Ultimate Beef Chili

by Food Hound on March 27, 2013

in Main Dishes, Meat, Soups and Stews

Post image for Ultimate Beef Chili

I hit not one, but TWO PRs at the gym this morning.

I ate this chili for dinner last night.


Folks, this chili is it.  It is what it says it is, and it’s a winner.  And it might even help you PR your overhead squat.  Interested?

I love chili in pretty much any form.  I love it from Cincinnati and Texas; with beans and without beans.  It’s a crowd-pleaser.  If you’re eating chili, you’re probably having a good time (as long as your football team is winning).

I have experimented with all kinds of chili over the years, and I have a killer weeknight chili that tastes pretty freakin’ awesome without having to cook for hours and hours.  It’s easy, it’s classic, it’s delicious.

But… I’ve also been searching for the ultimate chili.  The kind that wins contests.  The kind that takes four hours but is worth every second.

‘Is a chili EVER worth four hours?’ you ask.  Yes.  This one.

In our fast-paced world, quick recipes are king.  I’m no exception- I love things that are easy and quick to make.  But sometimes you lose something.  Sometimes there are just things that need hours of effort for the perfect amount of flavor-building.  Can you get a good chili in under 30 minutes?  Definitely.  But will it win contests?  No.

Enter the Ultimate Beef Chili.

For those of you who are food-obsessed, all I have to do is mention that this recipe is from the Cook’s Illustrated ‘Science of Good Cooking‘ book, and you’re probably already browning your meat.  For those of you not already obsessed with Cook’s Illustrated, this is a magazine/company that breaks down the ‘whys’ and not just the ‘hows’ of a recipe.  They recruit an army of testers to test every possible technique and ingredient combo to get the perfect recipe, in addition to the principles of food science, which geeks me out more than you can possibly imagine.

So… let me start convincing you that four hours for chili = worth it.

1. If you build it, they will come.  OK, totally cheesy line from a movie that makes the Booze Hound cry while I’m reaching for the remote to change the channel, but know this: you have to build the flavor profile, and that takes time.  Toasting your own chiles, making your own spice paste, and cooking it with the aromatics builds depth of flavor that is actually evident in the final product, not just smoke in mirrors to defend a recipe that takes four hours.  Seriously- you will notice the difference.

2. Meat gotta cook.  Browning meat might possibly be the bane of my existence, but it must be done, and it must be done in batches.  That caramelization (aka brown bits) on the chunks of steak adds tremendous flavor to your final product.  Ground meat just isn’t going to give you those heavenly brown bits.

3. You get to cook with beer.  No deep insight on this one, just a fact.  One for the chili, one… two… three for you.

4. Braise, baby, braise.  There is stovetop braising, and then there is oven braising.  Always pick oven braising.  Always.  No pot to manage on the stove, and it’s going to produce melt-in-your-mouth meat every time.  And while it’s braising, you can know that your chili is working its own magic with no more effort from you, so you can catch up on your DVR cleaning.

I’ve spent years trying to find a chili that I could make at 6:30, eat by 7:00, and take home the gold at a chili contest, and I’m just here to say that can’t happen.  And the recipes that do claim to be quick and award-winning probably use some sort of flavor enhancer like liquid smoke or instant bouillon granules to try to trick your taste buds that you’re eating something with depth of flavor, when you’re really just eating salt.  If chili is going to be perfect, it requires effort.  It requires a Sunday afternoon.  It requires some love.

Don’t throw away your quick chili recipes.  For weeknights or killer chili cheese fries, something way more efficient fits the bill.  But if you want the Ultimate Beef Chili, I promise you this one is worth it.  That deep, earthy flavor from the toasted chiles and spices… those perfectly brined beans… those melt-in-your-mouth chunks of STEAK… THAT is what chili is all about.

Do I think it actually helped me PR?  Well, since a robust bowl of rich, meaty chili is the last thing I ate before my 6 am (aka Zero Dark Hundred) workout, yes.  I do.  So if you’re looking to throw around some big weight, you might think about dusting off your Dutch oven to try this one out.

Wait, you don’t have a place to throw around big weight, you say?  Well… you’re in luck!

You all know the Booze Hound and I are crazy CrossFitters.  Our CrossFit affiliate, CrossFit Ktown, has made us leaner, stronger, and better people, in general.  And we don’t actually ‘throw around’ big weight- we are coached with amazing technical skill and patience by some of the coolest cats/innovative coaches around.  So you could say that we move heavy weight with good form. (Throwing around big weight just sounds way more fun).  We also do body weight movements + mobility.  It’s a mixed bag of awesome.  No meatheads, no attitude- just solid work and lots of fun while doing it.  Feeling your lungs burn is fun, right?  Right?

If you’re local to Knoxville and you are even the slightest bit interested in what CrossFit Ktown is all about, now is the time to check it out!!  The coaches are rolling out a new fundamental training program for new members, and it’s half off if you sign up in the month of April.  Half off!  Bonus- if you decide to join and want to come to 6 am class, you can hang out with me and we’ll talk about food while we deadlift.

Ultimate Beef Chili.  Sexy shoulders from CrossFit Ktown.  Two things that are totally worth the effort.

Ultimate Beef Chili
From Cook's Illustrated 'The Science of Good Cooking' cookbook
Serves: 8-12
  • 16 oz dried pinto beans, picked over and rinsed
  • Kosher salt
  • 6 dried ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded, and torn into 1-inch pieces
  • 2-4 dried arbol chiles, stemmed, seeded, and split into 2 pieces
  • 3 T cornmeal
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp cocoa
  • 2½ c low-sodium chicken broth, divided
  • 2 onions, cut into ¾"-pieces
  • 2 small jalapeño chiles, stemmed, seeded, and cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 3 T canola oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (14.5-oz) can diced tomatoes
  • 2 tsp molasses
  • 3½ blade steak, ¾" thick, trimmed and cut into ¾" pieces (or a well-trimmed chuck roast- that was my choice)
  • 1 (12-oz) bottle mild lager, such as Budweiser
  1. Combine 4 quarts (16 cups) water, 3 tablespoons salt, and beans in a large Dutch oven and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove the pot from heat, cover, and let stand 1 hour. Drain and rinse beans well.
  2. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Place ancho chiles in a 12-inch skillet set over medium-high heat; toast, stirring frequently, until flesh is fragrant, 4 to 6 minutes, reducing heat if chiles begin to smoke. Transfer to bowl of a food processor and cool. Do not wash out skillet.
  3. Add árbol chiles, cornmeal, oregano, cumin, cocoa, and ½ teaspoon salt to food processor with toasted ancho chiles; process until finely ground, about 2 minutes. With the processor running, very slowly add ½ cup broth until a smooth paste forms, about 45 seconds, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Transfer the paste to a small bowl. Place the onions in the now-empty processor bowl and pulse until roughly chopped, about four pulses. Add the jalapeños and pulse until the consistency of chunky salsa, about four pulses, scraping down the bowl as necessary.
  4. Heat 1 T canola oil in the large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion mixture + ½ tsp salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the moisture has evaporated and the vegetables are softened, 7 to 9 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chili paste, tomatoes, and molasses; stir until chili paste is thoroughly combined. Add the remaining 2 cups chicken broth and the drained beans; bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.
  5. Meanwhile, heat 1 T canola oil in the 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Pat the beef dry with paper towels and season with 1 tsp salt. Add half of the beef, salted side down, to the skillet. Season again with another 1 tsp salt and cook until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer the meat to the Dutch oven. Add ½ of the beer to the skillet, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen any browned bits, and bring to a simmer. Transfer the beer to the Dutch oven. Repeat with the remaining tablespoon of oil, steak, and beer. Once the final addition of beer has been added to the Dutch oven, stir to combine and return the mixture to a simmer.
  6. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Cook until the meat and beans are fully tender, 1½ to 2 hours. Let the chili stand, uncovered, 10 minutes. Stir well and season to taste with salt.
It can be tough to find dried chiles consistently at the grocery store, so in case you have trouble, you can substitute dried New Mexico chiles (my choice), mulato, or guajillo chiles for the ancho chiles. The arbol chiles can be replaced with ⅛ tsp cayenne pepper per chile (my choice- I used ¼ tsp cayenne total). If you prefer not to work with any dried chiles, you can use ½ c commercial chili powder + ¼-1/2 tsp cayenne pepper. The dried chiles help thicken the chili, so using all powder will affect the final texture a little bit. You might also have to adjust the salt in the recipe if you use a chili powder with salt in it. Lastly, I found the spice as written to be perfect- a nice, slow, flavorful heat that doesn't ignite your mouth. My 14-month old loved it. If you want more heat, use the upper range of arbols/cayenne and maybe toss in an extra jalapeno.



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