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5 from 2 votes

Authentic Texas Chili?

See, I have a particular hang-up that either holds me back, oooor it forces me to be creative. I’m never really quite sure which it is. I struggle to make authentic regional foods, from regions outside my own. People get upset with me when I stake this claim, but I can’t help it. It’s just something I feel deep in my bones.

It’s not that I can’t make them and it’s not that they won’t be lovely and tasty, but they’ll be approximations, amalgamations and interpretations. They won’t be the real deal. Or, maybe they’ll be the real deal, or even transcend the real deal. Being that I’m not from that region, I simply don’t feel equipped to know.

I used to own a catering company down in Mexico. The menu had a very wide range of foods, ingredients and cultural nods. Yes, Mexico presented strongly, but I didn’t have anything simple like Shrimp Tacos. I didn’t have anything like Cochinita Pibil. I DID have things like Chilled Shrimp Ceviche with Cilantro Salad in a Jicama Shell and Sour-Orange and Achiote Smoked Pork Tortas, though (both were stunning!). Neither were authentic, but both strongly resembled food from the area (in a hoity-toity sense). Every once in a while, I’d have someone call and just ask for Tacos or Enchiladas. In the most awkward way possible, I’d sheepishly explain that I don’t really know how to make those things, that I’m not originally from Mexico. It’s not in my blood. I can approximate those things, but for the real deal, it may be better to find an authentic local.

A person that comes from a specific area knows that area. They know the foods they were raised on. They know what they’re eating in their home. They know what their neighbors are eating. They know the best restaurants, the best street food, their grandmothers’ favorite dish, etc. They know the ingredients in their house and the brand names their local market carries. Authentic foods, to me, are made by those people, from their own cultures, using ingredients procured from the area in which they’re intertwined. It’s like a Cuban fella trying to make San Francisco Sour Dough ... in Miami. It’ll be good and potentially even excellent, but it won’t be authentic. Even if he has a 100-year-old historic starter from San Francisco, a few Miami yeast spores are likely to hop in for the ride.

Anywhoooo ...

I’ve done a lot of reading and research on the topic of chili, chilli, chile, chilly, etc. The more I read and the more I learn, the less crystal the idea of a perfect authentic Texas style chili becomes. If there’s anything that is true, that I believe I can firmly stick a pin in, it’s that it involves a lot of meat and a lot of chilies. Almost certainly, there are no beans and no tomatoes. Beyond that, the fog rolls in quickly.

The best I’m really able to do is to imagine the history of chili in Texas and try and pull together the ingredients and method from that. Roughly 150 years ago, Chili was made from nourishing stuff found in the San Antonio area. It was largely inexpensive and readily available ingredients, tossed into a cauldron and melded over time. The famous Bowls o’ Red.

There’s also a separate type of on the range chili, which was dried meat that was pounded into a kind of stringy fluff (like Mexico’s tasty Machaca). From there, fat was pounded into the meat, along with some chilies and seasonings. This was formed into bricks. Cowpokes, cattle prodders and cookies carried this flavorful nutrient dense foodstuff around with them, completely preserved. They’d just add a little water and maybe a bit of flour to thicken it and emulsify the fat ... and enjoy!

The meat wasn't always beef. It was often pork, venison, turkey, antelope, or whatever else is around. Blends weren't uncommon. The chilies also weren't always the same and were often blended. However, the super spicy Texas chiltepin often made an appearance. Chilies were added in an effort to bulk out the meat, to feed a full family. There were almost as many chilies are there was meat. There was typically wild onions and garlic; probably oregano and cumin, too! Plus, salt. Maybe thicken with wheat or corn flour. Cook until amazing.

Near as I can tell, the previous short paragraph is as authentic and clear a Texas Chili recipe as I can find. Take what you can find within those guidelines, and cook until wonderful. Simple!

I am currently visiting Mexico. I went to the local grocery store to see what kind of chilies I could find. I don’t know that I could find a chiltepin if I tried, but I wanted to see what’s what.

Here’s what I found:

In place of the chiltepin, I used about 10 dried Chile de Arbol. I’m kind of a delicate flower, when it comes to spice. I didn’t load up on the spicy chilies. I also used about 4 ounces (100 g) of dried ancho and pasilla chilies. I also used about 2 ounces (50 g) of guajillo. These were seeded, roasted over my stove’s flame, then stewed with garlic, scallions, oregano and beef stock. They were then pureed and added to the beef.

Dark, darkness.

IMHO, the end result isn’t a truly authentic San Antonio Bowl o’ Red, but it’s made with a lot of the same ingredients and done in the right spirit. I had a Mexican friend over, when I made this. I was beaming when it was done. I was over the moon, in fact! It was a thick, rich and full-flavored meat mélange, with a touch of spice, but nothing alarming. It was very dark with massive tender chunks of beef. I put a delicate and supple beef chunk on a plate for her to sample. She loved it. “Mole!”, she declared!

Whatever you want to call it ... it was perfect.

Note: Recipe will make about 12 cups of Chili.
Prep Time30 mins
Cook Time3 hrs 30 mins
Total Time4 hrs
Servings: 12 Servings
Calories: 544.64083333333kcal
Author: DJ Foodie


  • 2 bunches (about 24) green onions (scallions)
  • 12 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup fat (such as tallow suet, lard or avocado oil), divided
  • 6 each dried ancho chilies
  • 10 each dried pasilla chilies
  • 4 each dried guajillo chilies
  • 10 each dried chile de arbol
  • 2 cup beef stock or broth (natural and unsalted)
  • 2 tbsp fresh oregano chopped
  • 4 1/2 lbs beef chuck
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin seed
  • 1 tbsp 'Swerve' or other sugar replacement
  • 2 tbsp distilled white vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste


  • Wash and dry your green onions. I used these in place of wild onions, but any kind of onion will do well, here. Once your onions are dry, remove the furry top, then slice little rings out of the white parts. Set the green ends in the refrigerator for garnish.
  • Peel and dice your garlic.
  • Place a medium sauce pan on the stove over low-heat. Add 1 tbsp of fat to the pan and swirl it around. Add the scallions, garlic and a touch of salt and pepper. Sweat over low heat, until soft.
  • While the onions are sweating, remove the seeds from the dried arbol, pasilla, ancho and guajillo chilies. Turn an empty stove burner on high. This is better with a gas burner, but it can work with an electric element (live fire over a mesquite grill is better, but let’s not get crazy). Roast each chili for a brief moment over the empty burner. You’ll see the chilis twist and little bubbles appear under their skins. Roast them, but don’t burn them. This doesn’t need to be done perfectly or thoroughly, just let each chili get a little extra character, plus a blister or two. Immediately after roasting a chili, toss it in the sauce pan with the onions.
  • Once the chilies are roasted and added to the onions, top with the beef stock and fresh oregano. Allow to simmer until the chilies are soft.
  • In a large bowl, toss the beef chuck with ground cumin, salt and a bit of pepper.
  • Place a large stock pot on the countertop, so that it’s close.
  • Place a large sauté pan on the stove, over high heat. Add a tbsp (15 mL) of fat to the saute pan and spread it around. Sprinkle a scant single layer of beef along the bottom of the hot pan. The idea is to add a bit of color to the beef, while also lightly toasting the cumin. Don’t crowd the pan, or else the meat will just sweat. We really want to sear and fry the outside surface. Brown a good 2 sides of the beef cubes, then place in the bottom of large stock pot.
  • Repeat the process of browning the spiced beef, until it is all browned and in the stock pot.
  • In the midst of this browning, you can puree the chilies. Puree the chili mixture in a food processor or blender, until smooth. Once the puree is done, add to the stock pot. Stir with the beef and place over a very low-heat on the stove.
  • Once all the beef is in the pot with the chili paste, add the sweetener and vinegar. Season with a bit more salt and pepper. Stir. Cover and allow to simmer over very low-heat for about 3 hours. Be sure to stir it about every 20 to 30 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning while it cooks.
  • It’ll take about 3 ½ to 4 hours to cook. The meat will be fork tender and shred very easily.
  • Just before serving, slice the green onion stalks into a lovely garnish.
  • Put on your best Chili Queen outfit, spoon out the chili and garnish with green onions. Serve!


Serving: 12g | Calories: 544.64083333333kcal | Carbohydrates: 16.159166666667g | Protein: 36.751666666667g | Fat: 36.700833333333g | Fiber: 5.8766666666667g