Make Ahead

A Bowl of Red

April 25, 2011
12 Ratings
  • Serves 6 hungry chiliheads
Author Notes

We entered our first chili cookoff years ago, and in our travels along the way we've not only tasted some amazing bowls of red, but met some amazing characters. Ormly Gumfudgin immediately comes to mind. Ormly was such a chili purist that he once physically attacked a Houston chef who put baked beans in his chili. The Texas Rangers came, and, according to reports, yelled at the chef.

I love everything about chili - its welcoming aroma, rich flavor, and soul-embracing warmth - but most of all, I love chili because it's meant to be shared with as many friends as possible!

Test Kitchen Notes

Like barbecue or chocolate chip cookies, chili has inspired many a debate. Connoisseurs know that there are as many versions as there are cooks who make it, but not all chili is created equal. Wssmom's Bowl of Red gives other contenders a run for their money. It's rich and smooth, with a creeping heat from homemade chili paste -- by far the most labor intensive part of the recipe, and it's really not that much work. The addition of a little bittersweet chocolate evokes the suppleness of a good mole, and the delicate beef cubes virtually melt in your mouth. We love that you don't brown the onions or garlic, but just throw them in with the seared meat and the broth to mellow and soften. We highly recommend a spritz of lime juice and a dollop of sour cream to finish it off. - A&M —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • Chile Paste
  • 2 ounces dried chile pepper pods, mostly New Mexico with a couple Guajillos tossed in
  • Chili
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons bacon fat
  • 3 pounds chuck (after trimming), neatly diced into 1/2 to 3/4-inch cubes (partially freeze the meat for easier dicing)
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • lots of freshly-ground pepper
  • 1 1/2 - 2 cups homemade beef or chicken broth
  • 1 gigantic sweet onion (about one pound), diced
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8-10 tablespoons premium commerical chili powder, such as Whole Foods or Gebhardt's
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin, toasted briefly
  • healthy pinch oregano
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 2 cups tomato sauce
  • 1/2-ounce square bittersweet chocolate
  • Chili paste
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • plenty of shredded cheddar, sour cream and lime wedges for serving
  1. Chile Paste
  2. Wearing rubber gloves, stem and seed the chile pods and cover with near-boiling water. Let steep for 30 minutes, then pour off the water and puree the softened pods in a food processor until they form a paste. Pass through a sieve to remove skins and errant seeds. Set aside.
  1. Chili
  2. First, pour yourself a shot of tequila and toast legendary chilihead Carroll Shelby, who founded the International Chili Society. Then, heat the bacon fat in a really big skillet, and working in batches, saute the beef and pork until no longer pink. Drain off the fat.
  3. Place the meat, along with several grinds of pepper, the onions and garlic, in your favorite chili pot and add 1 1/2 cups of the beef or chicken broth. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, and cover. Keep the lid on, and your hands off, for 90 minutes. In the meantime, read H. Allen Smith's brilliant article "Nobody Knows More About Chili Than I Do." (Here's a link:
  4. After 90 minutes, stir in the chili powder, cumin, oregano, salt, tomato sauce, chocolate and half the chile paste. Cover and cook for another half-hour or so. Chase away your guests, who will no doubt be hovering around, demanding to know when it's going to be ready.
  5. At this point, check for consistency. If it's too thin, scoop out the meat and reduce the sauce by bringing to a boil, and when you're happy with it, return the meat to the pot. Stir in the brown sugar. (If it's too thick, add some more of the broth.) Smack any guest who gets too close with a wooden spoon.
  6. Cook, uncovered, for 10 more minutes, and check for seasoning. You can add more salt, chili powder and cumin if you like, or more chile paste if you want to amp it up, or more brown sugar if you like it sweet and hot.
  7. When it looks as good as it smells, summon the troops and serve with a squeeze of lime and a dollop of sour cream. (But have some cheese on hand anyway for the die-hard cheddar lovers!)

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Roger Dube
    Roger Dube
  • Adia Gooden
    Adia Gooden
  • Bianca J
    Bianca J
  • Stefanie Swartz
    Stefanie Swartz
  • Kimberly Anne
    Kimberly Anne

140 Reviews

JeffBuckley January 29, 2023
When you take a bite and giggle because it tastes so good, you know you've found a good recipe. This chili is the best I have ever had. Unbelievably balanced flavors, sweet, heat and tender meat.
Roger D. February 9, 2020
If you're fortunate enough to own a kitchen-Aid stand mixer I recommend grinding all the meat yourself on the 'chili' plate of the grinder (large holes) and use the strainer attachment to make the chili's worth it. The meat was in larger chunks than plain ground chuck and the chili paste came out beautifully and it's a heck of a lot easier.
Adia G. March 28, 2019
This chili is delicious! I won a chili cook off with this recipe! I made a few minor adjustments (used canned chipotle in adobe instead of making the chili sauce), I also salted the meat the night before and used the pressure cook function on my instant pot for about 30 minutes before slow cooking for around 3 hours.
Bianca J. November 24, 2018
I can't really review this because I never actually follow the recipes, mainly because I never have the chilis for the chili paste but I have every other ingredient. This is always my go-to source when I want to make chili and I am always happy with the results, even without the chili paste.
Stefanie S. October 2, 2016
I AM SO UPSET! :( Something went terribly wrong with my chili, after I painstakingly spent so much time and focus to follow each step perfectly.

After step number 2, I put the heat way on low and did my best not to touch it. Tragically, after 45 minutes, the liquid (I even put a little extra) was complete cooked off and the bottom of the chili was scalding! After that, it was a downhill battle trying to keep this chili from clumping up into a paste. I am the least picky person on the planet, and I couldn't enjoy more than two bites of the finished product. What could I have done differently??
Kimberly A. October 12, 2015
My boyfriend and I made a variation of this chili - we added an extra can of tomato sauce and a bottle of beer. We also substituted the chili paste for half a jalapeño and half Serrano chili. It was delicious!
Sheri October 1, 2015
I feel like I make chili often enough but have never followed a recipe to make. So glad I followed this one. My husband even commented it was the best chili he'd ever had! SO GOOD! I added some kidney beans just cause I like it that way.
Cowpscowper September 7, 2015
Best chili I've ever had! Can't wait to share this with a group of friends. Thanks!!!
Roger D. January 5, 2014
Just made a batch of this for the first time. Couldn't find dried 'New Mexico' peppers, used dried California's and added a fresh red chili, minced with the garlic. Also toasted cumin seed then blitzed it in my smelled amazing. Used my own garden tomato sauce so didn't need to add the brown sugar (I put it in my sauce). After the 'recipe allotted time' I tasted it.....WOWWWWWWW!!!!!!
strozyk September 26, 2013
Fantastic stuff. I made my own chile powder with freshly toasted chiles, because I don't have good access to any exceptional store bought stuff - that was so worth it. The chiles shine. Good lord this is tasty.
ftm October 5, 2012
Not that there's a shortage of good reviews, but... I just made this and, Sweet Mama Janisse it was good! So good I registered just to leave this note.

Made exactly as is except I subbed Sam Adams Octoberfest for the tequila and the article about chili.
wssmom November 16, 2012
Octoberfest is one of my favorite beers! Thanks for the kind words and sooo glad you liked it!
rochelle123 September 26, 2012
Followed the recipe and it turned out perfectly. I resisted putting beans in the chili even though I think it would taste great with beans. I love the directions but sadly I didn't start with the shot of tequila....maybe next time. There will definitely be a next time.
wssmom November 16, 2012
Delighted there will be a next time for you! Thanks!
jeanmarieok April 23, 2012
This was delicious - we served it with tortillas and cornbread. I am not a sour cream fan, but a dab of sour cream and a squeeze of lime was really great on this. Great recipe, thanks for sharing!
wssmom May 10, 2012
Thanks, Jeanmarie - the sour cream is a little citified, but it goes really well with the spices!
jeanmarieok April 23, 2012
This was delicious - we served it with tortillas and cornbread. I am not a sour cream fan, but a dab of sour cream and a squeeze of lime was really great on this. Great recipe, thanks for sharing!
innoabrd April 9, 2012
Weather is turning cold here in the Southern Hemisphere...time to make this again! Quite possibly my favorite recipe on food52...
wssmom May 10, 2012
We indulge in it year round! Thanks!
innoabrd February 21, 2012
How come when I logged on and saw there was a your best chili contest, this didn't win?! I'm so...disillusioned!
wssmom February 22, 2012
Aw, thanks!
kwinke February 29, 2012
I was just thinking the same thing. This one deserved it!
kwinke February 5, 2012
I just made this...pretty much exactly as the recipe goes. I did sweat and soften the onions a bit on their own, but only because I really don't like crunchy onions. Maybe 2 hours in the pot wouldn't have mattered in the end.

End result was amazing. Probably one of the greatest chilies I've ever had. Beans don't belong anywhere near this chili.
wssmom February 7, 2012
LOL the Spouse is such a chili purist you can't even say the word "beans" when he is cooking chili. And thanks so much for the compliment -- I am so glad you enjoyed it!
crystal H. February 4, 2012
cooked on crock pot for 24 hours and was absolutely delicious. reminded me of a restaurant in Albuquerque called Sadie's. I ate this there every week while I was pregnant. thanks for the post. I'm new on here but loving this site!
wssmom February 4, 2012
I have never been to Albuquerque, but when I get there I am hoping Sadie's is still there!
crystal H. February 1, 2012
no offense about the beans to anyone...especially in NM this is served with tortillas and refriend beans and fried potatoes. the potatoes and sour relieve some of the heat because serve it really hot their. it is wonderful. now living in OH for 15 years I have so missed this. headed to the store for ingredients to make for dinner tomorrow!
wssmom February 1, 2012
Mmmm tortillas and refried beans and fried potatoes sound yummy as accompaniments! Break out the beer!
ELCookie January 26, 2012
My husband requested chili for his birthday dinner. So I made this with a couple changes. Did not have bacon fat, so I fried two pieces of bacon then used the fat and put the bacon pieces in with the meat when I began the cooking. Also could not find chile pepper pods here in CT but did find ground red chili pepper from New Mexico. So I measured 2 oz, added water and made a paste. Lastly, I added an extra can of tomato sauce. Served with cheese, sour cream, lime and guac. Delicious!
wssmom January 27, 2012
I am so glad he liked it, EL! Great idea to make a paste with chili powder; living on Long Island, I know how hard it is to find chili pods!.
Roger D. February 9, 2020
Stop & Shop carries dried chiles. They're in either produce or the ethnic aisle