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Chili in Texas

I'm a recent convert to the chili world who is perfecting my personal recipe. I will be traveling in Texas this coming June and am interested in getting some authentic Texas chili to calibrate my palate. I have seen very little about chili in Texas beyond one poster's comments that true Texas chiliheads make their own chili (which I wholeheartedly agree with). I will be spending some time in the DFW area as well as a quick jaunt to San Antonio and a few other spots. Are there any suitable chili joints I can stop at to get a sample? I had a vision of making some grand pilgrimage to SA, the birthplace of chili (according to many historians).

So what's the real story?

Joe

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  1. We've had the "chili chat" before. I'd suggest you do a search. I don't recall much of anything that was promising because I'm one of those that always has several batches of chili in the freezer, waiting to be thawed out. We've got several chili cooks in our household, so the chili in the freezer always includes an interesting variety. That's why we never order it when we eat out.

    But as far as where I'd suggest that one could go to eat some good Texas chili, I'd probably recommend that a true believer attend some of the chili cookoffs held frequently around the state.

    Here's the biggest, best, most-famous: http://www.chili.org/terlingua.html

    5 Replies
    1. re: Jaymes

      Thanks to all who responded. I'm convinced that it will be a difficult quest to find the ultimate
      Texas chili at a restaurant in Texas. I happen to have developed what I think is an excellent chili recipe of my own that I (and many friends) find delicious. Anything I try at restaurants falls short of what I have in my freezer right now (YUM!) Long story short, if it's convenient to visit a "chili joint" while in TX, I will try it, but I won't spend valuable time searching. Barbecue, that's another story for another thread, and I will have my shopping list of possible stops with me on my trip. Unfortunately, this trip itinerary is not food-dominated, so I'll have to fit food stops in between other activities and may not be able to satisfy my Chowhound instincts fully. Life is too short to cover "the stuff of life".

      Adios, amigos.

      ChiliJoe

      1. re: ChiliJoe

        Care to share that excellent chili recipe... I enjoy making different chilis. :)

        1. re: Rene

          Well...... I'm not about to give away all my secrets, but I'll tell you my approach. I try to honor the traditional core of chili (beef, chilis, basic spices) and add my own touch. I pretty much start with the basic middle of the road chili style that has permeated my entire life (Wendy's chili is a standard example) and expand on it. A well-stocked spice rack is a great inspiration. For me chili has always been more complex than the Texas purist's meat sauce. However, I make sure that the meat and cumin are prominent. My flavor target is kind of a sweet, smoky, "brown" flavor. By brown I mean dark beer, molasses, that sort of thing. I include things like coriander, ground mustard, a few unexpected sweeteners (secret!) and smoked paprika and chipotles. I haven't ventured too close to the Cincinnati approach yet, although some day I might try it. I use tomato sauce, some beans (I'm not in Texas!), maybe one or two other contrasting solids for color and texture (wild rice, corn, hominy, etc.), and simmer it long enough that the flavors meld into a sauce worthy of the snootiest restaurant. I vary the spicyness to suit the palates of the folks I happen to be sharing with, but my personal heat preference level is moderate - well balanced with the sweetness and not lip-searing. I've tried including Italian sausage, Canadian bacon, and a few other meats, but I keep returning to a combination of ground and diced beef. It's an ongoing experiment.

          I'm getting hungry. Let's go make some chili!

          1. re: ChiliJoe

            Very interesting... I've not explored preparing a sweet chili and I am a Texan so for me this would be a chili-like concoction. I did have an opportunity in Cincinnati to try the chili and, while I liked the texture, the sweet was a bit much... It's certainly not a bad thing but possibly an interesting twist. I'd probably stick with 1/2" cubed round steak but can definitely understand hominy in the mix... beans could work in a non-traditional.... also red bell peppers, onions, garlic... I like the dark beer and chipoltle idea with the other spices that I usually include. Thanks!

        2. re: ChiliJoe

          If you find any great restaurant chili during your trek through Texas, please come back here and let us know about it, okay?

          And perhaps the next time someone asks that question, we'll have a better answer.

          Thanks!

      2. Texas really isn't a chili parlor state like you may find in some states. As already indicated, this is a chili competition state! I probably couldn't name 5 non-chain restaurants that serve a bowl-o-red. I'm searching my brain for one at this point.

        5 Replies
        1. re: Lambowner

          The last time this exact same topic came up, I thought and thought and tried to remember the last time I, or anyone I was with, ordered chili in a Texas restaurant. I couldn't think of a single time. In fact, the last time I could recall anyone ordering chili was when I was visiting relatives in California and they wanted to go to a Marie Callendar's. So we did. And one of them ordered chili. But, like I said, I don't order it in restaurants because I'm pretty convinced mine will be better (not to mention that also I know what's in it), and I have plenty of it just sitting in the freezer waiting to be heated and served. I can't help but suspect my experience is fairly common and that the reason Texas doesn't have as many good chili restaurants as, say, TexMex or barbecue joints, is not because we don't like or eat a lot of chili. We do. Just not out.

          It's an interesting conundrum, though, isn't it?

          I do recall that the last time we discussed this very thing, it was because somebody wanted to open a chili parlor somewhere in Texas. I suppose ChiliJoe could do a little investigation and see if that ever came about.

          I will say that I've heard that Texas Chili Parlor in Austin serves some pretty good stuff, although it's really a dive, so that might not appeal to everyone.

          1. re: Jaymes

            I've been to Austin's Texas Chili Parlor is okay. I think I had pretty high expectations, and the place didn't quite meet up with them for the most part. Sevice is pretty bad as the staff seems to be continually hungover. The place is a dump, but it's part of the experience.

            1. re: Jaymes

              Hi Jaymes.

              When I was in school at Texas, (late 70's/early 80's), one of my best buds and I used to hit the TCP fairly often as it was a short and very pleasant walk from campus, (and right across Lavaca from Wheeler's Liquors!).

              It just so happens that I will be visiting best bud in Austin next week while he is there on family business. I wouldn't be shocked at all if we manage to hit the TCP for old time's sake, (as well as our planned visit to Franklin's).

              If we do, I'll let you know...

              1. re: DoobieWah

                I've only been once, and was told to order the cheese enchiladas with the chili gravy. As I recall, they were pretty good. Since it was also close to the courts, lawyers and judges frequented the place.

            2. re: Lambowner

              Texas Armadillo Palace in Houston sells venison chili, but i don't know if it's any good having never been there. ChiliJoe check out the link Jaymes provided, and go to CASI, they have recipies for the winning chili going back twenty years or so.

            3. There are a couple of places in the Dallas area you'll want to check out, Tolbert's and Chapman's (I have never been to either, just heard about them).

              Here's a thread from a couple of years ago that was a good one:

              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/681912

              There are lots of topics on chili here on this board, including several about Dallas that haven't been moved to the Dallas board. You could also search the Dallas board and post your question there. Austin also has it's own board (as does Houston but you're coming no where close to Houston). There is a lot of mediocre restaurant chili out there and, of course, lots of disagreement about what constitutes good chili. Good Luck. Wish I could do a tour of the state looking for chili.

              1 Reply
              1. re: brucesw

                Chapman's chili was awesome, but they are now closed.
                I'll eat at Tolbert's whenever I am near Grapevine, but their
                chili is just ok.

              2. Interesting that for many Texans, chili is a home experience. That was my case for 8 years in Texas a couple decades ago when I was fortunate to have limitless access to first class home made venison chili. Now I'm back in Texas, and I have had one bowl at a decent restaurant. It simply didn't measure up, so I will stick with what restaurants do better. For starters, no beans in Texas chili!

                1. RT's neighborhood bar in Denton has great chili when they have it. definitely worth a try,

                  1. Wolf Brand Chili, no beans, is the reason there are few chili parlors in Texas. Except for my Frank Tolbert recipe which takes three days to make for 60 close friends, I just pop a can of Wolf Brand when I get the urge.

                    11 Replies
                    1. re: waistedinkerrville

                      Wolf Brand Chili is the true taste of Texas! Frank X Tolbert's on McKinney was a frequent destination in my late 70's college days, but frankly I loved his book more than the chili!

                      1. re: marthasway

                        Marthasway:

                        Wolf Brand Chili is in no way shape or form the "true taste of Texas".

                        It is disgusting.

                        Have you ever read the side of a can? If not, please read one. You will never put so much as a teaspoon in your mouth again.

                        The subject of Wolf brand chili came up recently on this board. A poster wanted to replicate it in his home kitchen. I'll quote myself here:

                        Make sure you can get your hands on some Sodium Tripolyphosphate.

                        It'll be a key weapon when you replicate Wolf Brand Chili.

                        You can lay your hands on some from a chemical supply warehouse.

                        From the wisegeek website:

                        "Sodium tripolyphosphate is a strong cleaning ingredient that typically can rid dishes and fabrics of soil and spots. Its key function is that it allows surfactants to work at their full potential. Also, it prevents deposition of soil and acts as a pH buffer. It softens detergent water and can be used as a water treatment, as well. Many household cleaning products, including surface and toilet cleaners, contain STPP due to its cleaning component."

                        ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

                        Any failed attempts at replicating Wolf chili can be used as industrial strength cleaners around your house or office.

                        Out here in Austin we eat a lot of chili but Wolf in a can does not enter into the equation when it's supper time.

                        1. re: scrumptiouschef

                          Thank you scrumptious chef for denigrating the taste of my Texas childhood. I know what's in it, I know what used to be in it (beef and lard--2 of my favorite ingredients), and I know that lots of Texans enjoy it, including this one who lives in Louisiana.

                          1. re: scrumptiouschef

                            Don't hold back, scrump -- tell us how you REALLY feel.

                            1. re: Cheflambo

                              Scrumptiouschef isn't wrong....that stuff is vile.

                              1. re: FoodChic

                                Yup.

                                1. re: Lambowner

                                  Regardless as to how vile is or is not Wolf Brand Chili, I feel pretty sure that it's not singlehandedly the only reason why there are no chili parlors in Texas.

                                  I'm sure there is some other force at work here.

                                  And I think it's because there are far more Texans making our own chili at home than there are Texans opening cans of Wolf Brand. I, for one, haven't bought a can of Wolf Brand, or any other canned chili for that matter, in several decades.

                                  But I eat a lot of chili.

                                  So there you go.

                                  1. re: Jaymes

                                    Wolf Brand Chili.

                                    I have at least two cans of it in my pantry at all times.

                                    It is indispensable for two things:

                                    1. Chili Dogs. Plain old Wolf Brand Chili, raw onions and cheddar cheese.
                                    No ketchup, no mustard no relish. I'll take two right now, please.

                                    2. My paternal grandmother's Tamale casserole, made with canned chili and...

                                    *(...Please look away Jaymes...)

                                    canned tamales.

                                    YOU don't hafta like, but I DO hafta eat it.

                                    It's a law or something.

                                    1. re: DoobieWah

                                      Hey, you'll get no shrieks of horror from me. You do what you gotta do to get your family fed. Sometimes the back hurts, the feet ache, the hungry children are squealing for dinner, and you don't have the energy, time or spirit to roast poblanos or shred puerco or press fresh masa into corn husks.

                                      And sometimes, even if you're willing, you just don't have access to good, fresh ingredients.

                                      Like if, oh say, you live in the middle of Alaska and you now understand the literal meaning of "dead of winter" because the temperature hasn't risen above minus forty for at least five days and your three children are starving and you're not about to lace up the mukluks and parka and get in the car with the tires frozen flat on the bottom and drive to the grocery store to pick up something.

                                      So you make:

                                      Tamale Bean Bake, which is similar to your grandmama's recipe, but instead of Wolf Brand, you add 1 2-lb can of Home-Style Beans to the 1 large can of tamales, broken up, and 1 pkg powdered taco seasoning, and 1 chopped onion and mix it all up and top with shredded cheddar cheese and bake at 350 degrees for one hour.

                            2. re: scrumptiouschef

                              I endured the Wolf brand hot dog sauce for decades and it was ok for lack of other choices. But since I found a good recipe, I make my own and keep it in the freezer in small containers when I am hungry for a chili dog. I don't care for regular chili on my hot dog. As far as the chili, I don't think I've ever had it, just doesn't seem right. Chili from a can? No thank you. I have always made my own but never found a recipe I truly fell in love with. I bought some chili at Los Toritos in Pasadena just off Fairmont Parkway and the Beltway. I buy my tamales there. Their chili is wonderful!! In fact just talking about it makes me want to run over there and get some. Problem is they are sold out about half the time.

                              1. re: scrumptiouschef

                                So ConAgra is trying to poison me with Sodium Tripolyohosphate. I wonder why the FDA doesn't know this? For that matter, why don't they outlaw oxygen; everyone who ever breathed it died, or will. I'll keep eatin' Wolf Brand, now knowing it's cleanin' my insides as well as bein' great tastin'.

                          2. The Texas Chili Parlor chili is ok but nothing to drive out of your way to eat. If you put Austin on your itinerary there are many way better choices but none involve chili.

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: tim irvine

                              Mmmm mmm my mouth is starting to water.

                              Wolf Brand Chili:

                              Rolled oats
                              Textured vegetable protein
                              Soy Flour
                              Caramel Color
                              Soy Lecithin
                              Sodium tripolyphosphate- you know, the stuff used in toilet bowl cleaner

                              Seriously, I've attached a pic of their label. If this is in any way affiliated with genuine Texas Chili I'll eat my Resistol.

                              I grew up eating Wolf brand chili in my Frito pies just like a million other farm kids but they lost their way at some point and started putting out some bizarre approximation of chili.

                               
                              1. re: scrumptiouschef

                                I just ran into a stack at my HEB, and having read this thread I checked out the nutrition. Eat a half a can and you have half your fat and sodium for the day, eat the whole can and you are there.

                                1. re: scrumptiouschef

                                  Maybe the toilet bowl cleaner additive is their thoughtful way of making customers' next day go a little more smoothly and hassle free? A reco from a focus group, perhaps?

                                  1. re: scrumptiouschef

                                    Oh that sounds so very delicious! Better living through chemicals...

                                    1. re: FoodChic

                                      The only thing worse than Wolf brand chili is Austex! Now that is some nasty stuff!! LOL

                                      Even in its heyday, canned meat was never equal to home cooked. The best chili I have ever had was what some vendor was selling at the Terlingua chili cookoff several years ago now, no kidding, that was some great chili. Burned like crazy going down, but very delicious. Served in a stryofoam cup. Every attempt I make at home made chili is to try and recreate what I remember in my brain what that chili tasted like and come up with something that has similar flavors but I have never yet been totally satisfied with my own concoctions but it sure is fun trying.

                                      Wolf brand chili, seriously?!!??