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Jan 14, 2010 08:46 AM

Tomato-less Chili?

Is there such a thing?
What would you substitute for the tomato?

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  1. Chili powder + meat + onions/garlic/oregano/cumin/misc.secret spices = chili.

    (Texan chili - which we will happily tell you is "real" chili - never has tomatoes.)

    1. Putting tomatoes in chili is punishable by life without parole where I'm from.

      Putting beans in chili is a hanging offense.

      Do both and you're up from something cruel and unusual.

      1. Texas chili should not have tomatoes in it apparently. Personally I think it tastes better with a small amount of tomatoes as it balances the dish a lot better.

        i would say try it without it as the purists like and see what you think.

        1. This is good news.
          What about making a chili with steak rather than ground meat? What cut would you use?

          Please post recipes if you can.

          1 Reply
          1. re: isadorasmama

            A cheap chuck or round steak, cut into about 1/2 inch cubes would actually be better than an expensive ribeye - the goal with chili is to cook it until someone in your home is ready to hurt you to get to it. I mean hours and hours.

            I don't use a recipe, but can write one up if someone doesn't come along with a written recipe fairly quickly.

          2. Shanagain is correct.

            A tip: after cubing your meat, rinse it under cold water. This prevents unpleasant coagulants (euphymistically speaking) from leaking into your chili. If I get the chance, I'll post my recipe for my West Texas Blowtorch Chili. It's bloody well hot, but you can tone it down by reducing the various powdered chiles a mite.

            11 Replies
            1. re: Perilagu Khan

              So you wash off the meat to get rid of blood? I have never heard of that. I would imagine you dry the meat very well before browning, right?

              I do agree with using chuck or round in cubed form. Makes a much better chili with a better mouthfeel. Since you are cooking it for hours and hours it is important to add the spices in batches throughout the cooking process. The length of time diminishes the intensity of your spices but it builds layers of flavour throughout the dish. Adding in batches creates a fuller end product.

              1. re: MVNYC

                I agree with all of that.

                And here's something else: if you want consistent competition caliber chili, the only fresh ingredient you'll use is the meat. No fresh peppers, no fresh garlic, no fresh onions. The flavor (and heat) of those fresh items vary so dramatically that if you use them your chili will be wildly inconsistent. The only concession to freshness (outside of the beef) I make is to float a jalapeno in the chili for a period of time and then squeeze it into the chili. This trick adds a nice little zap to the chili without altering the overall flavor unduly.

                1. re: Perilagu Khan

                  I usually sautee minced onions, bell pepper, jalapenos and a habenero in the pot after I brown the meat and add garlic throughout. Even though it cooks for a long time you can taste these in the end product. I know the bell peppers aren't traditional but the sweetness again evens things out.

                  I suppose to a Texas I am making hot pepper flavoured stew but I like it. I will have to try it your way before the end of winter to see which one my friends and I like better.

                  Also I use pork lard instead of beef suet to brown the meat, would that disqualify me from a competition?

                  Back to the blood, doesn't that add flavour to the chili?

                  1. re: MVNYC

                    No prob with the lard. Hell, I use bacon fat to brown my beef as well. It's the way to go, so far as I'm concerned.

                    As to the hemoglobin, any minor flavor it may possibly add is more than offset by the visual blemish, IMO. Then again, what I'm talking about here is competition standards. If you're making chili for you and your pals to chuff while slamming Budweiser and watching the NFL playoffs, it probably doesn't make much difference.

                    1. re: Perilagu Khan

                      Well since my chili has tomatoes I guess I don't see the blood. Then again I am a big blood sausage and gelatinized blood cube fan.

                      i definitely want to try competition style though, so I am going to whip up a batch de-bloodied. I may end up converted.

                      Speaking of beer, does that fly in competition standards? I usually add Brooklyn Brown ale to mine, no Bud for this beer geek.

                      1. re: MVNYC

                        It seems to me that beer--and other relatively exotic ingredients--were much more common on the competition circuit back in the late 60s/early 70s when organized chili cookoffs were fairly new thing. Over time, however, competitors have come to decipher what the judges want and don't want, and have pared down their ingredients accordingly. The result is perhaps less exciting, but some would say the chili is better. It is also probably a bit closer to the original chili cowboys on the trail would eat.

                        1. re: MVNYC

                          Not to horn in here, but since you're talking about actual ingredients, if you would like to review some of the winning recipes from the CASI (Chili Appreciation Society International) cook-offs of past years, they may be found at You may be surprised to see that not only tomato sauce, but ground meat is used in most all of them.

                          Commercial Mexene Chili Powder is also used quite a lot by a number of the cooks. This is the chili powder that my mom used when making her chili and what I've always used for a quickie chili fix. If you can find it, they have a pretty good base recipe on the back label. Basically, meat, tomato sauce, cumin, chili powder, onion, and garlic -

                          1. re: CocoaNut

                            True, but with a couple of caveats. First, the "ground beef" is always "chili grind," which is very coarse and quite different from "hamburger meat." And second, tomato sauce, not tomatoes is used, and even then only one 1-ounce can of sauce per large batch of chili.

                            1. re: Perilagu Khan

                              First, I apologize for the link above. When I put a "." at the end of the sentence, it became included with the link, making it incorrect. I have corrected it.

                              I'm not certain what amount makes a "large batch" to you, but check out the competition recipes to see what the winners are using. You may be surprised.

                          2. re: MVNYC

                            Here is a link to a good starter competition chili recipe:
                            The article touches on double-grinding your spices, washing the meat and using powders in place of fresh vegetables.

                            If you want some tips on true competition chili try the following PDF:
                            Here you will find tips, techniques, recipes, timing and packing lists for entering a chili competition.

                            1. re: CDouglas

                              No worries, I tried making chili the "traditional" way and I found out that mine is better. I prefer my chili "stew" to the dried ingredient competition style. However I am a New Yorker and according to Pace Salsa commercials, I know nothing.