All the text message said was “Do you have any chili recipes?” I should have chosen to ignore it. I should have deleted it from my phone. At the very least I should have said no. But of course, I didn’t think before I responded. An impulsive “yes” lead to volunteering to help my uncle with a chili cook off his coworkers had suckered him in to doing.
You should know that my family is extremely competitive. At this year’s New Years Day family football game blood was drawn—and it was two hand touch football. That may seem a bit extreme but that’s just the nature of the beast. We like to win. End of discussion.
It started out innocently enough. One Saturday afternoon I brought my collection of cook books over to my uncle’s house so we could skim through them and set up a game plan. We decided to go the slow cooker route since hours of slow simmering seems to make everything better. I’m pretty confident that you could slow cook a sneaker with the right spices and it would end up being fantastic.
First recipe up was Smoky Beef Chili from the Williams Sonoma book The New Slow Cooker. I tend to prefer chili when it has a lot of meat so with four pounds of beef chuck this seemed ideal for me. The chilies in adobo as well as the chipotle chili powder gave the sauce this rich smoky flavor that I absolutely loved, especially since the dish was served with a sweet corn salsa on top that added a much needed lightness to the dish. This was definitely as far away from your standard ground-beef-packet-seasoning-canned-beans chili that I feel most people makes these days for a quick weeknight meal.
Second recipe was Chili with Chocolate from Crock Pot’s The Original Slow Cooker Recipe Collection. While this was a solid chili and incredibly easy to make, it still didn’t have that winning flavor. It had a sweet and savory flavor that was nice but with ground beef, onions, canned tomatoes, and canned chili beans being the only substantial ingredients it still fell short of a truly unique dish.
To get further away from the run of the mill chili we decided on another recipe from Crock Pot: Mama’s Beer Chili. I was pleasantly surprised by this chili because it had a lighter quality to it. Ground turkey, curry powder, honey, and corn gave it a really nice sweetness. It felt light but filling and had a completely different taste that what one would typically expect from chili. However, in the next batch chorizo was added and the corn was omitted and the flavor, while not bad, wasn’t as unique as the original batch.
At this point chili was consuming my life. All I was eating was chili. All I was talking about was chili. All anyone in my family was talking about was chili. My coworkers even started bringing in recipes and soliciting people they knew for recipes. I reached out to my foodie friends. I officially had no life outside of chili. But now I had to win.
Next we decided on a recipe for Texas-Style Chili a coworker of mine had given me. It was a pretty standard chili but had quite a bit of heat to it, and my uncle at this point was getting vengeful towards his coworkers that had sucked him into the chili competition. I believe the phrase “melt their faces” was thrown around a bit, as well as “have them begging for milk and bread.” I couldn’t quite bring myself to use the ¼ cup chili powder the recipe called for so I made some of my own seasoning adjustments. I used Bush’s hot chili beans for the first time, which I actually enjoyed quite a bit despite how salty they are (my pallet is very sensitive to salt so I typically stay away from anything pre seasoned). Also the chorizo in this recipe added some extra heat but was also pretty salty. This particular batch was a big hit with the family though so for a while it looked like this might be the winner.
The final recipe I tried was from a baker I used to work with. I was attracted to the recipe because it has almost every element you would think to put in chili and then some: five types of peppers, two types of meat, chocolate, coffee, beer, three types of beans, etc. This chili was probably the most unique out of everything I had made, but it still seemed like it wasn’t perfect. Maybe too much sauce? Maybe too spicy?
The out of the blue my uncle suggested mixing the Texas chili with the chili from the baker. His eating habits are kind of a joke in my family because he will mix anything together. I have actually seen him clean out the fridge by mixing left over mac and cheese, tuna salad, cottage cheese, and top the entire thing with hot peppers and Thousand Island dressing. So of course my sarcastic replay was “ok, and then we can top that with cottage cheese.” But a little bit after responding I became curious and decided to try it. I took small scoops from the two, mixed them in a bowl, heated it up a bit, and much to my surprise actually enjoyed it.
Basically I have the Frankenstein of chili recipes sitting in my fridge and it actually works, so this is what he is submitting for the competition. I want to make some final tweaks to the recipe before I make it again for myself, changing some of the ingredients and adding ones from other recipes (like chilies in adobo or beef chuck), or using the slow cooker. When I finally get the perfect chili recipe down I will definitely post it. But it may be a while before I make chili again. Or eat chili again. Or think about chili again.