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The Weekend Chef

Texas Chili tips from the heart of Cowtown

Posted 4:14pm on Thursday, Apr. 12, 2012

Chili, the official dish of Texas, is a very personal thing for most Texans. Family recipes have been passed down from one generation to the next. It's even more personal in Fort Worth, where chili powder was invented in 1890 by DeWitt Clinton Pendery.

So instead of concentrating on a recipe for a big bowl of “Texas Red,” I decided to offer you some tips I've picked up on my chili travels. And you can try them on your own family recipe. (If you don’t have a recipe, don’t worry. I have included one at the end of the tips.)

First things first, what is Texas chili? In its purest form it is a meat stew, normally made with beef cooked with chiles. Other ingredients, such as tomatoes are now common in Texas chili, but one thing that definitely is not: beans.

So my first tip is ...

1. No beans in the chili when you are serving chili in public. It is much better to fix a pot of beans to serve next to the chili. That way you or your guest can add them (when no one is looking).

2. For a more consistent chili flavor from batch to batch, use dried spices and chili powders. Fresh spices and chiles, while terrific, can vary in flavor and potency, making it extra tricky to make that same bowl of chili, or to fine-tune your recipe for next time.

3. Try using Pendery’s chili powder. Pendery’s (the inventor of chili powder) has been a fixture in Fort Worth for more than 140 years. (The shop is on 8th Avenue in the hospital district.) Pendery’s “Fort Worth Light” chili powder blend is a favorite of chili cook-off chefs.

4. Speaking of competition chili, another ingredient that seems to find its way into most cook-off chili is a package of Sazon Goya (Mexican food aisle). Give the seasoned salt a try and see what you think.

5. The better the beef, the better the chili. Use quality beef cut into ½ inch cubes. Chuck and round are common choices, but if you can find top sirloin or steaks on sale, go for it! Just be sure to trim the excess fat to help keep the chili from becoming greasy.

6. Layer the flavor. Chili powders, and spices like cumin, can lose or change flavor when cooked too long. Try adding them 10 to 30 minutes before you serve the chili instead of when you start cooking. In chili cook-off competitions, the spices are typically divided into three spice dumps added at different times during the cooking cycle. Check out the recipe below for an example.

7. The gravy. Texas Chili should be thick enough to stand a spoon in. So be sure not to add too much liquid. A rule of thumb is to just cover the meat with your stock, beer, or water. As it cooks down you can add more.

If you need to thicken your gravy, try masa harina (corn tortillas flour). You can also use crushed corn tortillas chips or corn tortillas; they contain the same masa harina flour.

8. Chili too hot? Try adding some lime juice.

9. Chili not “Texas Red” in color? Add some paprika.

10. Chili just missing something when you taste it? Try adding a little sugar.

Texas 3 dump chili

  • 4 lbs. beef cut into ½ inch cubes (chuck, round or steak)
  • 3 beers or stock (I used Negra Modelo, a sweet, dark Mexican beer)
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 whole garlic head minced
  • 1 large onion diced

1st dump

  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon beef bullion (I like “Better than Stock”)
  • 1 packet Sazon Goya
  • 3 bay leaves
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon jalapeno powder
  • ½ teaspoon brown sugar

2nd dump

  • 2 tablespoons dark chili powder (Pendery’s “Puebla”)
  • 1 tablespoon light chili powder (Pendery’s “Fort Worth Light”)
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon Ancho powder
  • ¼ teaspoon Cayenne Pepper

3rd dump

  • 2 tablespoons dark chili powder (Pendery’s “Puebla”)
  • 1 tablespoon light chili powder (Pendery’s “Fort Worth Light”)
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon brown sugar
  • ½ packet Sazon Goya

In a pot, brown cubed beef in vegetable oil, remove from pot and drain oil.

Add diced onions to the pot. Stir onions, when they start to get translucent add minced garlic. Stir for a couple of minutes, then add beef back to the pot.

Add beer (or stock) until meat is covered (1½ to 2 beers). Save leftover beer to add as needed.

Bring to boil and add the 1st spice dump, stir then reduce heat and let simmer covered for 1 hour.

Add the 2nd spice dump, stir, add more beer if needed then cover and cook another 30 minutes.

Add the 3rd spice dump, stir, add more beer if needed then cover and cook another 10 minutes. Taste and adjust for salt and heat. Enjoy!

Be sure to check the step-by-step pictures in the slideshow above the story.

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