes I use the left over coffee in mine as well as some dark chocolate. I also roast my garlic and onions.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Analisas mom

      I've also used coffee, dark chocolate, and brown sugar (not at the same time!).

    2. With chili, sometimes it's cool to have "secret" ingredients. I use this and that, (see photos)

      1. I won a very amateur chili contest (only 6 of us) LOL but still it really was fantastic. I used cubed pork, cubed beef, ground beef and bacon. Mine had bitter choco in it as well. many will say NO tomatoes but I did have one can. This was the awesome recipe that I started with but then revised to my liking (I did not like the bourbon in my first try):

        Good luck, now you have me wanting to do chili real soon.

        1. Rendered beef kidney suet, won a couple chili cookoffs using it.

          4 Replies
          1. re: rcspott

            Must you give away ALL of the secrets?? Ha! This stuff is pure nectar in Venison "burger"/Chili etc. etc......

            I like a bit of Masa Harina in my Chili...not much...just a bit!


            1. re: Uncle Bob

              Me, too - I love a little bit of masa!!

              1. re: Uncle Bob

                Me too about a tablespoon, great flavor and thickens the chili nicely. yum.
                I use a mix of chilis, so that's key. I prefer a deep mahogany colored chili.

                1. re: chef chicklet

                  I usually add a slurry of masa in near the end of cooking--gives great body and adds a terrific flavor.

            2. Masa harina flour. I usually add some after browning the meat and before adding the other ingredients. Stir it into the meat and drippings as if you were making a roux. Slightly thickens the chili and gives a subtle corn tortilla taste to the finished product. You won't regret it!

              1. A staple in my chili is a cup of smoky flavoured barbeque sauce.

                1. I won first prize in a local chili cook-off a couple of years ago with this recipe from Bon Appetit:

                  Spicy Lamb & Chorizo Chili
                  2 1/4 cups canned low-salt chicken broth
                  3 ounces dried ancho chilies (about 5 large),* stemmed, seeded, torn into pieces
                  1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

                  2 1-pound rolls beef or pork chorizo, casings removed

                  2 cups coarsely chopped red onions
                  12 large garlic cloves, chopped
                  1 tablespoon dried leaf oregano
                  1 tablespoon ground cumin
                  3 1/4 pounds o-bone (round-bone) lamb shoulder chops, boned, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
                  2 15-ounce cans golden hominy or pinto beans, rinsed, drained
                  print a shopping list for this recipe

                  PreparationCombine first 3 ingredients in heavy medium saucepan. Cover and simmer over medium heat until chilies soften, about 12 minutes. Puree chili mixture in batches in blender.

                  Stir chorizo in heavy large pot over medium-high heat until drippings come to simmer, breaking up meat with spoon. Transfer to fine strainer set over bowl. Let chorizo drain 10 minutes.

                  Return 1/4 cup chorizo drippings to same pot and heat over medium-high heat (discard remaining drippings). Add onions, garlic, oregano and cumin. Sauté until onions begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle lamb with salt and pepper; add to pot. Sauté until lamb is no longer pink outside, about 10 minutes. Add chili puree and drained chorizo. Bring chili to boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer 1 hour. Add hominy. Simmer uncovered until lamb is tender and liquid thickens, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 3 days ahead. Chill uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled. Rewarm before serving.)

                  You don't have to follow it to the letter as it wasn't cheap to make,but it has some good ingredients and I really like the stock/ancho chili base. The addition of hominy and chorizo I think is what kept it interesting too. I like beans in my chili so I added kidney beans in addition to the hominy in place of just one or the other.

                  I'd also recommend taping a little printed sign on your crock with a brief description of the chili, for instance "Lamb & Mexican Chorizo Chili with Golden Hominy". This way folks know this ain't your average canned bean chili. Good luck!!!

                  1. Finely cubed chuck - 1cm sized cubes
                    Hatch green chiles - not for heat but for body
                    Sazon Goya - competition chili staple
                    Dark brown sugar - to balance all of the flavors
                    Vodka - to showcase all of the flavor from the tomatoes

                    1. Just so that you know what you are getting into, find a copy of H.Allen Smith's classic "Great Chili Confrontation" from the 1960's. It should be a must-read for chili cooks, especially those in competition.

                      1. Don't use pedestrian, commercial "Chili Powder." Usually that stuff is old, and tastes like dirt. Use your own fresh cumin, fresh garlic, and fresh ground chiles.

                        1. Sazon Goya Achiote (a spice pack available in MX grocery stores) and a tsp of Chipotle powder with the last dump.
                          Lime juice to keep the acidity up (to taste) Seriously!!

                          For a peoples choice event use black beans... goes with the chipotle nicely.

                          Other than that, keep it simple... garlic, onion, chile powder, cumin. The above things are accent tweaks. If the base sucks they won't help/

                          Here is a post I made on a different board about making Buffalo Chili ...

                          1. masa harina, a dash of fish sauce, and a touch of MSG.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: luckyfatima

                              Don't tell anyone but the secret ingredient is......"Cinnamon"

                              1. re: HotMelly

                                If you're trying to make Cincinnati "chili".

                            2. Texan weighing in, so there won't be any beans or tomatoes in my chili, ever. (I make a sort of chili/soup thing that does have tomatoes and beans, but it's not chili - ever - to a Texan. Yes, we really do get this weird over chili, by the way.) As mentioned before, a scant handful of masa (or a corn tortilla, thrown into the mix early, so that it breaks down, or even plain old corn meal), leftover coffee (the stronger the better) and even a healthy dash of cinnamon - but take care there, too much and it Just Ain't Right.

                              I frequently use canned green chilies, mashed to oblivion, and also a few jalapeno slices - the "nacho" type, pickled in vinegar. Sounds odd, but vinegar and chili are a natural match. And .. about half a can of tomato paste. If you confronted me with the evidence, spoon and can in hand standing over the chili pot, I'd lie to your face about this addition, btw.

                              Also, there's one exception to the "fresh chili powder" rule: Morton's Chili Blend. Say what you will (oh, and people will) this stuff makes a mean pot of chili.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: shanagain

                                Years ago a Texas company was laying fiber optic cable past our home on the East Coast. I got into a conversation about chili with the boss. He said that the crew was unable to find good chili in our area, and he was correct. I went to our freezer and gave him a couple of containers of my homemade chili along with some cans of refried beans for a side dish. Next day he came knocking at our door. He asked if I would brew up some more chili for him and the crew. He gave my $50 to buy the meat and I made a big batch for the guys, and delivered it. He would not take the money that was left over from the purchase of the meat. The people around here look at me like I'm from another planet when I say no beans in chili.

                                BTW, my car license plate reads TX CHILI.

                              2. A little liquid smoke

                                and I have won several cook-offs.

                                1. Grape jelly and chocolate. Just a smidge.

                                  1. i use jimmy dean sausage in a tube (that's what i call it. (c:) along with gound beef. it really tastes great!

                                    and i agree with gordeaux- make your own chili powder. it will really make a difference.

                                    1. Texas chili fans in this New England house. Meat only. No beans, no tomatoes, no whatever. Just high-quality beef, freshly ground to order when possible, or in small cubes. The usual spices, diced onions, and the secret ingredient is a can of beer. Nuthin' fancy, just good ole American Budweiser. (Okay, you caught me. Now and then I use Sam Adams.)

                                      1. See if you can still find some Hatch chilies in your market. Use only the hot ones, as I have found that most people don't like the ones that aren't hot.

                                        You can fire roast them and freeze them until you need them. Just peel before freezing. They are milder than Jalapenos, but seem to have a distinct flavor that will give your chili something of a flavor that resembles a hint of chile verde. They may be gone now or very soon, as the season is short.

                                        1. Cigar ashes. For my Ass Breath Chili I smoke a cigar while cooking the chili and knock the ash off into the pot as it develops.

                                          5 Replies
                                              1. re: ChiliDude

                                                Hell, my Uncle Clarence used to put a splash o' kerosene in his chili.

                                              1. roasted Hatch green chiles and tomatillos, ancho chile powder and sweet onions like Vidalia or Walla Walla....last week I made a venison (deer) chili; added tomatillos, roasted poblanos, ancho chile powder, vegetable juice, red wine and some pinto beans, which I soaked & cooked separately...and of course, garlic and mexican oregano; so delicious...

                                                    1. Cocoa, red chili (not the spice an actual red chili) and grape jelly.

                                                      1. Cumin. It is an ingredient of chili powder but more is good.

                                                          1. re: sunflwrsdh

                                                            +1 on the squash. I use it with cubed beef chuck, no tomatoes, lots of heat, plenty of lime juice

                                                          2. I live in a place that doesn't have masa harina, so I used ground tortilla chips, and it came out great. Maybe better than masa harina. Nice, corny flavor. In any event, you must use that or masa harina, or it's just hamburger soup.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: MarkC

                                                              Toasted or fried corn tortillas, ground up, are better than masa in my book, because masa has a raw taste to it.

                                                            2. I like the idea of basic with just one or two stand out ingredients. I add mushrooms to my chili. I buy baby bellas, chop them up in maybe a 1.5 cm chunks and saute them in just regular vegetable oil until all the water is out and they start to get a little brown and crispy. Its important to add a little salt as they are cooking to flavour them first. Add an earthy meatiness. I have tried this with and without meat and although I like it with beef better it's very nice as a just a veggie chili.

                                                              1. I like to use a piece of pressure cooked or slow roasted brisket for the meat, shredded up. Always gets a good reaction.

                                                                1. How serious about chili are the potential eaters of the chili. I'm a chili snob so I do not have beans as an ingredient. Beans can be served as a side dish in the form of frijoles refritos. Do not use expensive cuts of meat, beef or pork, and do not use ground meat. Cube whatever meat you use as an ingredient, chuck or round. Use ground chile powder, not chili powder. The former is from a single variety of dried chile, the latter contains salt (usually the 1st ingredient on the label), Mediterranean oregano, cumin, and some mild ground red pepper variety. Don't use vegetables like carrots, potatoes, celery, etc. in chili.

                                                                  For more information access http://www.texascooking.com

                                                                  8 Replies
                                                                  1. re: ChiliDude

                                                                    Agree with all of this, although chili grind, if you can get it lean and with no gristle, is good stuff.

                                                                    1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                      I've recently been using carne picada with chili grind. It can be anything from a fine cube/almost dice to almost.. I don't know, almost "flakes" of beef, but it works well in chili.

                                                                        1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                          Nope (though after giving a pretty nifty grinder/sausage making attachment to someone for Christmas, I've toyed with getting one) the picada has been available locally (we're near Snyder/Sweetwater) at both WalMart and United in Snyder. I don't care for WalMart's meat as a rule, it's pretty tasteless, but that's one exception.

                                                                          1. re: shanagain

                                                                            Heck, we're neighbors (although you may have known that). I'm up the road in Lubbock. Have never been satisfied with the chili grind I've gotten in the stores here and have also toyed with buying my own grinder. I'd hate to have to drive all the way down to Snyder to get some good chili grind. ;)

                                                                            And I second your assessment of Walmart meats. I buy just about every grocery item there but meat.

                                                                            1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                              If you don't normally shop at United, try them out. I prefer their meats over HEB or Albertson's (in Abilene, which is an hour drive from us.. but out here, you know how it goes, that's not that far - and we ARE almost neighbors by west TX rules!) and they're great about grinding or cutting anything you'd like, at no extra cost. Another bonus is that they've been carrying more game lately such as bison, buffalo, and rabbit, and that's in tiny little Snyder, so I'm sure your selection would be pretty badass.

                                                                              1. re: shanagain

                                                                                United (Market Street) pretty much owns Lubbock. Hence the United Spirit Arena where the Red and Lady Raiders play basketball. But the chili grind I've purchased at Market Street has been too dam' gristly. I'll probably just stick with cubing and dicing for the foreseeable future.

                                                                          2. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                            I've ground the beef that I used in the past. The grinder is a relic from early last century that was willed to me by my mother. It's the kind that one clamps to a table and cranks the handle, and it has fine and coarse grind templates. I still prefer chunks of meat to ground meat in chili.

                                                                            However, the grinder is greater for grinding meat for homemade chorizo.

                                                                    2. Beef marrow bones (pot in pot long enough to cook the marrow, then scoop into chili)
                                                                      cubed beef
                                                                      smoked paprika
                                                                      ancho and chipolte powders

                                                                      1. What are the rules of the contest? What kind of chili are they looking for? I see a lot of things talking about chocolate, but that kind of stuff wont fly in a more southern environment. Things like a Texas Red will not have any beans in it (it's just filler really, if you think about it) etc.

                                                                        Ground beef is standard, but really traditional stuff probably uses just cuts of beef, pork, or lamb.

                                                                        I like to add beer to my chili- nothing light- something with body and that you'd like to drink yourself as well. I put a brown ale, Newcastle into mine.

                                                                        Tomato paste? Salsa? Diced tomatoes?

                                                                        1. Black strap molasses -I find it adds some nice depth and good flavor.