As the below-freezing temperatures set in for the time being, I think it's safe to say now is the time to talk about chili. Unlike most people, I cook chili year round. Of course, it's not as hot and spicy during those hot months, because I don't like my mouth to be on fire when it's 110 degrees outside... but I digress. Chili is the perfect meal that I'd bet 99% of people love, yet most of those people aren't making it right.

First and foremost, if you want beans in your chili, put beans in your chili. I grew up dirt poor and those cheap beans really bulked up a dish light on actual meat. There's nothing wrong at all with tossing some kidney or black beans into your chili. I'm not Texan, I'm not here to debate that. Same goes for tomato paste, sauce, and chunks. It's not my thing, but you do you. Why you'd want fruit in your savory chili, I'll never know. What people tend to get wrong is using a kit or pre-made mix for their chili. That's just cheating, and it disqualifies you from honestly telling someone "I made chili." At best, you mixed it.

So what goes into making a great homemade chili? I have a baseline recipe that I've spent years messing with, and it always turns out a crowd pleaser. First off, your choice of meat. I won't fault you for buying the cheaper 80/20 beef, but you're losing bulk as you render out that fat. The last thing you want is a greasy chili, so you're not adding that fat to your pot anyway, go straight to the 90/10 at a medium, 93/7 if you can splurge. Then you have to brown it. I don't mean you cook it until it becomes gray, you need to mash that meat into every square inch of that skillet and cook it until it's seared and brown. It'll naturally release from the pan when it's done, then you just break it up into little pieces. How fine you like your beef is your own decision, I like my chili meat pretty small, but only because having those big hunks usually burns in the crock pot. The other protein and game changer for chili is halving that beef with a good sausage. I prefer Oklahoma's own Blue & Gold variety, but Jimmy Dean regular and hot are acceptable. Potter's doesn't work very well, it's too lean and finely ground. Cook it the same way as the beef, but add your spices to it after you drain the grease off it. Cook those spices until fragrant.

Since I mentioned the spices, I really don't have a set recipe. I have a good baseline mix I use, then I add this and that after a few hours of cooking until it tastes just right. Goes as follows:

4T chili powder
1T garlic powder
1.5T onion powder
1.5T cumin
1.5T cayenne
1T cracked pepper
2T paprika
Salt to taste

That's the mix for four-ish pounds of meats. Add it all to a crock pot, fill with water just until you can see it below the top of the meat, stir in your uncooked veggies. I like red, orange, and yellow bell pepper. The ocasional hot hatch chili, really depends on the mood and who's eating. Ocassionally, because I swear it tastes different every time I use the exact same recipe, and different times of the year, I have to adjust the spices as it cooks. If it tastes like garlic, more chili and paprika. If it's too savory and chili powder tasting, you can cut it with a hit of acid like lime juice or apple cider vinegar. If it's not savory enough, you can boil off that water and pour a beer into it. If it's too thin, add a little corn starch. It's cheating, but it works without an aftertaste. You just have to try different things until you find your own recipe... and believe me, when you can finally tell someone that you actually "make" your own chili, they'll respect it.


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