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How To Do Frito Pie Like A High School Concession Stand

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We're pairing up with Breckenridge Brewery, Colorado's third-oldest craft brewery, to bring Vanilla Porter into your meals (and, if there are leftover bottles, your fridge). Stay tuned for different ways to use this versatile ingredient all summer long.

Perhaps you have memories of Frito pie as a kid, and perhaps you don't. No matter if you haven't—it'll charm you enough the first time you'll want to have it again and again: Somewhat of a regional specialty, Frito pie is buried in the nooks and crannies of the South, Southeast, and Midwest, often in those under-bleacher concession stands of high school sports games, or local diners.

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Robb Walsh, a food writer and expert on Texas foodways based in Houston, has written about the history of the Frito pie—and its contested origins. Of it, he says:

New Mexicans say Teresa Hernandez invented it in the 1960s at the Santa Fe Woolworth’s (now the Five & Dime), ladling her mother’s homemade red chili into opened corn chip bags, adding no garnishes or additions. Texans, meanwhile, claim that the dish, complete with onions and cheese, was invented in San Antonio by Daisy Dean Doolin, the mother of Fritos inventor Charles Elmer Doolin, in the 1930s.

(It's quite a story! I suggest you give it a read.)

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Frito pie, walking taco, by many names you go. You are all good.
Frito pie, walking taco, by many names you go. You are all good. Photo by Mark Weinberg

I'm from the Midwest, where the Frito pie is dubbed a walking taco—many school lunches were made of trays and trays of them. There's something satisfying about heaping everything into a tiny bag of crunchy corn chips. Layered up chili, chopped onions, cheese, a little sour cream: It all just stays so tidy in there! It makes you feel like a kid!

Our community member arielleclementine says that her own Frito pie is a staple at community gatherings in her Texas city of Buda:

Buda (pronounced BYOO-da), Texas, is "famous" for a couple small-town festivals: "Red, White, and Buda," where people from around the state gather to race their wiener dogs, and "Budafest," the annual Christmas festival. At both events, Frito pies are the stars of the concession stands. They're usually made with Fritos, Wolf brand chili, pre-shredded orange cheese product, and onions. My version classes it up a bit, with legit cheddar cheese and an honest Texas chili: no beans, no tomatoes. But it's close enough to the original to satisfy any Texas Fair-goer :)

Green Chile and Harissa Chili

Green Chile and Harissa Chili by Samantha Weiss Hills

Three-Meat Chili

Three-Meat Chili by Cara Nicoletti

What's delightful about making your own Frito pie(s) is that there needn't be much of a recipe beyond the chili, but you need to get that right: For ours, we took inspiration from arielleclementine's version on our site. Her Texas-style chili intrigued me, especially her dried chile puree, so I married it with a few ingredients I always include in my own chili: fresh green pepper and a little instant espresso. Bison meat is big around southern Indiana (seriously!), so I included that in the place of ground beef or cubed beef shoulder. A vanilla porter rounds out the chili powder and espresso powder with some subtle sweetness, and melds delightfully with the onions and green pepper. A little chicken stock gives body to the leaner meat.

You can browse through other chili recipes here, too, but try to pick something that's not too saucy as you won't want any leaky bags, you want to be able to eat it with a fork standing up, and you don't want the corn chips to get too soggy.

Frito Pie (Or Walking Taco)
Frito Pie (Or Walking Taco)

Once you're chili is made, it's topping time: The traditional way to go is just chopped onions and shredded cheese, but don't be shy. Try mixing a sharp cheddar with some spicy jack cheese, toss in pickled jalapeños, sour cream, avocado, guacamole—it's kinda like nacho pie, so use your nacho imagination.

And if you want to serve it up family-style, just think of the pan as your big, empty chip bag: load in the corn chips first, toss on the chili, throw in a smattering of toppings, and plunk it down at the table.

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Frito Pie (Or Walking Taco)

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Makes several single-serve walking tacos, or one 9-inch pie
  • 4 dried chiles, like ancho, guajillo, pasilla, mulato, stem and seeds removed
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 large white onion, diced and divided in half
  • 1/2 fresh green pepper, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 12-ounce bottle of vanilla porter
  • 1 pound ground bison or other lean red meat
  • 1 teaspoon chile powder
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • Small bags, or 1 9-ounce bag, of Fritos
  • Sharp cheddar and jack cheese, garnish
  • Pickled jalepenos, for garnish
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We're pairing up with Breckenridge Brewery, Colorado's third-oldest craft brewery, to bring Vanilla Porter into your meals (and, if there are leftover bottles, your fridge). Stay tuned for different ways to use this versatile ingredient all summer long.

Tags: breckenridge beer, porter, frito pie, walking taco