When the weather starts to cool, the Broncos season heats up. To warm your soul while cheering on the guys in orange and blue, there’s no better choice than chili.
Whether at a tailgate party or with friends in front of the TV, chili and the Broncos make great teammates. There are dozens of varieties of chili from which to choose. But today we’re talking about classic red meat chili, known as chili con carne and, in Texas, “a bowl o’ red.”
Classic chili is a mixture of ground beef, onions, garlic, cayenne pepper, other spices and canned tomatoes. But we know there are some staunch opinions even as far as the basics go, so we reached out to some culinary experts for their points of view about the ingredients and variations.
When it comes to the meat, there are two camps: ground beef for easy, fast cooking and chuck beef for long, slow cooking.
“Technically, when we’re talking about chili, we look back to Texas, where chili is simply a mixture of whole muscle meat and chiles,” said Cortney Smith, co-owner of Gather Food Studio & Spice Shop. “Texas chili is still one of my very favorite chilis that we teach — rich and meaty, with a kick from the dried chile paste. I use beef chuck to make this one, but other cuts for stewing or roasting would also work.”
Cheryl Jamison, a Santa Fe, N.M., cookbook author, also falls in the beef chuck camp: “I prefer the texture of chuck cut into small cubes for chili.”
David Cook, who co-owns Gather with Smith, says, “I’ve had hundreds of different bowls of chilis in my day. By far my favorite chili is made with ground (beef) because it comes together a lot faster.”
Your next decision is whether to go with beans. It comes down to regional differences.
Jamison says, “I’m in the camp of the Texans who say beans have no place in chili.”
Smith says, “While beans are forbidden in Texas chili, I do like beans in my chili. I like to use black beans in many of our chili recipes, which gives the stew a Southwestern flavor.”
Spicing up even the most basic chili is also a regional preference.
“I like a small spoonful of dark mole paste added to the chili — not enough to make it taste like mole, just enough to give it an extra-deep savor,” Jamison said. “As for the chili seasoning, I like a combo of Texas-style ancho-based chile powder, like Gebhardt’s, with a couple of tablespoons of New Mexico red chile added too.”
More about variations
Red meat chilis found in one part of the country might not resemble those found in another. Smith and Cook, who take this comfort food seriously, have their favorites.
“Whenever we make a trip back east to visit Dave’s family, our first stop is Hard Times Café in Alexandria, Va.,” Smith said. “We head directly from the airport, jump off the train, luggage still in tow, where we plop ourselves down at a table. For Dave, it’s Cincinnati chili five ways, and for me it’s the simple Terlingua with cheese.”
Terlingua chili comes from Terlingua, Texas, where the world champion chili cook-off is held. Contestants are strictly forbidden to use any fillers such as beans. The only veggies in real Texas chili are the chiles and onions.
Cincinnati chili is usually prefaced by how many ways it’s served: two-way is chili and spaghetti; three-way is chili, spaghetti and cheese; four-way is chili, spaghetti, cheese and onions; and five-way is chili, spaghetti, cheese, onions and beans.
“Don’t forget the oyster crackers,” Cook says.
Oyster crackers originated with Nicholas Lambrinides, owner of Cincinnati’s Skyline Cafe, who served his first bowl of chili at his hilltop restaurant overlooking the city’s skyline in 1949 with a side bowl of the crackers.
Also boasting their own red meat chili styles are Detroit (which makes it with ketchup, mustard and brown sugar); Montgomery, Ala. (whose Chris’s Hot Dogs is renowned for making it with ketchup-based chili and secret spices); and Springfield, Ill. (whose “chilli” — the spelling a nod to its home state — is made with bacon, ground turkey, ground beef and beer).
But those chilis, along with Cincinnati’s, are actually all Greek-style mixtures, according to Cook.
“Ground beef chilis aren’t inherently American,” he said. “Greek-style chilis were adaptations by European immigrants to meet the American demand for chili, by using Old World techniques and Mediterranean and Middle Eastern spices like cinnamon, cumin and oregano. These chilis might not be your cup of ‘C,’ but are great for versatile preparations.”
These might include topping your favorite hot dog with chili to make a Coney dog; topping baked or fried french fries or tater tots; or topping cheese curds to make a fun twist on poutine (a French-Canadian favorite).
Now go forward and pick your cooking style and regional favorite, and get ready for some football.
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