The First Rule of Making Competition-Style Texas Chili? No Beans Allowed.

Spoon up this recipe from "The Big Texas Cookbook: Food That Defines the Lone Star State"

December 9, 2022 6:49 am
texas chili
This is all we can think about right now.
Jody Horton

Following a resolution that was introduced in the House of Representatives of the State of Texas which was adopted by the Senate, the Texas Legislature officially proclaimed chili as the state dish of the Lone Star State in 1977 “in recognition of the fact that the only real  ‘bowl of red’ is that prepared by Texans.” The legislation goes on to state that “one cannot be a true son or daughter of this state without having his taste buds tingle at the thought of the treat that is real, honest-to-goodness, unadulterated Texas chili.”

Though the legislation doesn’t specifically state it, in order to classify as “real, honest-to-goodness, unadulterated Texas chili” a ‘bowl of red’ has to come completely free of any sort of beans, the same way the so-called Chili Queens were serving up beefy bowls of the stuff in old San Antonio back in the nineteenth century.

“They would set up in the marketplace and sell this mixture of beef and dried chilis that was very popular. Historical records seem to suggest there were no beans in what they sold,” Courtney Bond, an executive editor at Texas Monthly who also contributed to the just-released The Big Texas Cookbook: Food That Defines the Lone Star State, tells InsideHook. “That’s why we don’t do that now.”

Which is not to say using beans in chili is illegal in Texas. It’s not. But it is strongly frowned upon if you’re a contestant in one of the state’s legendary cookoffs and can lead to disqualification. “They consider beans filler at the competitions,” Bond says. “They want the taste of the meat and the broth and all that stuff to really come through. Texans are just passionate about there being no beans. They consider beans a distraction. It’s part of the culinary mythology and people stick to it.”

You won’t find beans in competition-style chili in Texas, but you will find lots of other dried and canned ingredients that eliminate the risk of a spoiled tomato or onion finding its way into the pot. Spices are also added in separate “dumps” to help enhance the layers of flavor and help ingredients that don’t complement one another stay separate.

“A lot of times when you are cooking some sort of beef stew or soup, you want the flavors to sit in there and meld for a long time,” Bond says. “With all of those spices, they’re so potent that the longer they sit there and stew, one flavor might overwhelm another and things could get bitter. There’s just so much going on in a bowl of chili. The combination of the beef and the chilies together is just wonderful.”

Unless you’re a Texan who sticks to your guns that the Lone Star State’s official dish should be something else. “One of our writers who recently passed away who did not like chili just called it grease. He was not a fan. He wanted barbecue to be our official state food,” Bond says. “He felt like chili was beef and the fat that comes off of the meat with a bunch of spices dumped in. People just really are so passionate about it. They absolutely love it.”

As long as you don’t care about beans, you’ll love this competition-style Texas chili recipe too.

Texas Monthly's Competition-Style Chili

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 3.5 hours

Total Time: 4 hours

Servings: Serves 6 to 8

  • For the beef
  • 2 tbsp. bacon grease or shortening
  • 2 ancho chiles, stems and seeds removed
  • 2 guajillo chiles, stems and seeds removed
  • 4 cascabel chiles, stems and seeds removed
  • 4 lb. coarse-ground chili beef or stew meat, cut into 1⁄2-inch dice
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • 1 qt. beef stock
  • 1 qt. chicken stock
  • 1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
  • For the 2-hour spice dump
  • 1 tbsp. onion powder
  • 1 tbsp. granulated garlic
  • 1 tbsp. paprika
  • 1 tbsp. Texas-style chili powder
  • 2 tsp. ground New Mexico chile
  • 1 tsp. jalapeño chile powder
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • For the 15-minute spice dump
  • 2 tbsp. Texas-style chili powder
  • 1 tbs. ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • Salt and ground black pepper
    1. Melt the bacon grease over medium heat in a large, heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven.

    2. Toast the dried chiles in the grease until they become fragrant and begin to puff. Add to a blender with enough boiling water just to cover. Let sit while you brown the meat.

    3. Working in batches, brown the meat in the same pot over medium-high heat, adding a large pinch of salt and pepper to each batch. Return all the meat to the pan and add the stocks and tomato sauce, stirring to combine while scraping up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. Bring to a boil.

    4. Blend the chiles until smooth. Add the chile puree to the meat, stir to combine, and cook uncovered, at a simmer, for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

    5. After 2 hours, add all the ingredients for the 2-hour spice dump. Cook for 1 hour; the chili should be just slightly looser than you want the final dish to be.

    6. Add all the ingredients for the 15-minute spice dump; cook for 15 more minutes. Taste for seasoning and serve.

    7. Note: Freezing the meat for 20 minutes will make it easier to dice.


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