Chili is a winter mainstay at my house, whether for a cozy dinner in front of the TV or a Super Bowl party. As such, I’ve shared several tried-and-true chili recipes with you over the years – White Chicken Chili, Texas Beef Chili, and Chicken Chili with White Beans – but none of them are made with the most common chili ingredient: ground beef. That’s because I always find ground beef chili to be a little dry and tough, no matter what type of ground beef I use or how long I cook it. But recently I discovered a tenderizing technique on Cook’s Illustrated that calls for treating ground beef with a baking soda solution before cooking. The idea is that baking soda raises the pH of the meat, helping to lock in moisture and accelerate browning. It works like a charm! This ground beef chili is melt-in-your-mouth tender, thick, and rich — and wonderful over rice or scooped up with tortilla chips. I keep it on the mild side for the kids but feel free to add more chipotle chili powder at the end, if you like.
Note that the recipe calls for 85% lean ground beef. Don’t be tempted to use extra-lean beef or drain off the fat after browning. The fat bastes the meat during cooking, adding richness and flavor, plus you can skim it off at the end. I don’t use any beans in this chili — my kids tend to eat around them — but feel free to add a can of drained beans for the last half hour of cooking. (Any kind of beans will work.)
Begin by combining the ground beef, salt, baking soda, and water in a large bowl. Using your hands, mix until evenly combined. Let the beef mixture sit for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, chop the veggies.
I use a food processor to speed this up, but it’s fine to chop by hand too.
In a large pot over medium heat, heat the oil and add the onions, garlic, and red pepper.
Cook, stirring frequently, until softened, 4 to 6 minutes.
Add the beef and increase the heat to high.
Cook, stirring with wooden spoon to break up the meat, until the beef is browned, 10 to 12 minutes.
The beef will release a lot of fat and liquid — do not drain it; you’ll skim the fat off at the end. Add the ancho chili powder, chipotle chili powder, cumin, oregano, coriander, smoked paprika, and cinnamon.
Cook, stirring frequently, for 1 to 2 minutes, until well combined and fragrant.
Add the cornmeal, beef broth, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and molasses.
Bring to a boil.
Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 2 hours. Skim any excess fat off of the surface of the chili — there will be quite a bit.
Stir in the lime juice, then taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Serve with accompaniments and enjoy!
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Best Ground Beef Chili
- 2.5 pounds 85% lean ground beef
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 large yellow onion (or 2 small), minced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 red bell pepper, minced
- 2 tablespoons ancho chili powder
- 1 tablespoon chipotle chili powder
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
- 2 tablespoons cornmeal
- 3 cups beef broth
- 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon molasses (optional, if you like your chili a little sweet)
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, from 1 lime
For Serving (optional)
- Cilantro, lime wedges, sour cream, cheese, scallions
- In a large bowl, combine the beef, salt, baking soda, and 1 tablespoon of water. Using your hands, mix until evenly combined. Let the beef mixture sit on the counter for 20 minutes.
- In a large pot over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the onions, garlic, and red pepper; cook, stirring frequently, until softened, 4 to 6 minutes. Add the beef and increase the heat to high; cook, stirring with wooden spoon to break the meat into 1/4-inch pieces, until the beef is browned, 10 to 12 minutes. (The beef will release a lot of liquid -- do not drain it; you'll skim the fat off at the end.)
- Add the ancho chili powder, chipotle chili powder, cumin, oregano, coriander, smoked paprika, and cinnamon; cook, stirring frequently, for 1 to 2 minutes, until well combined and fragrant.
- Stir in the cornmeal, broth, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and molasses; bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 2 hours.
- Skim any excess fat off the surface of the chili. (There will be quite a bit; don't worry about getting all of it, as it adds flavor.) Stir in the lime juice, then taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. For a thinner chili, you can add a bit of water. To thicken the chili, continue simmering, uncovered, until desired consistency is reached.
- Make Ahead: Cool slightly, and then refrigerate uncovered until cold. Cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
- Freezer-Friendly Instructions: The chili can be frozen for up to 3 months. Before serving, defrost it in the refrigerator for 12 hours and then reheat it on the stovetop over medium heat until hot.
- Per serving (6 servings)
- Calories: 655
- Fat: 44 g
- Saturated fat: 15 g
- Carbohydrates: 28 g
- Sugar: 15 g
- Fiber: 5 g
- Protein: 39 g
- Sodium: 1711 mg
- Cholesterol: 134 mg
This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.