Texas Beef Chili (Chili Con Carne)
With tender chunks of beef enveloped in a deep, spicy and smoky sauce, Texas beef chili (or Chili con Carne) is essentially a chili-flavored beef stew. I can’t claim this version is authentic — I’ve never even been to Texas — but it is immensely satisfying, and everything I imagine the ultimate Texas beef chili to be. The recipe requires over an hour of prep and active cook time, plus several hours to simmer on the stove so it’s best to make it on a lazy weekend. You might also consider doubling the recipe; you can freeze some for another night (you’ll be so glad you did) or use leftovers for tacos, burritos or topping rice or baked potatoes. For a delicious side, try these easy Cornbread Muffins or Chile con Queso.
Before we get to the recipe, it’s very important to select the right cut of meat, which is a chuck roast that is well-marbled. It should have a good amount of white veins of fat running through it. Stay away from meat generically packaged as “stew meat,” especially if it looks lean — it will never get tender. You’ll need to trim the excess fat; don’t go overboard, just remove any large flaps like the one the knife is pointing to below.
Next, let’s talk about chile peppers. Purists insist that Texas chili be made with whole dried chiles (the kind you see in plastic bags in the produce department), toasted and ground into a homemade chili powder. This is labor intensive, plus every grocery store carries different kinds of peppers — there are enough varieties to make your head spin. So, rather than traipsing all over town searching for dried chiles, I use fresh jalapeños and a combination of two readily available pure chile powders: ancho and chipotle, which you can find at most large grocery stores.
Note that these are dried, ground chile peppers — not to be confused with standard chili powder, which is a blend of ground chilies and other spices. Ancho chile powder is made from dried poblano peppers and has a moderately spicy flavor. Chipotle chile powder is made from dried and smoked jalapeños, which have a smoky and spicy flavor.
Okay, on to the recipe! Begin by combining the spices and cornmeal in a small bowl. The cornmeal is used to thicken the stew. Add a bit of water to form a paste, then set aside.
Next, fry the bacon until the fat has rendered and the bacon is crisp.
Use a slotted spoon to transfer bacon to a paper towel-lined plate.
Pour all but a few teaspoons of the bacon fat into a small bowl, then sear the meat in batches (the meat should be in a single layer) until well browned on at least one side, adding more of the reserved bacon fat as necessary. This process creates depth of flavor and adds wonderful dimension to the stew.
Transfer the seared beef to a plate.
Add some water to the pan — it will smoke — and scrape the bottom with a wooden spoon to release all the brown bits. This is called deglazing. Pour the flavorful liquid over the beef.
Add a few tablespoons of the reserved bacon fat to the pan and cook the onions until soft and translucent.
Add the garlic and jalapeños and cook a minute more.
Next, add the reserved spice paste and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, a few minutes.
Add the beef broth the pot.
And use a whisk to stir until all of the spices are dissolved into the broth.
Add the water, beer, crushed tomatoes, molasses, cocoa powder, seared beef and cooked bacon to the pot.
Bring to a simmer.
Then cover and cook with the lid just slightly ajar for 2-1/2 – 3 hours, or until the meat is tender and the sauce is nicely thickened.
Ladle the stew into bowls and top with chopped cilantro and grated cheese if desired.
If you’re wondering about the spice level of this chili, it definitely has some heat but it’s not off the charts. I have even served it to kids, albeit ones with more adventurous palates.
Texas Beef Chili
- 1/4 cup ground ancho chili pepper
- 1 tablespoon ground chipotle chili pepper
- 2 tablespoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 cup cornmeal
- 1 (4 pound) beef chuck roast trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1-1/2 inch cubes (see note below)
- 8 ounces (about 8 slices) bacon, cut into 1/4-inch pieces (see tip below)
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 small yellow onions, cut into 1-inch chunks
- 5 garlic cloves, chopped
- 3 jalapeño chiles, cored, seeded and finely diced
- 4 cups ( 32 oz) low sodium beef broth
- 2 cups water water, plus more for the chili paste and deglazing the pan
- 1-1/4 cups lager beer
- 1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon molasses
- 2 teaspoons natural unsweetened cocoa powder
- Fresh chopped cilantro
- Grated Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
- Lime wedges
- Mix the chili powders, cumin, oregano, coriander, cinnamon and cornmeal in a small bow and stir in 1/2 cup water to form a thick paste; set aside.
- Season the beef with the salt; set aside.
- In a large pot or Dutch oven, fry the bacon over medium heat, stirring frequently so it doesn't stick, until the fat renders and the bacon crisps, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. Pour all but a few teaspoons of fat from the pot into a small bowl; set aside.
- Increase the heat to medium-high. Sear the meat in three batches (it should be in a single layer), until well browned on one side, about 4 minutes per batch, adding more of the reserved bacon fat as necessary. (Hint: Once the meat is in the pan, don't stir or touch it -- leaving it alone will allow it to develop a nice brown crust on one side.) Place the seared meat on a plate. Add about 1/4 cup of water to the pot (it will smoke), and scrape the bottom with a wooden spoon to release all of the flavorful brown bits. Pour the dark liquid over the seared meat.
- Reduce the heat to medium and add 3 tablespoons of the reserved bacon fat to the pot. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and jalapeños and cook 2 minutes more. Add the reserved chili paste and sauté until fragrant, a few minutes (it will look clumpy and stick to the bottom a bit -- that's okay).
- Add the beef broth and stir with a whisk until the spice mixture is completely dissolved. Scrape the bottom of the pot with the whisk to release any spices. Stir in the the water, beer, crushed tomatoes, molasses and cocoa powder. Add the reserved bacon and seared beef (along with the juices from the beef on the bottom of the plate) back to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and cover, leaving the lid just barely ajar. Simmer, stirring occasionally so the bottom doesn't burn, until the meat is meltingly tender and the juices are thickened, 2-1/2 - 3 hours. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
- Note: When selecting the meat, be sure not to buy anything generically labeled "Stew Meat." Also, you will lose about 1/2 pound after trimming the fat, so if you buy the meat already trimmed and cubed, you'll only need about 3-1/2 pounds.
- Tip: To make bacon easier to chop, try placing it in the freezer for 15-20 minutes first. The colder it is, the easier it is to cut.
- Per serving (6 servings)
- Calories: 644
- Fat: 32g
- Saturated fat: 11g
- Carbohydrates: 22g
- Sugar: 7g
- Fiber: 3g
- Protein: 66g
- Sodium: 1648mg
- Cholesterol: 195mg
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