I can’t believe I’ve never written about chili here. It’s a great cold-weather food, freezes well, has an infinite variety of recipes, and comes with an impossible-to-resolve debate. It’s hard to think of another food that matches it for taste, flexibility, and entertainment potential.

We’ve been making chili for about thirty years, and it’s a bit embarrassing to realize how little our recipe has changed. A definite case of “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

It began as a fairly literal implementation of the one on the Carroll Shelby’s Chili Kit box. (Have I mentioned that we’re lazy cooks?) Over the years, we’ve tweaked it for even more laziness–but also more flavor.

Yes, it’s heavy on cans. There’s that lazy thing again. And also yes, it is a crockpot recipe. That’s not laziness, that’s convenience.

As for that debate? We’re firmly in the pro-bean camp. We’ll cheerfully eat bean-free chili, but if we make it ourselves, it’s gonna have beans. Sorry “real” Texans.

Ready? Great.


  • One bottle of dark beer. Please, not whatever’s cheap. Get something you might actually want to drink. Lately, we’ve been using Guinness. Apologies to any Irish readers who believe contact between stout and solid food is sacriledge.
  • One fifteen ounce can of kidney beans. Go for the low-sodium version. There’s quite enough salt coming in from other ingredients.
  • One fifteen ounce can of black beans. Again, low-sodium. Sure, you could use two cans of black or red beans, but why? They’re both tasty. Embrace the power of “and”.
  • One fifteen ounce can of crushed tomatoes. Just tomatoes. No peppers, no spices. If you can find a salt-free or low-sodium variety, even better.
  • One six ounce can of tomato paste. I’ve heard people claim this is a thickener. Nope. Just a flavor magnifier.
  • Optional but recommended: One onion, chopped. It adds flavor and a little bit of texture. A very little bit.
  • Three tablespoons (plus or minus one, depending on how much of a kick you want) of chili spice. Not mix. This, by the way, is where most of the salt is going to come in.
  • Optional but recommended: Additional spices to taste. Got an interesting barbeque rub? Toss in a tablespoon or so. We think highly of Penzeys’ “Arizona Dreaming”.
  • One pound of stew meat. Beef is good. So is lamb. We’ve never tried it with poultry, but if you do, go for chicken thighs or turkey. Chicken breasts don’t have enough flavor to bother with.
  • One pound of ground meat. Again, think beef or lamb. If your provider offers a “coarse” or “chili” grind, go for it–unless they pre-spice it or mix in peppers. Bell peppers in chili aren’t an abomination in the same way mayo on a burger is, but they take the flavor profile in the wrong direction.


  1. Combine the beer, beans, tomatoes, and tomato paste in your crockpot.
  2. Add the spices and stir well.
  3. Toss in the onion if you’re using it.
  4. Stir in the meat. Many recipes recommend browning the meat first. We don’t usually, but if you do, add the fat and liquid that cooks off. You don’t want to lose that flavor. If you don’t brown the ground meat, don’t toss it in as a brick, crumble it.
  5. Cook on low until you’re ready to eat, at least six hours. If possible, stir it once about halfway.

Be aware this makes a very wet chili. One might even go so far as to call it a soup, rather than a stew. Rather than thickening the pot with masa as many recipes advise, we lazily suggest allowing diners to thicken their own portions to suit their tastes:

  • Crumble in a good handful of crackers–we recommend saltines or oyster crackers, but we’ve been known to use Ritz crackers.
  • Serve with a substantial bread, something with a thick crust and dense insides. Dip the bread to soak up chili juice, or drop in bite-sized pieces. Done right, the bread can take on a very dumpling-like texture.
  • Maggie swears by Parmesan cheese as a thickener. I’ll refrain from comment.

As I said above, this chili freezes well. It also keeps well in the fridge and reheats nicely in the oven. Have some for lunch while you watch a Spring Training game!