Every year I look forward to the start of football season and the first signs of cooler weather (Savannah summers are no joke). Football and Fall invoke a craving in my belly that just doesn’t exist when it’s hot and sticky out – and that craving is for Chili! Well now we’ve come to the end of the season (at least for my team, who has no chance at going to the play offs) and it’s even colder out – high in the low 50’s (that’s cold for me!) and that Chili craving is stirring! So let’s get to it…
The complete recipe, with measurements can be found at the bottom of the post
Put the ground beef away – this is a serious chili recipe. And serious chili requires steak. Bottom round, chuck roast, sirloin – any cut with a little marbling and connective tissue. I usually go with what’s on sale. Today it’s boneless chuck steak.
Put the meat in the freezer for about 20 minutes, and get the rest of your ingredients prepped. If you bought already cubed “stew meat” then skip this step. And hang your head in shame for buying the mysyery mix of off-cuts that was cubed at some nondescript time in history. Moving on…while you’re at the fridge, grab two dark beers (I use Guinness). One of these can be opened and drank. The other needs to sit out and warm up (it will be used to deglaze the pot).
Dice up your bacon and rough chop the onions and garlic. Get your beans opened, drained and rinsed. I am using small red, Great Northern, and pinto. Feel free to use your favorite bean or combination. Open your tomatoes too, but keep them (and their juices) in the can until they are ready for the pot.
Without proper seasoning, chili is just meat and tomato sauce. So in a small bowl, mix together chili powders, cumin, black pepper and salt. Now that our meat has spent some time in the freezer, it should be easy to cut into cubes – no bigger than 2 inches. Toss the meat in 2 Tablespoons of the spice mixture, and shake off any excess.
I like to use a Dutch oven – but any heavy bottom pan will work. Heat your pan on medium-high and get your bacon cooking. When it’s crispy and brown, move it to a plate with a slotted spoon. Pour off and reserve some of the fat – you only want a light coating in the pot. You may need more later, so don’t go throwing it away. Lower the heat some, and brown your meat in batches. Don’t overcrowd the pot – we want brown not boiled.
Transfer to a bowl and continue until all the steak is nice and browned. Add a little bacon fat as needed. Try not to rush this process – just like with pot roast, a good browning is key for flavor and texture. When your meat is done browning, your pan should look like this:
No, it’s not burnt – that is flavor! Once the onions start to sweat, this yumminess will start to scrape up and infuse into the dish. And the beer will take care of getting the rest up.
Now turn the pan up to medium high and start your onions. You want them softened, with a little color. This should take about 5 to 10 minutes. When they are starting to brown, add the garlic and a 1 Tablespoon of the spice mix. Add about a teaspoon of salt too. Stir and cook for 2 – 3 minutes. Now is time for the beer. If you forgot and drank both beers from earlier, go ahead and pull out two more (clearly this recipe is making you thirsty…). Pour one beer into the pot, and use your wooden spoon to scrape up any tasty bits from the bottom. Allow the beer to simmer for a few minutes before you continue.
Return the bacon and steak (with any juices that may have lurched out) to the pot. Also add in your tomatoes, beans, 5 Tablespoons of spice mixture and a teaspoon of salt. You will need to add 2 to 2 1/2 cups of water – just to cover all of the ingredients. I fill up my tomato can, no sense in throwing away that tomato residue. Give it a good stir and bring it up to a slow boil. Once bubbles start moving to the top, drop the heat to a simmer and put a lid on it.
Yes, it looks like beef stew at this point, but don’t worry. After 4 hours of simmering, everything in the pot will break down and melt in your mouth. Now go watch the game and finish that beer. Oh, you already finished it? Well get another, but take it easy….we don’t want to forget about that pot of spicy goodness on the stove….
Check your pot every half hour or so, and stir the chili. After an hour to an hour and a half, remove the lid and raise the heat a little. We want to let the liquid reduce slowly. The total simmering time should be 4 to 5 hours. If the liquid is evaporating too quickly, put the lid on and reduce the heat. If it’s too slow, take the lid off. Just keep stirring and checking….but make sure you maintain a slow simmer and do NOT boil. Don’t forget to do a taste test every now and then too. You should have some leftover spice mixture, and you could always use a dash (or a Tablespoon…) of Tabasco sauce – taste and season as needed.
About 3 hours into the simmering, take a few minutes to inspect your meat. At this point, it has cooked long enough (and slow enough) to break down the connective tissues – but it may need a little help breaking apart. Use your wooden spoon to gently separate the meat – pressing it into the side of the pot is ideal. You shouldn’t need a lid for the last hour of cooking. But keep an eye on the pot, and stir regularly. Below is what the chili should look like at the halfway point.
Seeing as our chili is almost done (thank God, I am drooling on my keyboard) we should probably talk about toppings and accompaniments. The options for chili toppings is vast. Personally, I like shredded cheddar, sour cream, chives, diced onion, and a handful of Fritos. The Man (not a sour cream lover) likes cheddar, and Fritos only. “That’s all it needs” he says. He knows how to flatter the cook ;) As far as accompaniments – I like a cold beer and a grilled cheese sandwich.
About the grilled cheese….forget everything I told you yesterday about grilled cheese sandwiches. This IS you kid’s grilled cheese – white bread, butter, and American cheese, browned and melty to elementary school perfection. And it’s the ideal vessel in which to transport chili juices from your bowl to your mouth – we don’t want complex flavors to interfere with it’s sole purpose.
- 2 pounds steak, cubed
- 6 ounces bacon, diced
- 2 large onions, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 12 ounces dark beer (Guinness)
- 3 – 16 ounce cans beans
- 1 – 28 ounce can whole plum tomatoes
- 1 – 16 ounce can diced tomatoes
- 4 Tablespoons chili powder
- 3 Tablespoons chipotle chili powder
- 3 Tablespoons cumin
- 2 Tablespoons black pepper
- salt to taste
Combine chili powders, cumin and black pepper in a small bowl. Toss cubed steak in 2 T. of spice mixture. Cook bacon in Dutch oven until crisp. Remove with slotted spoon, and pour off excess fat. Brown steak in small batches, transfer to a plate. Cook onions until soft and browning. Add garlic and 1 T. of spice mixture. Stir and cook for 2 to 3 more minutes. Deglaze the pot with beer. Use a wooden to scrape the bottom of the pot. Raise the heat and let the beer cook for about 2 minutes. Return bacon and steak (with juices) to the pot. Add in beans, tomatoes, 5 T. of spice mixture, 1 t. of salt and enough water to cover (2 – 2 1/2 cups).
Bring to a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer. Stir chili every 30 minutes, removing lid and adjusting temperature as necessary. Taste and add seasonings and/or Tabasco as needed. Simmer for 4 – 5 hours, or until moisture has reduced and meat has shredded. Serve with shredded cheddar cheese, diced red onions, sour cream, chives, Fritos, or oyster crackers.