Recipe Review

The $3 Secret Ingredient Behind Carla Hall’s Low-and-Slow Chili Recipe

We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
(Image credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Design: Kitchn; Headshot: Kathy Hutchins/Shutterstock)

There’s no denying our love for Carla Hall. Between her lively energy and Top Chef-worthy cooking, she’s a true gem. What would the food world be without her iconic “Hootie Hoo!” catchphrase and delicious soul food?

So when the time came to search for a quality chili recipe that would pack some serious flavor, I immediately turned to Carla. Her recipe, cleverly dubbed “chili con Carla,” looked like the perfect recipe to steal the competition. It uses quality cuts of meat, smoky dried peppers, and cooks things low and slow to develop some serious flavor. As someone who competed on Top Chef, owned both a restaurant and catering company, and wrote a successful cookbook, I knew Carla’s version had to be good.

But could her chili beat out recipes from Ina Garten, Ree Drummond, and Guy Fieri? I made it myself to find out.

How to Make Carla Hall’s “Chili con Carla”

Fair warning: Hall’s recipe is a bit of an all-day project. You’ll start by placing dried ancho chili peppers (which can be found in the international section of most grocery stores) in hot water and letting them soak for about four hours.

While they’re soaking, cook a ton of diced onions in a large Dutch oven until translucent, then add cubed brisket. Once the chiles are soft, toss them into a blender with spices, then add that to the onion and beef mixture — along with fire-roasted tomatoes, diced green chilies, a bottle of beer, and Hall’s secret ingredient: dark chocolate. Stir that up until the chocolate melts and everything is evenly distributed, then place the lid on and cook it in the oven for two hours.

After two hours, remove the lid and continue cooking it for an additional 45 minutes until the brisket is tender. Garnish with red onion, avocado, shredded cheese, tortillas, cilantro, and sour cream.

(Image credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Design: Kitchn; Headshot: Kathy Hutchins/Shutterstock)

What I Thought of the Results

Out of all the chilis I tested, Carla’s had the most complex flavor. And the dark chocolate was key. It added a layer of subtle flavor, and balanced out the smokiness with just enough sweetness. You could definitely tell this recipe was made by someone who knows what she’s doing — the flavors were both balanced and pronounced. If you’re looking for a chili recipe that would impress a crowd, this is it.

But because the chili was so rich and meaty, it was almost like a braise rather than a chili. And it’s super filling, so one bowl is all you need. Imagine if beef bourguignon got a Tex-Mex makeover — this is that chili. It has the savory flavor of beef that’s been cooked low and slow punched up with spices, dried chilies, and chocolate.

The ingredients Carla suggests garnishing the chili with were also a delight. The avocado gave the chili a wonderful creamy texture, while the cilantro added a fresh floral note that rounded the whole thing out.

While the chili itself was pretty tasty, the problem is that it takes an entire day to make. Between soaking the chiles, prepping the long list of ingredients, and letting it braise for several hours, it’s not a recipe you can casually whip up. It takes planning and commitment, and I’m not sure that the effort was worth the results. It was really good, but it wasn’t to-die-for — and given the amount of work I put into making it, I was expecting the latter.

(Image credit: The Kitchn)

If You Make Carla Hall’s Chili …

1. Plan ahead and prep the night before: Carla’s chili is a commitment, so planning ahead will make this recipe less daunting to make. Chop and measure out everything the night before, and make the ancho chili paste the day before if you have time, too.

2. Use the biggest pot you have: I used a six-quart Dutch oven when making this chili, and that was just barely large enough. This recipe makes a lot of chili, so be prepared to have a decent amount of leftovers for the week ahead.

3. Season with a generous amount of salt at the end: Because this recipe is so hearty, it needs a good amount of salt for the flavors to come through. Although Carla tells you to season during almost every step, a hefty pinch of salt right before serving is necessary to make it shine. I ended up adding close to one teaspoon of salt at the very end, and it really made a difference.

Overall Rating: 7 out of 10

Carla’s recipe is rich, hearty, and has complex layers of flavor, but it’s not an easy recipe to make. The chili takes a full day and some pricier ingredients to make, so for some the payoff won’t be worth the effort. It’s not a casual weeknight dinner, but if you’re looking for a weekend cooking project, this chili is great.

(Image credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Design: Kitchn; Headshots, from left to right: MediaPunch/Shutterstock, Noam Galai/Getty Images, Bobby Bank/Getty Images, Kathy Hutchins/Shutterstock)

More Celebrity Recipe Reviews