Ultimate Chili: Combining Tricks and Recipes to Make the Best Possible Dish

Making chili can be as easy as combining canned tomatoes and beans with a seasoning packet and as difficult as grinding your own chili powder. The chili recipe I’ve used for years is one I got from my grandmother-in-law. It’s from the dump-and-heat category.

I’m making the chili for the Super Bowl party I’m attending on Sunday, and I wanted to see if I could upgrade and modernize the existing recipe I had, while still staying true to its spirit of easy cooking. I consulted a variety of recipes, referring to the Jan/Feb 2011 issue of Cook’s Illustrated for guidance on things like meat choice and evaluation of flavor enhancement tricks.

Here’s what went into my chili:

  • While I’ve made chili with ground beef before, I wanted this to be classy chili. I used blade steaks, which come from the chuck portion of the cow. Perfect for braising.
  • I was worried that using steak instead of ground beef would cut down on the amount of fat, so I added applewood-smoked bacon.
  • I had to stick with the chili seasoning packets, in an homage to my grandmother-in-law. In her original recipe she was very clear, “Do not use other than Lawry’s.” I did an ingredient comparison against other prepackaged chili seasoning mixes and noticed that only Lawry’s adds cocoa powder. Cocoa powder is a tried-and-true method for adding flavor to chili. I added more cocoa powder to the seasoning blend, along with more dried oregano and some masa harina to act as a thickener.
  • I used canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce to provide heat. They are just the right combination of smoky and spicy.
  • In another nod to the shortcut crowd, I stuck with canned beans and tomatoes.
  • My grandmother-in-law used salsa in her chili. Instead, I increased the onions and added fresh jalapeños and garlic.
  • A lager beer (aka Corona or Budweiser) added a bright flavor that pairs well with the jalapeños and tomatoes.
  • I added balsamic vinegar midway through the cooking process to add a little more acidity. Balsamic vinegar is perfect because to use because it’s sweet, too.

I wanted to make this chili today so the flavors could develop even more before I served it on Sunday. Making it Saturday will be fine, too. Just at least let it sit overnight.

I’ve made chili on the stove before, but this time I did the majority of the slow cooking in the oven. This was a huge improvement, because the chili could cook more evenly and it didn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.

In the end, I am very pleased with this chili. We’ll see how it tastes on game day, but it’s already delicious.

This makes one large pot of chili. You’ll need at least a 5 1/2-quart pot, and one that is oven-safe if you are going that route.


  • 3 pounds blade steak or other chuck roast
  • 1/4 pound bacon (preferably applewood-smoked thick-cut)
  • 2 large cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3 8-ounce cans tomato sauce
  • 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced fine or pressed
  • 2 medium jalapeños, seeded, quartered and diced fine
  • 2 chipotle chiles
  • 12 ounces lager beer
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 packets Lawry’s chili seasoning mix
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano (ground further if possible)
  • 2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons masa harina (or 1 tablespoon flour and 1 tablespoon cornmeal)
  • 2-4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Step 1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. Dice the bacon as fine as you can, then cook. Remove the bacon bits but leave as much fat behind as possible.



Step 2. Slice the steak into 3/4-inch cubes. Sear in the bacon grease, 3-5 minutes. Do in multiple rounds as to not crowd the meat.



Step 3. When the meat is done, it’s time to cook the vegetables. If all the bacon fat has been used up during the meat-cooking process, add a couple tablespoons of butter before adding the onions and jalapeños. Cook for a couple minutes, then add the garlic. Cook until the onions turn translucent.

Step 4. Add the bottle of beer once the onions have cooked. Use this to deglaze the pan.




Step 5. Turn the chipotles into a finely minced paste, then add them to the pot and stir. Also add the brown sugar and dissolve.



Step 6. Add the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, beans, seared steak and bacon. Stir everything together and raise the heat on the pot to high.



Step 7. Mix the chili seasoning with the cocoa powder, oregano and masa harina (or flour and cornmeal). Sprinkle this over everything, then stir and and cook on the stovetop until bubbles start forming on the surface.

Step 8. Put the pot in the oven and cook for 2 hours, stirring at the hour mark. (Look at all that glorious fat that has risen to the surface!)



Step 9.  After two hours, test the seasoning of the chili. I found mine was a little flat. I added 3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, which balanced everything out and made my tongue do a happy dance. Cook for at least another 30 minutes after adjusting the seasoning to your taste.

Transfer to the fridge, then bring up to temperature on Sunday by returning the chili to the oven.

  • Max Dionne

    This looks totally awesome. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Amy-Stern/100001243039361 Amy Stern
  • Jen


  • http://tpromessi.com Tatiana Promessi

    This was fantastic. I was surprised to use cocoa. I used ground turkey, but everything else was pretty much to your recipe. The family loved it! Also, since I had the cocoa out and chipotle spice, I made some hot chocolate with chipotle and it was great.

  • Brandon

    Just got done making this and it is awesome! Cant wait to see what it tastes like after sitting overnight.

  • Jeremy Neuberg

    this looks like a KILLER recipe, am gonna try it out soon…..

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