Now That’s Chili!

What really spoiled Texas chili was the same thing that used up Elvis Presley and John Belushi and made young martyrs of the likes of Joan of Arc and Jesus of Nazareth and the Kennedys and Dr. Martin Luther King: success.

Sam Pendergrast

Chili is a source of great controversy, but one fact about chili remains clear—real chili comes from Texas.  And yes, I have tried that blend of meat and cinnamon you Northerners mislabel as chili.

It’s unfortunate that real chili is confined within the Texas borders, so let me share some of the ground rules that makes Texas chili great.

  1. Real chili doesn’t have beans.

  2. Chili stems from the Spanish chile con carne, meaning “peppers with meat.”  There are two key points here. First, notice that this is peppers with meat, not meat with peppers (i.e., don’t go easy on the peppers). Second, there’s no mention of beans.

  3. Don’t put chili on spaghetti—real chili is a delicious meal in itself.  Up north they serve chili on spaghetti. I vehemently oppose this, but I understand why they do it—I wouldn’t want to eat a bowl of northern chili by itself either!

  4. I’m not joking about the beans.

And to get you started down the road toward a fiery Texas chili, here’s my personal recipe, aptly named “Now That’s What Chili’s Supposed to Taste Like!” (a.k.a, “Now That’s Chili!”).

I like beans in my chili, but not enough to argue about it with Texans.

Calvin Trillin

Bennett's Award-Winning

Now That's What Chili's Supposed to Taste Like!

(a.k.a., Now That's Chili!)

3 lbs chili-grind beef
2 tsp salt
8 oz tomato sauce
1 tsp Mexican oregano
water as needed
8 cloves of garlic, minced
5 tbl Gebhart’s chili powder
1 medium onion, chopped
3 tbl cumin powder
6 jalepeños, chopped
1 tbl cayenne
4 habaneros, chopped (optional)
1 tbl paprika
flour as needed

Brown meat in a large skillet and drain grease. Place meat and tomato sauce in a large crock-pot, adding water to just below the level of the meat. Stir in remaining ingredients. Cover and cook at high heat for 5 hours, stirring occasionally. Just before removing from heat, sift a thin layer of flour over chili, stir in well, and repeat until chili holds spoon upright.

Serves 8 Texans.


  • Don’t waste your money on expensive cuts of meat.  Chili-grind is perfect.
  • Mexican oregano is stronger than regular Greek oregano.  Use Mexican oregano—fresh when available.
  • Habaneros give your chili a fruity flavor (in addition to the obvious extra heat).  If you don’t like the fruity flavor, substitute 2 or 3 serrano peppers for each habanero.
  • If you’re from a country other than Texas, you might want to leave out the habaneros.  We spoon-feed “mild” recipes (less than a dozen habaneros) like the one above to our babies and elderly in Texas.
  • Freeze individual servings in Ziploc bags and reheat for a delicious bowl o’ red anytime.
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