This Award-Winning Chili Recipe Will Make You a Hero
It is officially cold outside, and one of the best cold weather dishes I can think of is a big pot of homemade chili. It goes great with football, at tailgates, parties, or even just as a family meal that you want to stretch throughout the week. I recently shared a homemade salsa recipe, but it’s time to shift gears. There are two things that make chili such a great thing: it’s cheap to make, and you can easily feed a lot of people, or create multiple meals for your family with just one pot. If you don’t believe this recipe is good, I’ll let the comments be the judge. There are over 100 comments on this recipe already and most are talking about the gold medals and trophies this recipe won at their chili cook-off. If you try this recipe and win, be sure to come back and let me know!
So, what if I told you that you could feed a dozen people, or supply your family of four with multiple meals for three days all for under $25? Well you can, and you can do so even using steak! Vegetarians, you may want to look away now, because we’re going to be putting together a really hearty and meaty chili. If you don’t eat meat, I’m sure you could find something to substitute, and probably even save a good deal of money, but you’re on your own finding a recipe for that.
Anyway, I want to share with you a relatively inexpensive chili recipe, but not just any recipe. This recipe has even won awards at chili cook-offs. No, we’re not talking any national competitions you’d see on the Food Network, but this recipe and slight variations has won some top honors at a number of local events over the past 15 or so years. I stole the basis of this recipe from my dad, but shhh, don’t tell him. So, let’s start with the ingredients.
Ingredient List and Cost
- 2 x 28 oz. Cans of Crushed Tomatoes – 2 x $1.59 = $3.18
- 28 oz. Can of Brooks Chili Beans – $1.89
- Green Bell Pepper – $0.69
- Poblano Pepper – 0.26 lb @ $2.49/lb = $0.65
- Garlic – 0.10 lb @ $2.99/lb = $0.30
- Sweet Onion – 1.21 lb @ $0.88/lb = $1.06
- 1 lb Roll of Bob Evans Zesty Hot Sausage = $2.50
- Round Steak – 2.96 lb @ $3.48/lb = $10.30
- Worcestershire Sauce
- Tabasco Sauce
- Liquid Smoke
- Chili Powder
- Ground Cayenne Pepper
- Ground Coriander
- Salt and Pepper
These prices were taken from my grocery receipt from last week when making this batch of chili. In total, I spent $20.57 on everything. The only thing that was on sale at the time was the Bob Evans sausage, which was $1.00 off, so if everything was regular price, it would have been around $21.57. You’ll notice I didn’t include prices or add the spices to the total cost. The main reason is that most of these things are typical spices and ingredients that the average kitchen will already have, with the exception of liquid smoke. So, depending on how many of these ingredients you already have, you might not need to purchase any of them, or you may need to spend a few dollars to pick up a small bottle of liquid smoke, Worcestershire sauce, chili powder, etc. In that case, you’d want to add anywhere from a couple, to maybe ten dollars or more to stock your pantry with these items. Either way, most are great ingredients to have on hand for dishes other than chili anyway.
Of course, your region may vary, and you may see prices for specific items significantly higher or lower based on availability or season. In addition, you may also be able to save even more money if you can pick up things on sale, especially the meat. Another great savings tip is to grow and can your own tomatoes. Not only will they probably taste better than from a can, but they are virtually free.
Preparing the Chili
Go ahead and chop those peppers. I don’t go too crazy in trying to get everything uniform since chili is a pretty rustic dish, but you do want them relatively small and manageable pieces. You can just use green bell peppers if that’s all you have, but I really like to use one bell, and one poblano pepper.
The same goes for the onions. Again, uniform size isn’t all that important because they will really soften up after cooking and be virtually shapeless anyway. I really like sweet onions for this for their milder flavor. Of course, go ahead and use whatever kind you have on hand or prefer. In this case, I used one large onion that weighed in a little over a pound. If you’re using smaller onions, you may want to use a few. I’d say after all said and done, it was around 3 cups.
Once you have your onions and pepper chopped, go ahead and mince up about 6 cloves of garlic. Then, throw everything into a big bowl. I have to stress the fact that it needs to be a big bowl, because not only are you putting all the veggies in here, but you’ll also be adding all of the meat and mixing it together for marinating a bit later.
Chop the steak into about half inch cubes. I typically find that round steak comes in big flat slabs that are around 1/2 inch thick anyway, so it’s easy enough to cut it into strips, and then cube it crosswise. As seen above, that is only about 1 pound of the 3 pounds total that go into the mix. It can take a little time to get through all of the chopping for this recipe, but your patience will be rewarded.
Once you add the chopped steak to the big mixing bowl full of onions and pepper, you’ll want to take the roll of sausage and break it up into pieces. At this point you’re not looking to do anything special with the sausage other than make it easy enough to work with. Don’t go and throw the whole log right on top since that will make your mixing job that much harder. Just break it up into pieces with your fingers.
Now comes the fun part! To your meat, onion, and pepper mixture, it’s time to add the seasoning for the marinade. To the bowl, add a few large pinches of kosher salt. I prefer kosher salt myself, but whatever you have is fine. If you are using regular table salt you may want to use less. Then, add a teaspoon or so of black pepper. For me, that’s about 20 turns on my pepper grinder. Now it’s time for the liquid components. We’ll be using both the liquid smoke and the Worcestershire sauce. No exact measurements here, but I’d guess about 4 or 5 tablespoons of Worcestershire and maybe 2 tablespoons of liquid smoke to start. Then, dig in with your hands! You need to thoroughly mix everything together. After you get things pretty mixed, you can determine if you need to add any more liquid. You don’t want a soup, but you want it to be moist and have everything covered. You can see from the image above how mine turned out after mixing everything together.
Now, we wait. Cover the bowl, and throw it in the refrigerator overnight if possible. You really want the flavors to get into the meat since that is the heart and soul of this recipe, but if overnight won’t work, you can probably get by with 4 hours. The longer you’re able to let it sit, the better it will be. I know, the smell that this mixture has created will fill your house with some of the most amazing aromas ever, but you’re just going to have to wait.
Cooking the Chili
After the mixture has had time to marinate, it’s time to begin the actual cooking. You’ll want the largest skillet you have to make this process go as quickly as possible. Remember, we’re working with nearly 4 pounds of meat and about 4 or 5 cups of vegetables. Even with a large skillet, it is impossible to brown everything in one batch. I know what you’re thinking, but don’t even try it. If you cram everything into the pan, you’re not going to speed anything up. It will take even longer to cook, and you’ll end up basically steaming the meat. So, work in batches. I have a 12-inch skillet that I used here and it took 3 batches. Each batch took about 7-10 minutes on medium-high heat. We’re not too concerned if the meat is 100% fully cooked since it is going to go into a pot and simmer for a few hours.
As your meat begins to brown, you’ll find yourself with something that looks like the picture above. Notice the liquid that’s coming out of the meat and veggie mixture. This is good! The last thing you want to do is to cook it so long that you boil this all away. You do want to have it reduce a little bit as to make sure you don’t end up with soup instead of chili, but this liquid that’s been extracted from the onions, peppers, meat and marinade is flavor that you can’t get anywhere else. So, it goes right into the chili pot. It doesn’t get better – great items and top brands at closeout prices at Cooking.com!
Once all of the browned meat is dumped into a big pot, you can add the entire can of chili beans. I insist on Brooks, but you can use whatever brand you happen to have. Then, add almost one entire can of crushed tomatoes. We’ll probably end up using close to the entire two cans of tomatoes, but you want to be careful and go slow with adding them, because it can turn from chili to soup very quickly. Remember, you can always add, but it’s very hard to subtract. So start with that, and give it all a good stir to check the consistency.
This is the consistency you’re looking for, although if you like your chili more chunky or more soupy, go for it. But I like mine to hold up well for dipping, but not so runny that you need to almost drink it.
Once you get the right consistency, it’s time for the seasoning. There is no exact science here, and you can really experiment with what works best for you. But you’ll want to start with about 2 tablespoons of chili powder, about 5 dashes of Tabasco sauce, and a teaspoon of both cumin and coriander. Top it off with a light sprinkle of cayenne pepper. Give it a good stir and see how it tastes. It will probably be pretty bland, and that’s fine. Again, it’s easier to add flavor, but nearly impossible to take it out once it’s in. So, slow and steady is the key here. After adding the first round of spices, add a little more of each, with the chili powder being the primary ingredient, and add just small amounts of the others. Keep doing this until the taste and amount of heat is right for you.
All you have to do now is let it simmer. At minimum, I try to give it two hours, but if you have four, that’s great. This long and slow cooking process really gives the meat a chance to become very tender, and all of the flavors and spices to come together.
Eating the Chili
And now it’s time to serve and eat! I like my chili a number of different ways. As pictured above, just a bowl with some shredded cheese on top is fantastic. Sometimes, if I want to make a little more of a meal out of it, we’ll whip up some corn bread. The chili also works great as a dip. I love to buy those Frito Scoops and just dig in with those. Or, consider topping your baked potato with some chili. The possibilities are endless, so you can either serve it all up to a group at a party, or use it in a variety of ways to feed your family for a few days.
Chili also stores quite well. It will last for about a week in the refrigerator, or if you want, put some in the freezer and thaw it out a month or two down the road. Since it is a bit labor-intensive and makes quite a bit, it doesn’t hurt to save some for eating later when you don’t feel like cooking and don’t want to spend money eating out.
If you enjoyed this recipe, be sure to check out some of my others:
- Homemade Salsa Recipe
- Crock Pot BBQ Pulled Pork Recipe
- Homemade Applesauce Recipe
- Grilled Potatoes and Sour Cream Sauce Recipe
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About the Author: Jeremy Vohwinkle is a Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor® and spent a few years working as a financial planner. Today, he helps people make the most of their money by writing about personal finance here and elsewhere on the web. Jeremy is also Coach at Adaptu and a regular contributor for other publications such as Intuit, and American Express. Be sure to follow Jeremy on Twitter or Google+.
This is a really great recipe, but the one ingredient that I don't like is the liquid smoke; although, I do think that smoke is a dimension of flavor that really does enhance chili. To me, it's cheating, kind of like putting MSG in something. I personally use chipotle peppers (smoked red jalapenos) in adobo sauce which I blend with some chicken stock, but bacon also adds a smokey flavor or there's smoked paprika (can be a little hard to find). Worcestershire sauce (specifically Lea & Perrins) is an awesome ingredient for chili that's often overlooked. I also like that you use coriander, which is another great spice that I see missing in many chili recipes. Fresh garlic as opposed to garlic powder is another nice touch with this recipe. I recommend some masa (corn) flour to help thicken the chili. It also adds a subtle sweetness. Because corn flour can lighten the color of the chili up a bit, though, I suggest using it in conjunction with paprika.
Hi Jeremy! I basically made your chili. The changes i made were: i used dried beans, added beer, sugar, tomatoe juice and paprika. Also, i skipped the mariination period and i'm cooking it in a slow cooker and then refrigerating it overnite until the VFW Christmas party. (you know how things taste better when they sit for a day) Note: This is my practice Chili for the cookoff coming up that i would like to enter. I am serving it with a bed of rice or pasta, cheese and cornbread on the side. I will let you know how my Commrades like it.
Thank you so much!
I'm making this Chili for our Halloween party Wednesday. I could not find the Bob Evans Zesty so I'm using Tennessee Pride Hot Sausage. I started today (Sunday) and will marinate for 24 hours. Would it be better to cook it tomorrow night or marinate for two days and cook Tuesday night? We will be serving Wednesday at lunch.
Wow. Thank You for the fast response. Can't wait to start making this chil this weekend. Thanks Again
Hi Jeremy. I was wanting to enter the chili cook off at my husbands work. He is a fire fighter so there will be many fire fighters eating this chili. Is this chili a little hot? I am sure the fire fighters will want a chili that has a little bang to it. If it is not hot or at least mild is there something you suggest I add to make it hot or mild? Thanks
Hello Jeramy , Love your recipe! I only changed the type of beef as I did not have in household. BUT, I did have over 2#s, of the best shaved beef, so I sautéed it on the griddle with palm island silver sea salt and fresh ground pepper! A cook off is coming up here in Md, and I certainly going to be a participate in the" Chili do I love U", cook off. Thank You for this budget conscious recipe!
Jeremy, you're a genius. Your intro talked a big game, but your chili backed it up! I've entered what I thought were great chili's in my work's cook-off in the past, but garnered just one 3rd place finish. I entered your chili this year (with a couple modifications) and got enough votes to win 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place. Yup, Hero.
- My beef was only 2 lb so I added an extra pound of hot Italian sausage to reach 4 lb of meat.
- I went with one Red Pepper (and the Poblano) instead of the Green Pepper for the better flavor.
- My one major modification was to add a full cup of crumbled Bleu Cheese, and completely dissolve/melt it in for a fuller flavor - that was my wife's idea, which she'd never tried before, but man did it work!
- Finally, I simmered it on the stove for a couple hours, but then decided to throw it in the slow cooker overnight (ended up being about 5 hr in the cooker on low) and the beef turned out unbelievably tender.
- Amount notes: 6 Tbs Worcestershire and 2.5 Tbs Hickory Liquid Smoke in marinade, 3/4 cup Chili Powder, 4 tsp Cumin, 1 tsp Coriander, 10 light shakes of Cayenne, 2 14oz cans Chili Beans, 2 strained 14oz cans Light Red Kidney Beans, 1 strained 14oz can Pinto Beans (needed volume, hence, lotta beans), 2 28oz cans Crushed Tomato.
I have made this recipe several times before but never in a cook off but I just started culinary school and we are having a chili cook off in a couple months and I know this chili would win but they go by ICA rules so there cannot be any beans…I know I know chili should have beans. What would everyone recommend to keep the flavor and consistency without the beans? I was thinking of using the juices from the can but not the beans but I am sure there are better ideas out there. Would be awesome for this recipe to win a culinary school cook off.
Had a "Chili Cook Off" today and had 36 entries. Judges (I cry foul) scored me 2nd. Over 100 people at it and took "People's Choice" by a land-slide. Only think I added was cup of strong black coffee.
Ok, this chili rocks! I used Premio hot sausage patties instead of Bob Evans and cut all the ingredients in half and it came out awesome! I definitely recommend it.
I just won with this recipe - don't know how it could miss unless the meat bought was tainted!!! 1st place and a crock pot!
This chili didn't taste good at all. I did follow the recipe as per the directions. I didn't win anything and not recommended. It had a very smoky taste.
I WON!!! Was named Chili Master this weekend at a Chili Cookoff with this recipe (with one added spice). There were 40 entries - and I was named Chili Master over all! Only difference is - I added "Slap your Momma" spice to the marinade. It was incredible! Thanks Jeremy (and Jeremy's dad) - Great Recipe!!!
Wanted to let you know I just won TWO (Most Original & Fan Favorite) of 5 categories at my workplace cook-off using YOUR recipe, slightly modified. There were 14 entries, and we have probably 400+ employees, so I am thrilled & wanted to say THANK YOU for sharing! Changes were: used a red bell instead of a green (greens taste metallic to me); Used one 14 oz can crushed toms, & one can of the new Hunts fire-roasted diced (very tasty, lent to smokey flavor, with bits of charred toms). No Brooks chili beans here, so used Bush's, also no Bob Evans, so used local grocers spicy sausage roll. Additions were ~1/4 tsp cinnamon, ~1/8 c. sugar, more spice & heat after initial (as you recommended) & did a drop-biscuit style Jiffy cornbread crust on top. (one box Jiffy cornbread mix, one egg, a little milk, mix to a sticky consistency, then drop spoonfuls onto chili during the last hour of cooking). Magnifique! Thanks again for sharing!
This is the BEST chili ever...... 5 Star's... Could you e-mail me this recipe with the amounts you use for everything. This is becoming our Super Bowl tradition. Thank you
Is there anyway you can e-mail me this recipe with the amounts you use for everything. Having a chili cook-off for the Super Bowl on Sunday. email@example.com Thanks i
I'm cooking this right now, and it smells awesome! This is a practice run for a chili cook-off this weekend, and I have a quick question -- I am using the mild Brooks beans (I've never tasted them) -- do you use the mild or spicy kind?
I have your chili cooking in my crockpot and am taking it to a cook-off later today. It tastes amazing. I followed your directions to a tee, but put in my crockpot for 3 hours (2 on high, 1 on low). The meat is tender and the flavor has melded. It tastes a whole lot like the chili served at a chain called Red, Hot and Blue.
I hope I win! Thanks for your great recipe.
I've never cooked chili before and like a genius I entered a chili cook off that kicks off Sunday. Normally I wouldn't care about winning but a few months back I won a Rib cook off so now I'm the "guy to beat" in all things food. You have a really great setup for how things need to be done so I wrote a bunch of stuff down and i'm gonna prep the meat today(sat) and then cook and go try it out Sunday.
Wish me luck! The way you wrote made it super easy to wrap your head around so thanks!
Im one of those people who hates onions, does the onion flavor stand out? Please be honest, because that will really ruin the meal for me!
Also is it okay to use a crockpot instead of a pot? Thanks in advance!
I have entered our annual work chili cook-off the last few years and have been runner-up a couple of times. This year I tried your recipe instead of my usual - and I won first prize! Judges told me it was a unanimous choice for the best. You can bet I'll use it again next year.
Thank you, thank you!
My family has a chili cook-off every year. This year I wanted to make something much different. I am excited to try this recipe and enter it in our contest. I will let you know how it turns out. Thank you so much for sharing.
I cooked this last year at a chili cookoff and won 1st place. I am cooking it again next week for a cookoff at city hall....I will let you know how it goes.
I am excited to make this. However, I wish you would put a list of ingred/measurements all in one place. It would make for easier list making! :)
substituted buffalo for round steak and buffalo bratd for sausage. Removed casing and ground up. Won exotic category and 2nd in best tasting category.
I've been making chili for 40 years and yesterday I entered a chili cook-off with your recipe and I took first place! I followed your recipe verbatim and everyone LOVED IT. You did a great job walking me through it with all of the pictures and tips. Thank you! (next time I'm going to try the recipe with chicken.)
I just made this however I used diced chicken breast and ground turkey to substitute for the round steak and sausage - IT TURNED OUT AMAZING!!!! Thanks for the recipe!
What kind of liquid smoke does everyone use? I wasn't sure so I bought the hickory kind, and I hope my chili turns out alright.
Question can you use lamb instead of the meat? Lamb and sausage? Or Lamb and steak? Thinking lamb might pique some contestants interest...???
I won at a chili cookoff using your recipe yesterday. I put it all in a crockpot. Once I mixed all of the meat and veggies together, breaking up the sausage, I then put all the other ingredients in the crockpot and mixed. I didnt have much time so I put it on high for 3 hrs. It turned out so good!! It was the best tasting and best smelling chili there and that I have ever tasted! Thanks for sharing!
@sanderson I'd call this chili middle of the road as the recipe stands. It's not going to have you searching for water after a few bites, but you do feel the heat as you eat it. If you want to kick it up a bit, try adding a few diced jalapenos (seeds and all) into the marinade mixture. Adding one diced serrano instead also adds some nice heat. And if you don't have fresh chilies, you can always up the amount of cayenne. Good luck!
@carpe135 Thanks, I'm glad to hear it! And the adjustments sound good. Never thought of using cheese like that. Great idea.
@stscards1 It's hit and miss - depends on how much yo make. If you follow this recipe all the ingredients are listed. The chili, cumin, and cayenn are to taste
@vaveni I use the mild beans, so you should be all set.
I simmer covered. Although if you find your chili is too watery, you can simmer without the lid and it will slowly thicken due to some of the water evaporating.
You certainly can. I know a few people who replace the steak entirely with venison and it turns out awesome. Good luck!
@Jeremy Vohwinkle One more quick question -- if you were competing Sat. night, when would you make it? I'm thinking of marinating overnight Thurs into Friday, cooking it Friday, and then serving it Sat. evening. I know this is a very specific question, but it's my first cook off, and I just HAVE to beat my husband's duck chili!
@Jeremy Vohwinkle fantastic! thanks for the quick reply!
@vaveni That time frame looks fine. As long as it gets a good overnight marinade and then a solid few hours simmering on the stove to bring it all together, then there's no problem with just heating it back up the next day to actually serve it. Good luck!