No beans about it

Deep in the heart of Texas, the chili is all beef.

click to enlarge No beans allowed in this smoky bowl o’ red. - Katie Machol
Katie Machol
No beans allowed in this smoky bowl o’ red.

Now that winter is officially here and many parts of the country (even Florida) are finally starting to cool down, there’s nothing more comforting than a hot bowl of stew to warm the body and the soul. My go-to is chili. It’s hearty, comforting and just about foolproof to make.

I had always been a fan of chili with beans, as those little legumes add nice texture and have a fair amount of fiber in them (yes, I care about these things). But since moving to Texas, I’d been meaning to give the state’s signature bean-less style of chili (aka “chili con carne”) a try in the kitchen.

Texans take much pride in their “bowl o’ red,” hence rules number one and two for Texas chili: absolutely no beans included, and it must have a tomato base, be it from the addition of tomato paste and/or canned tomatoes. No white, green or bean-laden types can be called true Tex chili here. Typically you’ll see Texas chili made with beef chuck or brisket, but if you don’t have all day to wait for it to cook, use ground beef (and don’t even think about using that lean stuff).

As for the cooking vessel, cast iron is the way to go. Its even heat distribution means everything inside gets cooked evenly — no scorched bottom and lukewarm surface. If you don’t have a cast iron, don’t fret; just make sure you stir your chili occasionally so that the bottom of the batch doesn’t burn. To finish off the dish, fresh cilantro, shredded cheese and onions are great options. I used a smoked cheddar to top mine and it added a smoky kick that nicely complemented the toasted chiles and spices in the dish. A side of cornbread or warm, soft tortillas to dip in the chili also make tasty accompaniments.

Texas Style Chili Con Carne

Makes 8-12 servings

4-6 dried chilies: Ancho, chipotle, guajillo or a mix of them

1 cup boiling water

1 large onion, chopped

2 bell peppers, seeded and chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 1/2-2 pounds ground beef

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 tablespoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon onion powder

1/2 tablespoon dried oregano

12-oz. bottle of Mexican or Texas beer (nothing hoppy; I used good ol’ Texas Shiner Bock)

1 large can crushed or diced tomatoes (do not drain)

1 can low-sodium beef or chicken broth

Salt and pepper, to taste

Garnish options: Cilantro leaves, chopped onion, diced

avocado, shredded cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese


1. Heat a large pot or cast iron dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the chilies and toast over moderately low heat, turning, until lightly charred, about 2-4 minutes, then turn off the heat and immediately remove the chilies. Transfer the chilies to a heatproof bowl and cover with the boiling water; let stand until softened, about 20 minutes.

2. Heat cooking pot to medium, add onions, bell peppers and garlic, and sauté for a few minutes until the vegetables become soft. Add the ground beef, breaking it up with a spoon, and all spices, and cook until the beef is no longer pink.

3. Add the soaked chilies and their soaking liquid to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Pour the chile puree over the beef mixture. Add the beer, stir and let cook for a few minutes. Then add the tomatoes along with their juices and the broth. Stir to combine everything, bring to a simmer and let it cook, stirring occasionally, for at least one hour. If there seems to be too much liquid in the chili, let it simmer uncovered to reduce the liquid and thicken up. Otherwise, cover the pot while simmering.

4. Before serving, season with salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into bowls, garnish, and serve with cornbread or tortillas. Enjoy, y’all!

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