Chili Cooking Tips

1. Brown meat first

Brown the meat on the outside first locking in it's flavors before adding any liquids. Browning the meat is an important step that adds deep flavor that permeates throughout your chili. It doesn't matter what type of meat you're using it needs to be seared first. Before browning, don't place meat straight from the refrigerator into the pan. It needs to have the chill taken off first or it won't brown properly - leave it at room temperature first and then use.

2. Always use fresh vegetables.

Buy fresh vegetables and chiles when making your chili. Avoid using vegetables that you have had for some time and fresh is better than canned. If you use canned tomatoes make sure it is a quality brand. Sauté vegetables before any liquid is added. A quick sauté adds more flavor to your chili - experiment using different vegetable combinations. An acidic food like tomatoes may deter proper natural meat tenderization during cooking so waiting near the end of the simmering process might be a good idea.

3. Low and slow.

Don't rush your chili. Using a Dutch oven or heavy-duty pot for cooking will help maintain an even heat. Bring your recipe to a boil, and then let simmer for at least two hours. The longer the simmering process the more combining of all the flavors. Time is needed to properly draw out the various flavors from each ingredient and mix them all together. To keep the chili from becoming too watery or too thick alternate the lid from covered to uncovered. If the chili becomes too thick trying using broth to dilute (use homemade stock instead of store-bought when you can) - using water may dilute the flavor of the chili. If it becomes too thin try tomato paste to thicken.

4. Chilies.

Some chiles are mild while others are hot - super hot actually. Super hots shouldn’t scare you away from using them but if you're just starting out making chili its best to begin with some milder peppers. When using hot peppers, caution is needed not to touch your eyes when handling. The capsaicin contained in the pepper can come into contact with your hands and eventually find its way to other areas. It is best to wear rubber gloves as well as washing your hands immediately after the gloves have been removed. Try making your own chili powder. Roast up a mixture of stemmed, dried chiles (your option) in an oven set at 250º for about 20 minutes. After cooling use a blender or food processor to turn the chiles into a powder. Go slowing when adding the mixture using small amounts allowing time for the flavors to fully blend before adding more. A pepper that is in powder form will have an even, consistent flavor throughout the chili while a crushed, coarse dried peppers have small bits. When eating one bite may contain 2-3 bits and the next bite may have none. Also, remember that dairy products counteract capsaicin, so to put out the fire drink milk or take a bite or two of sour cream.

5. Herbs and Spices.

Herbs and spices are essential to flavoring your chili. They should be added early in the cooking process to extract all of their flavors and allow them to meld. This will develop a rich, spicy tasting chili while it simmers - experiment using different herbs and spices. Be careful when using pre-packaged mixes. They tend to contain loads of sodium and preservatives which changes the taste of the chili. Taking time to make your own mix is the best way to go and several batches can be made at once with easy storage. Purchased chili powder is a blend of spices but using the spices individually allows for the building of layers of flavor. When seasoning in stages, add robust spices first allowing them to build a rich, deep flavor and then add the more mild spices last.

6. Beans.

If you're using dried beans soak them overnight in water. Canned beans may actually become overly soft because of the chili's long cooking times. Canned beans also have a high salt content and should be rinsed before using to reduce sodium by 33%. Washing also eliminates any traces of the packing liquid. This liquid can have a metallic taste and disrupt the chili's flavor. The addition of beans early in the cooking process lets them meld with the flavors of the chili. If you like beans that have a creamier texture cook them with the lid on. Soaking the beans in salt water overnight will also soften them.

Chili Trivia:

  • Chili is the official state food of Texas
  • Cincinnati Chili was inspired by Greek and Macedonian immigrants around the turn of the 20th century
  • The intensity of heat in the taste of the Chile peppers usually decreases as the size of the pepper increases