The exact ingredients can vary from batch to batch, but the main players are usually some kind of meat or protein, beans, tomatoes, onions and other vegetables, and spices.
There are a million and one ways to make chili. All of them are excellent and all of them are sure to satisfy a large crowd of hungry people. Whether you like your chili with ground meat or chuck roast, pinto beans or no beans at all, the basic method for making it is the same. Want to make a very good pot of chili? Here's how.
At its core, a chili is just another kind of braised dish. Even if you are using ground meat, you're typically cooking tough, lean cuts that need some time to become tender. Simmer them gently in a fair amount of liquid, and after an hour or so, the meat is no longer chewy and instead becomes totally tender. The slow-cooking meat also turns a thin, soupy broth into something silky and substantive.
After reading a few perspectives on how acidic ingredients can slow, or even prevent, meat from becoming tender, I've become a proponent of adding the tomatoes toward the end of cooking the chili. This might seem strange, but trust me: it all comes together just fine in the end.
There is a heck of a lot of room to play here, so use this "recipe" more as a template. The exact ingredients you use from batch to batch can change; the only thing that stays the same is slow-cooking and a tasty reward at the end.
What's your favorite way to make chili?
How to Make a Very Good Chili
Makes 8-10 servings
What You Need
1 - 1 1/2 pounds ground meat or chuck roast (beef, buffalo, turkey or other) or vegetarian protein (tofu, Boca crumbles, or other) — slice roasts into cubes
1 large onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1-2 other vegetables (like celery, carrots or zucchini), diced (optional)
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
Seasonings (choose 2-3): 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon oregano, 1 tablespoon ground chipotle peppers, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
1 cup amber or brown ale or red wine
3 cups chicken, vegetable, or beef broth
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
3 cups (2 16-oz cans) cooked black beans, pinto beans, or kidney beans
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels (optional) To serve: Shredded cheese, sour cream, diced avocados, chopped scallions, hot sauce, chopped cilantro
Large Dutch oven or soup pot
1. Brown the meat. If using meat, warm a teaspoon of oil in a large heavy Dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat and brown the meat. Break up ground meat as it browns, leaving pieces as large or small as you like them. If you're using chuck roast, make sure all sides of the beef cubes are seared dark brown. Transfer the browned meat from the pot to a clean dish.
If you're making a vegetarian chili with tofu or other protein, add it along with the beans in Step 6. Reduce the amount of stock and the cooking time by half.
2. Cook the vegetables. In the same pot used to brown the meat, warm a tablespoon of oil over medium to medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook until softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the other vegetables and continue to cook until softened, another 5-8 minutes. Clear a space in the middle of the pan and add the garlic. Cook the garlic until fragrant, about 30 seconds, then stir into the vegetables. It's normal for a dark sticky crust to start forming on the bottom of the pan.
3. Add the seasonings. Add the seasonings and 2 teaspoons of salt to the pan. Stir until the vegetables are coated and the spices are fragrant, another 30 seconds.
4. Deglaze the pan. Pour the beer or wine into the hot pan. Scrape up the dark sticky crust as the liquid bubbles. Continue scraping and stirring until the beer or wine has almost evaporated.
5. Add the broth and simmer. Add the browned meat back into the pan. Pour in the broth. Bring the chili to a simmer and cook for 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the meat has is very tender (cubes of chuck roast may take a bit longer). The chili will still look soupy.
6. Add the tomatoes and beans to the chili. Add the tomatoes, beans, corn (if using), and vegetarian protein (if using) to the pot. Simmer for another 10 minutes. Taste and add more seasonings or salt to taste.
7. Serve with garnishes. Chili is often best the day after it's been cooked. It will also keep for up to a week and freezes well for up to three months. Serve with cheese and other garnishes.