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Around the Midwest: Get Your Chili Hot!

It’s like, 20 below zero and you need something to warm you up. So let’s talk chili.

Montana State Bobcats v Minnesota Golden Gophers Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

This fall we were debating, as is our wont, something stupid about chili in one of our myriad pointless Slack channels. Cinnamon rolls or spaghetti noodles? Cheese or sour cream? Beans or no beans? On and on it went, until I politely reminded them that “this is something our readers would love to argue about, too,” effectively killing conversation because the next person who responded would’ve had to have typed it all up, and lol we don’t work that hard.

Jesse, Boilerman, Stew, and Beez, though, were kind enough to re-thread their recipes, origin stories, and hot chili takes. So I present you, now, with our chili-related thoughts:

The Origin Story:

Was it a cook-off? A childhood recipe? Just something you came up with?

Jesse Collins: I don’t have a cool origin story for my chili. It really is a lot of trial and error and time spent researching so I can have the best possible chili whenever I want. The base more or less is from a mix of a NPR spot with the Test Kitchen people where they discussed the compounds that make up ‘savory’ and an esquire article on how to build a chili recipe with what you got. The rest is based on the types of things I like to eat and what I seem to have on hand at any point. I’ve also got a few extra ingredients that I can use pretty easily as you’ll see next.

Boilerman31: I was a sophomore at Purdue and the first cold snap of the season had hit. I was home and getting ready to drive back to West Lafayette and I said to mom, “I think I want to make some chili tonight.”

Mom gave me a very basic recipe with ground beef, chili beans, taco seasoning, and salsa and sent me on my way. The result was a fairly decent batch of what I call “Midwestern” chili.

Since that fateful day, I’ve tweaked the spices in my recipe but the base remains the same.

Stewmonkey13: It was about 11 years ago and our tailgate decided that we’d have a big chili tailgate one of the last games of the year. My wife (then fiancee) decided to create our own chili recipe, as neither of our families had any sort of decent chili we were fond of.

I’m not a big tomato fan, and had heard of some chili using bloody mary mix, and so we started with that, and have been evolving it since. We now grow our own peppers in our garden that we dice and freeze for use for the rest of the year.

Beezer07: Ummmm I just decided to try making it once, and I crowdsourced a recipe from our very own OTE Fanshots!

At first I sorta struggled with things like “there aren’t really directions for adding seasoning” and “the word ‘some’ is apparently a totally fine recipe instruction,” but I’ve got it on autopilot now.

Your Chili:

What ingredients do you use? What sets you apart?

Jesse: So my chili is usually a meat and beans recipe. To build the recipe, I worked off the idea that you need a fat, a spice mix, meat, a wet mix, and something stable to sort of give it all heft...

Again, most of the credit to the idea of this goes to those two recipes, but I think you’ll find this fairly unique.

[See the Google Doc below for Jesse’s and all the other recipes.]

Okay, so that’s a lot of ingredients, but hear me out, this is usually a game of whatever is in the house. I try and keep almost all of this on hand and it’s rare that I need to go out and buy something. There’s not really an ingredient on here that I haven’t replaced with something else. No beer? Use Coca Cola. No beans? Use something that can soak up some moisture like rice or barley. No soy sauce or anchovy paste? Fish sauce or Worcestershire Sauce or even something like barbecue sauce works. The key is that you gotta figure out what the ingredients do.

What generally then sets this chili apart is that I cook the spice mix in the fat and that really releases all the flavors you’re going to get into before you even brown the meat. I also started doing this thing where I sort of make ‘meatballs’ early on that I can brown somewhat evenly and then crush those after getting some general browning on everything. When this is all said and done, my chili has a ton of savory components and balances out pretty much like it’s supposed to.

Boilerman31: To me, chili should stick to your bones and warm you up. If shouldn’t burn your mouth right off the bat. I prefer a nice slow burn that has you feeling the heat by the end of the bowl but not to the point that your gasping for air after every bite.

Stew: Really, it’s a bit of similar philosophy to Jesse’s, but I short cut it a bit with the bloody mary mix. Also, I want it to be a single consistency, so I want everything to kind of melt together. This chili isn’t terribly spicy, but can be adjusted upwards or downwards depending on spices, spicy peppers used, heat of the bloody mary mix, heat of the sausage used, etc. I’ve entered and won a few cook-offs through work.

Beez: What sets me apart is how totally basic the recipe is, and I honestly think the simplicity is appreciated by the consumer, particularly the consumers under the age of 10.

  • Fun note: My recipe has a receipt taped to it so I can take it to the store and get the correct size cans of things, because every time I completely forget what’s what.
  • I used to think a “clove” was the entire bulb. Mind was blown the first time I saw a recipe calling for multiple cloves of garlic

Any other serving/recipe information:

What else should we know about your chili? The setting it’s served in, the prizes it has won, etc.

Jesse: I really have never entered a competition, although this is one of the few things I think I’d have a chance in.

The key for this is to think through how much fat is being produced and sort of adjust the acidity you’re adding accordingly. I really like chili to have that even consistency too, so I make sure that I’m not overcooking and that the meat has been broken down into the right ground texture. Rubbery ground meat boiled in broth is gross.

Boilerman: The great thing about this recipe is you can tailor it to any crowd. My in-laws don’t tolerate much heat, so I’ll switch to mild chili beans and keep the peppers and most of the hot sauce out.

I am proud to say that this has won a chili cook-off at work and was back-to-back champion at my local K of C.

Stew: I’ve entered and won a few cook-offs through work.

Beez: People around here are big fans of making a pot of white rice to go with the chili. To do this, you make rice which, if you don’t know how to do it, just go buy some from a Chinese takeout place. Then you scoop some into a bowl and put a couple scoops of chili on top. Although eating it with rice is wholly unnecessary, it is pretty delicious, makes the meal more filling, and makes the chili last a lot longer (cuz you eat less of it at at time!)

I also have Crystal, some shredded cheese, and some Daisy sour cream on hand. Sometimes there are even Fritos! The Crystal gets stirred in, while the Daisy, cheese, and Fritos all remain on top. (Protip: Only use a little sour cream, because you can always add more later, it’s delicious, and you don’t look like as much of a fatty if you space it out.)

We’ll be back this afternoon with all our panelists’ hottest chili takes—stay tuned! In the meantime, share your chili thoughts and recipes in the comments, and feel free to brag about how you totally won your friends’ chili cook-off in 1999 and definitely have the trophy to prove it.


Vote in this incredibly intentionally-hurtful poll about which chili you would be most likely to eat:

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    Stew’s Boozy Tailgate Chili
    (5 votes)
  • 16%
    Boilerman’s Hearty, Wholesome Midwestern Chili
    (9 votes)
  • 11%
    Jesse’s NPR Gastronofoodie Chili
    (6 votes)
  • 20%
    Beez’s Good-for-All-Ages Chili
    (11 votes)
  • 41%
    Any of these sound amazing; I cannot feel my toes
    (22 votes)
53 votes total Vote Now