First Chili of Fall

The first chili of fall was actually last week, when we had a cool spell and I made chili for HouseGuest KS-, who documented it with her camera so she could make it up in upstate NY.   It was good, but as always when I haven’t made it for awhile, the next batch is better because I’ve remembered the nuances.   I make pretty darn decent chili, in a *mostly* traditional way.   If you don’t eat meat, you will want to skip this.  I make beef or venison or mixed chili.   If you don’t like onions or garlic, this recipe is not for you, either.  I made batch #2 yesterday/today and yes, it was a tad better.


Here goes:  Elizabeth’s Version of Texas Chili.

About 4 pounds chuck roast, as lean as you can find it.  The closer you can come to range-fed with minimal or no “finish” the better.  Don’t worry about tough; this will take care of it.

1 pound Owens Country Sausage regular

2 medium to large onions, white or yellow, diced  (Note that onions can be diced ahead, and garlic cloves can be peeled out ahead, stored in the fridge.)

1 entire head of garlic, cloves popped out and peeled

2 packages Red Eye chili mix (locally made here; 1 package per 2 pounds beef)   Red-Eye is not a super-hot mix; if you use a super-hot mix you may not want to use as much Ro-tel (or any).  I’d test on a small batch.  You can find Red Eye Chili at their website:   Or the amount of your other favorite chili spice blend  that its maker says is right for 4 pounds of beef.

About 40 oz of Original (medium heat) Ro-tel diced tomatoes & green chilis.  That’s four 10 oz cans or one 28 oz can and one 10oz.  If you’re on the “NOT TOO HOT!” side of the force, use only two 10 oz cans of Ro-tel and two similar cans of small-dice tomatoes.  If you want hotter when it’s done, *cautiously* add any pepper source but remember it will heat up as it spreads in the mix.

Optional.  If you have a bit of venison (cooked or raw) or venison sausage, you can add this…up to a half pound.  More than that, you’ll need to reduce the beef and increase the pork sausage: venison is DRY.

First cut the chuck roast into strips and then pieces for browning.  A thick chuck roast benefits from having a cut across the grain after making the strips.  They don’t have to be uniform.   Brown them–at least one surface with real color on it, preferably two.  No long cooking, just enough to get brown.  I use a nearly dry cast iron skillet/frying pan on medium or medium high heat, just lightly coated with bacon fat.  As soon as browned, drop them in the chili pot and brown the next bunch.  After browning, turn heat down to low and dump in the diced onions, stirring so the onion juices pick up the fond of the pan and until they’re translucent and perhaps starting to “golden up.”  During this phase you can open the chili blend packets and pour the spices on the meat chunks, moving them around to cover most sides.  When the onions are done, put them in the chili pot.  Then the Ro-tel tomatoes & green chilis, and put the pork sausage in the frying pan–bring it up a little (not to hot) and break up the sausage  as completely as you can.  It does not need to “brown,” just turn from pink to gray.  While it’s doing that, add water and stir to cover the meat, onions, and Ro-tel and turn its heat on low. When the sausage is broken up and mostly done but not brown, transfer it to the chili pot.    Check water level (covering everything but not too deeply)  and cover to establish a good simmer.  NOT a rolling boil.  Now peel out the garlic cloves, trim off that little
“woody” tip and drop all the cloves into the chili pot (yes you take the top off to do that…<G>)   Adjust stove heat so you can have the top just slightly ajar and maintain a gentle simmer.  Nothing much changes un how it looks for the first 2-3 hours…check hourly (approx)  to be sure the water level doesn’t need adjusting.  It shouldn’t if you’ve got the stove at the right temp.

Somewhere around 4 hours, someone coming in the house will comment “Smells like chili!”   It’s not ready, drive the hungry off to something else.

Between 4 and 6 hours, some of the meat lumps will begin to “let go” and break up if pressed against the pot side with the edge of a spoon.  Not ready, feed them something else.  At some point in here it will smell too garlicky.  Don’t worry; it’s the garlic cooking and that will fade as the garlic cloves go all velvety-soft.

Somewhere between 8 and 10 hours more meat will yield to a spoon’s edge and some will yield to the back of the spoon, splaying out sideways.  When most of the meat lumps are yielding to the back of a spoon, the liquid is visibly full of meat fibers, thickening, take the top off and begin the reduction stage, stirring slowly to encourage the final relaxation of the meat.

Shortly before the chili’s done, it turns fairly quickly from red-brown to brown (a faster color change than before) and thickens markedly but the spoon will not yet stand up.

Final ingredient.    A *pinch* of cocoa (not hot chocolate mix–actual cocoa powder) sprinkled on top and stirred in.   Mellows the spice mixture, bringing it all together while still spicy and hot (as hot as you asked for.)    Now test with your kitchen spoon: tip of bowl on bottom of pot, handle up.  Will it stand?  If it doesn’t, it needs more gentle reduction.  If it “almost” stands, or stands then slowly leans over, you’re almost there…only a few minutes.   When the spoon stands up by itself for a count of 12 (I walk to the kitchen door and back), it’s done.   My old spoon is probably over 50 years old; it may have been my mother’s, in which case think 50-60 or more.  Metal, black plastic handle at the top, round “heavy wire” type stem, metal bowl.   No guarantees, really, about when YOUR spoon will stand up, given the different lengths, weights, shapes, etc.

If you started your chili in the afternoon or evening, you do not have to stay up all night with it…make sure it’s on a low simmer, cover it, and you can leave it alone overnight.   If you want it for supper, start it in early morning.




8 thoughts on “First Chili of Fall

  1. Thank you for this. 🙂
    As a UK person, is Texas Chilli usually a version without kidney beans? I would imagine they would have to go in later in the cooking, to avoid going to nothing (if using tinned beans). It look great, anyway.

    1. Usually no beans, but can be with beans if you can’t afford enough meat to feed everyone without the beans. Needs a bit more seasoning if you put beans in. Pinto beans are more trad than red kidney, but red kidney are also good. If using canned beans, indeed they go in quite late in the cooking and then you have to watch stringently for sticking to the pot. Beans love to stick to pots.

  2. The Tejanos that I labored for bricklayers with always brought chili by mamacita from home for lunch. They always shared. Really good. Normally had beans. Much better than the cheese and ham sandwich I threw together at O-dark early. I donated the 6 pack of PBR.

    1. Yes, low-income moms usually do have beans, because it stretches the food dollar. I used to make chili with beans when we were living on the GI Bill. It’s not a sin as long as the beans are a) pinto, b) red kidney, c) any bean a Tejano or Mexican family wants. It is a sin to use split peas or lentils instead of real beans. If you want peas or lentils in your chili you MUST (say I) add carrots, and potatoes and call it spicy stew.;

  3. Had a chili cook off at our Vermont church where New England taste buds gave the top prize to a hot version from NJ. Mine was enjoyed by the folks who can’t eat garlic, onions, peppers or beans, and was heavy on turkey and sweet corn. The one I liked best was venison cooked until it was juicy and tender, with golden potatoes from the garden into which the deer did not intrude.

    With 11 cooks, it was fun to see all the variations. The apple crisps also included one made with zucchini which was indistinguishable from the ones made with apples. We had a late frost which hit much of VT, Mass., CT etc. in mid-May and ruined the apple crop … actually almost all the fruit except the berries.

    1. I too, Elizabeth, I too. And I am from much farther north than Texas. Reminded me of the punch line of “New York City?” for that old bottled picante commercial.

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