Make Ahead

Research Chili

January 31, 2012
6 Ratings
  • Makes 1 large pot full
Author Notes

The fact of the matter is, I have never made chili before. Before this, I was only vaguely aware of the rules surrounding the dish—beans vs. no beans, what cut of meat to use, what variety of chili pepper….and so on. I arrived at this recipe the same way any self-respecting nerd would have: I read everything I could get my hands on. I read J. Kenji López-Alt’s “How To Make The Best Chili Ever,” where I learned that there are a plethora of chili peppers, but not all are created equally when it comes to chili brewing. I read Smittenkitchen’s handful of recipes on the subject, and learned that adding a little cocoa powder helps deepen the flavor. Finally, I asked my Aunt Martha (of Cranberry Cake fame). She told me to sauté the aromatics in rendered bacon fat and suggested I throw some lamb into the mix. She also recommended the goat-cheddar topping, which suits the chili marvelously. Here are some things I learned on my own: using canned beans does not make you a bad person. Also, chili splatters when heated. Maybe this doesn’t surprise you? If you are cooking with no pants on, it is possible you will get burned, and then feel like an idiot. You’ve been warned. —Cristina Sciarra

Test Kitchen Notes

I couldn't stop eating this chili! The ingredient list is a long one, but all those extra notes of spice and flavor combine into a complex chili with just the right balance of heat, sweet, and savory. Definitely don't skip the goat cheddar -- it really made a difference.

What You'll Need
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil, divided
  • 7 pieces of applewood smoked bacon, thinly sliced
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and sliced
  • 4 celery stalks, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 1.5 tablespoons Rye whiskey
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • ½ pound ground lamb leg
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon dried mint
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon ground thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 clove
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 serrano chili, halved, seeded and sliced
  • 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
  • ¼ cup cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon black coffee
  • 1 ¼ cups dark stout beer
  • 1 square dark chocolate, shaved with a vegetable peeler
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 can kidney beans, rinsed
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
  • sea salt, black pepper
  • scallions, sliced
  • goat-cheddar cheese, grated
  1. Preheat the oven to 375F. Rub the garlic cloves with a little olive oil and roast for 20 minutes, or until soft.
  2. Heat the rest of the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the bacon, in batches if you have to, so as not to crowd. Cook for about 5 minutes, until crispy, and then set the bacon aside. (You want about 2 tablespoons of bacon fat; remove any excess.)
  3. Add the onion. After a few minutes, add the carrot and then the celery until they start to soften. (This should take about 15 minutes.) Add the brown sugar, and then the Rye, and stir to combine.
  4. Add the meat. After a minute or two, add the cumin, paprika, oregano, cayenne, mint, nutmeg, parsley, dried thyme, basil, clove, mustard and the garlic, and stir into the meat. Stir in the serrano chili. Cook until the meat is no longer red.
  5. Add the tomato paste, the cider vinegar, the coffee, the stout and the chocolate; stir to combine. Add the bay leaves. Raise the heat, to reduce the beer a little. After a few minutes, add the crushed tomatoes, the kidney beans, the fresh thyme and the chicken stock. Add back the bacon.
  6. Lower the heat to a simmer. Cook, partially covered, for about an hour. (Check it after 30 minutes–if it looks a little dry, you can add another 1/2 cup of chicken stock or water.) Check the seasonings, and adjust salt and pepper accordingly.
  7. Serve the chili topped with the scallions and the goat-cheddar cheese.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Alyce Bechia
    Alyce Bechia
  • William Russom
    William Russom
  • Tony Botello
    Tony Botello
  • JRacheff
  • aargersi
Cristina is a writer, cook, and day job real estate developer. She studied literature, holds an MFA in Fiction Writing, and completed the Basic Cuisine course at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. She lives in Jersey City with her husband--a Frenchman she met in Spain--and their sweet black cat, Minou. Follow her writings, recipes, publications and photography at

11 Reviews

MamaKath74 February 1, 2023
Oh yummy. I grabbed the wrong can of tomatoes out of the pantry so I used diced tomatoes not crushed tomatoes. I used only 2 cups of chicken stock and I really like the level of thickness I got with that. This is super delicious and just enough heat. I will definitely make this again...and again and again.
Alyce B. January 15, 2018
My hubby and I made this last night. Amazing.
We tweaked it at the end, once the pot of chili had cooled down we chopped up a couple of bounces of coriander (we love coriander) and spring onions and stirred it through. Served it in a bowl with some smashed avocado and a side of corn chips. Heaven!
William R. August 27, 2015
Dark stout beer is not very specific, can you elaborate on which stout you've chosen and why? Also, some commentary on any attempts with different stouts would be very helpful. I ask mostly because I'm a beer nerd and I want to know more specifically which flavors you're trying to impart with the stout.
Tony B. February 22, 2015
Heu Cristina, I made this chili tonight and it is phenomenal. Thanks for all of your "research." I thoroughly enjoyed this recipe. 5 out of 5.

P.s. I used goat instead of lamb :)
tamaramontreal February 3, 2013
Made this today in honour of the Super Bowl. I only used 3 cups of broth and added some extra tomato paste because I found it a little too liquidy. I also let it sit on a low heat for about 2 hours. It was AMAZING! This recipe is going into my personal cookbook. Thanks!
Cristina S. February 4, 2013
I'm so glad you liked it! I agree it's a bit soupy, so I'm pleased you adjusted it to your liking.
JRacheff December 25, 2012
My surprise when I tried this recipe is: there's no chili! One chili pepper (serrano) and that's all? Is that a typo? Amongst all these ingredients, did you forget to list a chili powder? In the middle of cooking I had to abandon my intention of being faithful to the recipe (because it sounded so intriguing) and cut by 1/4 the tomatoes (1/2 can of paste instead of a whole one, and no canned tomatoes at all) and added 4 tablespoons of New Mexican Red Chili powder. And once I went off grid, I swapped pink beans for kidney.

My family was much more impressed with the result than I was--but I'm anti-tomatoes-in-chili (East Coast chili tends to be more like spicy marinara with beans). There are a richness of flavors in this recipe, and everyone but me loved it.

I love the fact that I can use some of these techniques and ingredients to improve my own brand. Thanks, Cristina.

Oh, the most important part of the recipe to NOT change is no pants. Chef's choice.
Cristina S. December 26, 2012
Hi JRacheff, I created my recipe after researching many chili recipes, and then factoring in my own preferences. It wasn't my intention to create a "purist" chili, which is perhaps what you were looking for. I'm glad your family liked it though! And yes, I stand by wearing pants in the kitchen when chili-making!
some1105 April 6, 2019
Also (and I realize this is super old), but cayenne pepper is a chili pepper. I was prepared not to get heat from this chili, but it does have a gentle kick from the cayenne. The combination of the cayenne with the smoked paprika isn’t far off from using powdered chipotle.
aargersi February 1, 2012
OK so - cook chili FIRST, pants-off dance-off SECOND. Got it :-) Love your spices - some twists in there!!!
Cristina S. February 1, 2012
Haha that's my advice! Now if only I'd start following my own advice.. :)