I got invited to a bunch of chili cook-offs this summer, because nothing beats the heat like boiling vats of spicy liquid. That means I’ve gotten up close and personal with a bunch of shitty chilies. But there was one guy at my girlfriend’s boss’ poolside chili cook-off (dude knew how to throw a party) whose chili was undeniably the shittiest. And he did something I’ve never seen before. He dropped his crock-pot on the judging table, threw up his hands, and said, “There it is. There’s my chili. I know it sucks. I’m sorry.”
I asked him about his game plan — specifically, why he decided to add so much ketchup to the pot, instead of, you know, anything else. He took a swig of beer and said, “I don’t know man, I thought ketchup was, like, the main ingredient in chili.”
Dude! Why? Why did you think that? That’s incredibly stupid. Also, did you not think to do a quick fucking Google search on chili before you hopped in the car and dropped money on groceries? You had literally all the tools at your disposal to not fuck up but you did so completely willingly. Don’t be that guy. Ever.
Start out by rethinking your typical ground beef mix. Since chili is a long-simmering dish and whatever you throw in the pot is going to completely break down you get to play with some tough-but-flavorful cuts of cow. I went with two pounds of brisket — I’m a huge fan of the way its fat is marbled — but something like boneless short rib or even a chuck roast would be totally fine. Dice that meat up as fine as you can with a knife, then liberally season it with salt.
Get some vegetable oil heating in a screaming hot high-heat stock pot — or a cast iron Dutch oven if you got one — and brown the meat cubes in batches. making sure not to overcrowd the pan. If you do that, the meat is going to steam, and that’s a bad thing. Caramelization is the first step in creating flavor, which is why I don’t believe in crock pots. I mean, I believe they exist, I just don’t believe in using them.
When your beef is browned and crusty, remove it from the pan and set aside, then throw some diced onion and — because bell peppers are useless — some diced poblano peppers into the pot and sautée on medium heat. Since I used two lbs of meat, I threw in one 8 ounce onion and two medium poblanos. While the veggies are cooking, add in your spices. This lets them start to toast up and develop a deeper flavor throughout the dish. I went with garlic powder, ancho chili powder, New Mexico chili powder, chipotle chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, oregano, black pepper, and smoked paprika. But, really, as long as you throw any mess of chili powders and a few aromatics in there, you’ll be alright.
Next, when the veggies are cooked through and the spices about to burn, deglaze the pan with 8 ounces of nice dark beer — stouts and porters work best — and stir with a wooden spoon until all the flavor bits have been picked up from the bottom of the pot. Add in your reserved meat, 1 pint each chicken and beef stock, 1 cup of tomato puree, and 2 tablespoons of either white vinegar or your favorite vinegar-based hot sauce. Let it all simmer on low heat for at least 4 hours. The collagen in the brisket will break down, the spices will intensify, and the animal fat will create a super thick and luscious texture.
Throw it in a bowl with some chopped onions and shredded cheddar, or, if you’re in the middle of bulking season, throw it on top of some waffle fries. Because who doesn’t love waffle fries? Also, you may have noticed that this recipe omits beans. That was not a mistake. If you want beans, go pick them out of a cup of Olive Garden minestrone.
Still hungry? Check out the other installments of Bite Club here.
Photos by All photos by Josh Scherer