October 1st, 2013
05:30 PM ET
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Editor's Note: February 27 is National Chili Day. America's Test Kitchen is a real 2,500 square foot test kitchen located just outside of Boston that is home to more than three dozen full-time cooks and product testers. Our mission is simple: to develop the absolute best recipes for all of your favorite foods. To do this, we test each recipe 30, 40, sometimes as many as 70 times, until we arrive at the combination of ingredients, technique, temperature, cooking time, and equipment that yields the best, most-foolproof recipe. America’s Test Kitchen's online cooking school is based on nearly 20 years of test kitchen work in our own facility, on the recipes created for Cook’s Illustrated magazine, and on our two public television cooking shows.

A great beef chili should be a mainstay of every home. In its essence, chili is a form of beef stew and employs a long, slow, moist-heat cooking process to tenderize tough meat. For the best meat, you need to choose cuts from the shoulder; blade steaks or a chuck-eye roast provide plenty of flavor and a silky texture.

This recipe uses a twist on the ready-made chili powder, which can give chili a gritty feel, as well as a rather dull flavor. Instead, we toast dried chiles and then process them with flavorful ingredients and chicken broth to make a deeply flavored, smooth textured paste.

Finally, we know that stews of any kind, and chili in particular, can be time-consuming to prepare. So while the chile paste, vegetables and sauce are simmering, we brown the beef in batches, separately in a 12-inch skillet, and then deglaze the pan with good old beer. Its flavor, a perfect match with chili, only enhances the overall dish. Then it all goes into the oven, where the all-around heat cooks the meat, beans and everything else to tender perfection.

Serve this chili with the usual garnishes. We like diced avocado, chopped red onion, chopped cilantro leaves, lime wedges, sour cream and shredded Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese.

Why this recipe works
Blade steak was easy to cut into pieces and cooked up tender, so it served as the base of our chili recipe. We avoided the grittiness of supermarket chili powders by making our own. Adding cornmeal to our chili powder thickened the chili. For secret ingredients, our chili recipe relies on lager, unsweetened cocoa and molasses.

Serves 6 to 8
A 4-pound chuck-eye roast, well trimmed of fat, can be substituted for the steak. Because much of the chili flavor is held in the fat of this dish, refrain from skimming fat from the surface. Wear gloves when working with both dried and fresh chiles. Dried New Mexican or guajillo chiles make a good substitute for the anchos; each dried árbol may be substituted with 1/8 teaspoon cayenne. If you prefer not to work with any whole dried chiles, the anchos and árbols can be replaced with 1/2 cup commercial chili powder and 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, though the texture of the chili will be slightly compromised. Good choices for condiments include diced avocado, chopped red onion, chopped cilantro leaves, lime wedges, sour cream and shredded Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese. The chili can be made up to 3 days in advance.

Table salt
1/2 pound dried pinto beans (about 1 cup), rinsed and picked over
6 dried ancho chiles (about 1 3/4 ounces), stems and seeds removed, and flesh torn into 1-inch pieces (see note above)
2-4 dried árbol chiles, stems removed, pods split, and seeds removed (see note above)
3 tablespoons cornmeal
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 medium onions, cut into 3/4-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
3 small jalapeño chiles, stems and seeds removed and discarded, and flesh cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 4 teaspoons)
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons light molasses
3 1/2 pounds blade steak, 3/4 inch thick, trimmed of gristle and fat and cut into 3/4-inch pieces (see note above)
1 (12-ounce) bottle mild-flavored lager, such as Budweiser

1. Combine 3 tablespoons salt, 4 quarts water and beans in large Dutch oven and bring to boil over high heat. Remove pot from heat, cover and let stand 1 hour. Drain and rinse well.

2. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Place ancho chiles in 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 food processor and cool. Do not wash out skillet.

3. Add árbol chiles, cornmeal, oregano, cumin, cocoa and 1/2 teaspoon salt to food processor with toasted ancho chiles; process until finely ground, about 2 minutes. With processor running, very slowly add 1/2 cup broth until smooth paste forms, about 45 seconds, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Transfer paste to small bowl. Place onions in now-empty processor bowl and pulse until roughly chopped, about four 1-second pulses. Add jalapeños and pulse until consistency of chunky salsa, about four 1-second pulses, scraping down bowl as necessary.

4. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion mixture and cook, stirring occasionally, until moisture has evaporated and vegetables are softened, 7 to 9 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add chile paste, tomatoes and molasses; stir until chili paste is thoroughly combined. Add remaining 2 cups broth and drained beans; bring to boil, then reduce heat to simmer.

5. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Pat beef dry with paper towels and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt. Add half of beef and cook until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer meat to Dutch oven. Add 1/2 bottle lager to skillet, scraping bottom of pan to loosen any browned bits, and bring to simmer. Transfer lager to Dutch oven. Repeat with remaining tablespoon oil, steak, and lager. Once last addition of lager has been added to Dutch oven, stir to combine and return mixture to simmer.

6. Cover pot and transfer to oven. Cook until meat and beans are fully tender, 11/2 to 2 hours. Let chili stand, uncovered, 10 minutes. Stir well and season to taste with salt before serving.

This recipe, as well as recipes for White Chicken Chili and Simple Beef Chili with Kidney Beans, is featured in Ultimate Chilis on our online cooking school.

More from America's Test Kitchen:
Cook with confidence: America's Test Kitchen Cooking School Cookbook
How well do you know your beef steak cuts?
Sautéing, roasting, and baking online cooking lessons
Baking demystified: The Cook's Illustrated Baking Book
Do cold eggs ruin baked goods?

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Filed under: America's Test Kitchen • Chili • Content Partner • Dishes • Make • Recipes • Soup • Step-by-Step • Tailgating

soundoff (235 Responses)
  1. Dee Osborne

    wow! only 18 ingredients! That's going to be one expensive pot of chili.

    December 8, 2013 at 3:16 am |
  2. Freedom4alll

    Wanna do all that in a fraction of the time? Use a pressure cooker! Bring the beans/water up to pressure then fast/cool release the lid. add the rest of the ingredients and Bring back up to pressure cook for no more than 45 min total time on medium. Uses a fraction of the energy as well.

    December 8, 2013 at 2:25 am |
  3. Toad

    Well anyway, I went ahead and made this recipe tonight.

    For those who think it's too elaborate? Nah. Very simple, not much more prep time than any other chili I would deign to make. My only slight change is I broke off a bit of a 100% cacao bar and added it with the wet ingredients instead of using cacao powder with the dry ingredients. I thought the flavor and thickness was excellent, and of course the leftovers will be even better tomorrow, as with all chili. I'll make it again, but I'll use pork shoulder instead of beef next time; we tend to like pork in our chili these days, and I think it'll go very nicely in this.

    November 7, 2013 at 11:39 pm |
    • Duke LaCrosse

      I encourage you to mix beef and pork to a 2.5 to 1 ratio.

      November 8, 2013 at 12:27 am |
  4. thzzt

    The typical conversation about chili:

    geezer #1: Well, in my day, we didn't add beans to chili. It was just chiles and beef and tomato.

    geezer #2: Ha, tomatoes are for sissies. A real mans chili is just chilies and beef.

    geezer #3: Yes but the real purist must admit that chili is just, well, chilies.

    geezer #4: I tell ya, way back in the day we didn't even have chilies we just had some hot water and a few of the letters that made up the word chili. I think we had the "c" and "i" but the "l" and "h" were not invented yet.

    geezer #5: Heck #4, when you were a teenager I was making chili solely out of the letter "c". And it wasn't the fancy "c" with the curved line either. We had to piece our "c" together with three straight sticks.

    geezer #6: Before that people used to make the "c" in chili with just two sticks so it looked more like a "less than" sign. But not many people understood how to do it then. They were too preoccupied with collecting dirt.

    geezer #7: LOL, you're all a bunch of lightweights. Back when I was a primitive amoeba I witnessed the DNA sequencing of the ancient ancestor of the jalapeno. I could have foretold the whole development of chili, but being an amoeba, I couldn't write, all I could do well was ooze. Consider yourselves served!

    November 7, 2013 at 9:45 pm |
    • Duke LaCrosse

      Served with amoebas? With letters? Dude, that was lame.

      November 8, 2013 at 12:25 am |
  5. donna

    This recipe seems like it has the main course, dessert and after-dinner drink all in one.

    November 7, 2013 at 8:54 pm |
  6. thzzt

    healthy & cheap 7-minute bachelor chile (one big serving)

    1/4 to 1/2 pound of ground beef
    1/2 fresh green bell pepper
    1/2 fresh onion
    1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
    1/4 tsp cumin
    1 12-oz can of PLAIN pinto, black, or kidney beans
    1 12-oz can of crushed or diced tomatos

    a) Dice up onion and green pepper into ~1/4" pieces. Open the cans.
    b) Set burner on high. Salt and pepper an 8" skillet. If the beef is lean add a few teaspoons of vegetable oil. Brown the beef.
    c) Throw in the onion and green pepper in with the beef and saute until the onion begins clear or before things begin to burn.
    d) Stir in the tomatoes, cumin and red pepper flakes.
    e) While letting the above simmer for a few minutes, dump the beans into a collander and rinse off all of the bean juice. (This step is optional. Try it both ways and decide.)
    f) Dump the beans into the chile, stir, and cook just long enough to get the beans hot.
    g) Eat right out of the skillet.

    November 7, 2013 at 8:36 pm |
  7. eric mack

    y'all can call that good chile if you want but I'm from the chile capital of the world-southern New Mexico (Hatch chile). If you ever want good chile, come to southern NM.

    November 7, 2013 at 8:26 pm |
    • Duke LaCrosse

      Once again, "Chile" is a country in South America. Learn to spell and then come play in the pool.

      November 8, 2013 at 12:21 am |
      • Kevin McNelis

        "Chili" is a dish or a mix of powdered spices. "CHILE is the plant, Capsicum annum, chinenesis, fruitecens, etc. How do I know? Professor of Agriculture at New Mexico State University, home of the Chile Pepper Institute. And Hatch Green is a CHILE, a Capsicum annum. Red CHILE is just a green that has been allowed to completely ripen.

        November 8, 2013 at 11:18 am |
        • Duke LaCrosse

          I reject none of your assertion. You should reject none of mine. Nobody eats a bowl of chile.

          December 10, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
  8. Dave

    Table salt
    1/2 pound dried pinto beans (about 1 cup), rinsed and picked over"

    Wait a second! I thought this was going to be a recipe for CHILI, not GOULASH. Real chili DOES NOT HAVE BEANS!

    November 7, 2013 at 8:26 pm |
    • Dover

      Yes it does.

      December 7, 2013 at 11:21 pm |
    • Brian

      Goulash does not have beans......

      February 27, 2014 at 3:50 pm |
  9. SGT Rock

    My recipe for chili:

    1-tbs olive oil, 1-large onion (finely chopped), 1-small green bell pepper (finely chopped), 2-large garlic cloves (finely chopped), 1/2 lbs top round (1/4" cubes), 1/2 lbs pork loin (1/4" cubes), 2-tbs chili powder or to taste, 1-tps ground cumin, 3/4-C beef stock, 1/2-C red wine, 2-tps tomato paste, 1/4-tps red pepper flakes or to taste, 1/2-tps ground coriander, 2-C diced tomatoes, habanero hot sauce to taste, salt & pepper to taste.

    1. Heat oil in a large deep pot (I use a stock pot) 2. Add the onion, green pepper, and garlic, then cook for 2-2 min over medium heat, stir occasionally. 3. Add the meat and cook for another 3 minutes or until browned, stirring to break up any lumps. 4. Add the chili powder, cumin, and coriander. Stir well. 5. Stir in the tomatoes, beef stock, wine tomato paste, red pepper flakes, hot sauce, salt & pepper. 6. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and then cook for 25-30 minutes, stirring often. 7. Place in fridge overnight to let everything meld. 8. Return to stove over low heat w/ lid off and let it reduce for 1-2 hours. 9. Serve with chopped cilantro garnish. 10. Enjoy!!

    November 7, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
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