Tortilla Chip Chili Pie

published May 20, 2022
Tortilla Chip Chili Pie Recipe
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Credit: Perry Santanachote

Frito pie is an iconic American dish, born in the southwestern United States in either New Mexico or Texas, depending on where you are from. Midwesterners also lay claim to it. They call it a “walking taco” and it often shows up at fairs and festivals. Thanks to popular Food Network shows and social media, though, Frito pie has found fans nationwide. And it’s easy to see why: Crispy chips plus delicious toppings built right in a chip bag is super fun and super delicious.

A classic Frito pie is made with 2-ounce Fritos bags placed in paper french fry boats. The bags are split down the middle and cinched open to reveal the chips. Chili (often beef and bean) is ladled on top of the chips, then everything gets topped with shredded cheese (usually something orange) and raw chopped white onion.

Credit: Perry Santanachote

I was first introduced to Frito pie years ago at a food truck in Austin, Texas. Ever since, I have made it at home for parties, served with cold beer or frozen margaritas, when I want a casual, fun vibe for my guests. 

But I got to thinking: Wouldn’t it be easier and more surprising to build one GIANT Frito pie? And so my tortilla chip chili pie was born. This fun recipe makes appearances for movie nights, lazy days at the pool, football season, and birthday celebrations. And it’s always a hit.

Credit: Perry Santanachote

The chili is easy to put together in one large skillet and cooks in just 20 minutes. I like to use a 12-inch cast iron pan, but any other same size nonstick pan works well too. The chili’s flavor is smoky with some heat and a bit of sweetness from the chipotle in adobo, poblanos, and honey. I prefer to use ground turkey as the base to lighten it up, but ground beef and tofu work great, too (for a more traditional or a plant-based version, respectively). For the tofu, press the water out well, then crumble it right into the pan. 

To prep the chips, use scissors to carefully cut open the front side of a 13-ounce or larger bag of tortilla chips (make sure they are the thicker, sturdy kind to hold the chili) and place it on a sheet pan. Carefully spoon the chili on top, making sure most of the chips are covered. You don’t need to use all of the chili at first. Save some to replenish once the top layer is devoured.

Credit: Perry Santanachote

To finish building the pie, layer on finely shredded Mexican-blend cheese so it melts quickly. Stir together fresh lime juice and Greek yogurt and dollop on top for a brighter, creamy finishing touch. Then throw on thinly sliced, red Fresno peppers for color (chopped fresh jalapeños work well, too). Scatter a handful of fresh cilantro leaves to complete the whole thing. Typically, I serve grilled corn on the cob or bowl of buttered corn niblets with crumbled cotija cheese on the side.

Get-Ahead Tips for Making Tortilla Chip Chili Pie

It’s easy to make most of the components of this dish ahead of time, so you won’t have much left to do once your guests show up.

  • The chili can be made the day before and reheated on medium in a skillet until bubbling. The flavors meld together for a richer-tasting chili.
  • The fixins can be prepped the day before and stored in airtight containers in the fridge.

Tortilla Chip Chili Pie Recipe

Prep time 15 minutes

Cook time 35 minutes

Serves 6 to 8

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1

    large sweet onion

  • 1

    small or 1/2 large poblano pepper

  • 4 cloves

    garlic

  • 1 (about 15-ounce) can

    black beans

  • 1 pound

    lean ground beef, ground turkey, or extra-firm tofu

  • 3 tablespoons

    vegetable oil

  • 3

    canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    canned chipotle in adobo sauce

  • 1 1/4 teaspoons

    kosher salt

  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can

    diced tomatoes

  • 1 teaspoon

    honey

  • 1 unopened (12-ounce) bag

    tortilla chips

  • 1

    medium lime

  • 1 cup

    plain Greek yogurt, or regular or dairy-free sour cream

  • 1

    medium red Fresno pepper

  • 1/4 bunch

    fresh cilantro

  • 1 cup

    shredded Mexican-blend cheese (about 4 ounces)

Instructions

  1. Prepare the following, adding each to the same medium bowl as you complete it: Dice 1 large sweet onion (about 1 1/2 cups). Trim and finely chop 1 small or 1/2 large poblano pepper (about 1/2 cup). Finely chop 4 garlic cloves.

  2. Drain and rinse 1 (about 15-ounce) can black beans. If using tofu, drain and crumble 1 pound into bite-sized pieces.

  3. Heat 3 tablespoons vegetable oil in a large, heavy bottomed skillet on medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion mixture and sauté until soft and translucent, about 7 minutes. Add 1 pound lean ground beef, turkey, or tofu, breaking up the meat into small pieces with a wooden spoon, for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, finely chop 3 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (about 2 tablespoons) and measure out 1 1/2 teaspoons of the sauce.

  4. Add 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, the chipotle peppers and sauce, and black beans to the skillet. Stir to combine. Add 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes with their juices and 1 teaspoon honey and stir to combine. Cover slightly with a lid. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the chips and garnishes.

  5. Place 1 (12-ounce) bag tortilla chips on a large platter or baking sheet. Using scissors or a sharp knife, cut the bag down the center and across the middle. Pull the sides away from the bag to open it up and create a bed of chips for the chili to rest on.

  6. Juice 1 medium lime into a small bowl (about 1 1/2 tablespoons). Add 1 cup plain Greek yogurt or sour cream and whisk to combine. Trim 1 red Fresno pepper, halve, and remove the seeds. Very thinly slice the pepper crosswise. Coarsely chop 1/4 bunch fresh cilantro until you have 1/4 cup.

  7. Spoon the chili over the chips. Top with 1 cup shredded Mexican blend cheese, the lime mixture, Fresno pepper, and cilantro. Serve immediately.

Recipe Notes

Topping options: Other toppings can be used, such as toasted corn, finely chopped jalapeños, thinly sliced red onions, or very thinly sliced green onions.

Substitutions: Fresh Mexican oregano can be substituted for the cilantro.

Make ahead: The chili and lime mixture can be made up to 1 day ahead and refrigerated in separate airtight containers. Reheat the chili right before assembling.

You can also make a double batch of the chili and freeze for up to 4 months.