Recipe Review

The Problem with The Pioneer Woman’s Chili Recipe

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(Image credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Design: Kitchn; Headshot: Bobby Bank/Getty Images)

Ree Drummond (aka The Pioneer Woman) is everybody’s favorite aspirational rancher. When she’s not busy testing out recipes with her family or taking care of her sprawling ranch, she’s building her booming food empire that has amassed leigons of loyal fans. So when looking for a simple chili recipe that would please a crowd, I knew Ree would have something up her sleeve.

Ree’s recipe (which she dubs “simple, perfect chili”) comes together with just a handful of ingredients and only takes 30 minutes of active cooking time, so I was excited at the promise of it. How would such a humble chili compare to other, more complex recipes out there? Could it really stand up to the chili likes of Ina Garten, Guy Fieri, and Carla Hall? I headed to my kitchen to find out.

How to Make Ree Drummond’s Chili

While some chili recipes call for a laundry list of ingredients, Ree keeps it simple and only uses 10 core ingredients. She starts with a hearty amount of ground beef in a pot with chopped garlic. To that, she adds tomato sauce, salt, and a blend of spices, and simmers it for an hour.

(Image credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Design: Kitchn; Headshot: Bobby Bank/Getty Images)

In a separate bowl, you’ll mix masa harina (a type of corn flour typically used to make tortillas) with water to make a thick paste and stir it in. This is what Ree uses to thicken her chili and make it hearty. Then add pinto and kidney beans, stir, and serve. Ree suggests garnishing with cheddar cheese, chopped onions, tortilla chips, and fresh lime.

What I Thought of the Results

While this chili was super easy to make, it wasn’t… very tasty. The end result was more like something you would pour over a chili cheese dog instead of a stand-alone dish. It was pretty gloopy, one-dimensional, and bland — and the recipe itself had some fundamental issues, too.

For starters, the recipe calls for an eight-ounce can of tomato sauce. While teeny-tiny cans of tomato sauce do exist (at least that’s what the internet tells me), the standard size is 15 ounces and I was unable to find a smaller can even in my well-stocked grocery store. Apart from having a sad seven ounces of tomato sauce leftover, the chili itself could have actually used the extra. It was super thick and needed significantly more liquid, so a bit of tomato sauce would have helped. (The chili was so dense you could have scooped it up and served it as a Sloppy Joes without anyone questioning it.)

The addition of masa harina also proved to be an issue. It made the already-too-thick chili even thicker and gave it a slightly gritty texture. While the idea of thickening a soup with corn flour is smart, it didn’t work in this recipe.

Overall I was really disappointed with this chili. Although it delivered on its time promise, the final product was way too thick and lacked flavor. Sorry, Ree, but this chili is anything but “perfect.”

(Image credit: The Kitchn)

If You Make The Pioneer Woman’s Chili …

1. Make sure to add at least one cup of water: Ree’s recipe instructs you to add 1/2 cup of water at a time as needed, and it is definitely needed. Without it, the chili would be far too thick to enjoy on its own. I ended up adding about two cups of water and still found it to be too thick.

2. Drain the fat after cooking the beef: After browning the ground beef, Ree instructs you to drain off the excess fat. While I would usually skip this step and deem it as excessive, the amount of beef used in this recipe makes it necessary. (Because nobody wants an oil-slicked chili.)

3. Serve it with fresh lime: Because this chili is so hearty, it needs some acid to brighten it up. Ree suggests serving this with lime, which helped a bit.

Overall Rating: 3 out of 10

Drummond’s chili is more like the stuff that tops chili cheese dogs and not a stand-alone dish. While it’s edible, the texture is overly thick and off-putting.

(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)

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