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We Love Chili (and How to Make It)

Vanessa earned her MA in English and Creative Writing from SNHU. She has been writing food articles since 2009.


Steamy and hot, cooking in my pot.

Steamy and hot, cooking in my pot.

We Love Chili

Few foods have sparked the joy that Americans get from a bowl of chili.

And why not? Chili is a food that has created culinary legends. It inspired competitions across the Americas. It has been touted as a medicinal food, adapted to all sorts of diets, and named for all sorts of alarms. Chili can be meatless or no-bean, mild, hot, or smoky, red, white or black. The variations are endless, and everybody’s chili is embarrassingly better than everybody else’s.

What is chili exactly? Chili is a soup or stew whose main ingredient is the chili. Chilies, also known as hot chili peppers, are the fruit of a group of plants from the genus Capsicum which are members of the nightshade family. They can range in size, color and in the level of heat that they produce when eaten. They are used either as a vegetable or as a spice depending on those qualities.

Chili is said to have originated either in Mexico or in Texas somewhere around the 1840’s, although its origins are not clear. Texas chili contains no beans or tomato product. The dish developed when beef was plentiful and cheap. The addition of beans was considered a personal choice and something that was done on the side, not in the pot. To this day, many chili competitions do not allow the addition of beans to a recipe.

Beans were added to chili recipes as the dish gained popularity in areas where people were poorer, or in places where meat was not as plentiful. Later, when people realized the wonderful nutritional value of beans, recipes that are meatless or that contain the “white” meats developed for vegan or low-fat diets.

Meat vs. Beans

Do You Have Your Own Chili Recipe?

Recipes for chili are as varied as the people who love to eat it. If you want to create your own chili recipe, the process is both as simple and as complex as creating any other work of art. Here are a few simple guidelines:

First, choose your parameters. Are you going meatless or no-bean? Are you making your chili for a low fat or low carb diet? What level of heat do you want to create? Do you want to go in a new direction?

When you arrive at these decisions, you are ready for the next step:

Chili Ingredients

By Carstor (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commonshhh

By Carstor (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commonshhh

Choose Your Ingredients:

Meat. The most common meat used in chili is ground or cubed beef. Pork sausage or venison is also used frequently. Chicken or turkey are used to make a white chili, which is a lower fat version that uses white beans instead of red.

Beans. Beans are the principal protein food in a vegan chili. In meat recipes, beans add both heartiness and a mellowing quality. The starch in beans also helps thicken the broth.

The most common beans used in chili are the large or small red beans, pinto beans or navy beans. Sometimes black or white beans are used, especially in health related recipes. You can choose any combination of these and still have a legitimate chili recipe. The goal is to find flavors that will work well together. For example, white beans are often used with sausage or poultry for some very complimentary taste.

Vegetables. The most commonly used vegetables in chili are tomatoes, onions, and of course, the chili peppers.

Tomatoes and onions are optional and are used as a matter of taste.

The chili peppers are the central ingredient of chili. It is the source of the dish’s name as well as its uniqueness.

When cooking with chilies, the stem, seeds and ribs are usually removed to make it easier to control the level of heat in the recipe. These are the parts that contain the capsaicin, which is the chemical that causes the burning sensation to the skin or glands when touched. You should use caution when cleaning the peppers. Make sure you wash your hands with soap before you touch your eyes. Some chilies are so hot that you will need gloves in order to cook with them.

You should choose your chili peppers with care. They are the ingredients that should define your recipe. You can choose bell peppers with tomatoes to make a mild, sweet chili, jalapenos or Serrano peppers are good for medium chili, or a cayenne peppers, scotch bonnet peppers or hot cherry peppers for some serious heat. These are just a few of the types of chilies that are available. You should get to know the types of peppers to see how they match your personal tastes.

Choose your spices. The most commonly used spices for chili are salt and pepper, chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, coriander or cilantro. These are by no means the only spices you can use. Many people add coffee, cocoa, or cinnamon, all of which go very well with southwestern spices. You can also use sazon or adobo.

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If you are a little timid about which spices to use, there are many prepackaged chili blends for you to choose. I recommend that you start with these and then personalize your recipe as your taste develops.

Choose your base and your cooking method. Chili can be boiled, which would require a liquid base such as water or broth. It can be made in a slow cooker where you can also use tomato sauce or gravy. Or you can grill your meat and vegetable and finish them in a Dutch oven or in a large pot over an open flame. Choose a method that matches your creativity, time requirements and the ingredients that you chose. Remember that dried beans may take several hours to cook, whereas canned beans cook much faster. The method used to cook meat will affect its tenderness and is related to the amount of fat in it.

Instapot for Chili Cooking

Jamie Oliver's low and slow chili


The final rule is the most important one:

Have fun with it. Cooking is about the satisfaction of taste and the expression of love. And we do love our chili!

How to Cook Dried Beans

Beef, Bean and Beer chili


Now that you have your chili, what are you going to serve on the side?

The answer is: anything! But there are some traditional side dishes that are favorites for serving with chili. Here are a few suggestions:

Cornbread. Plain or spicy corn bread, alone or smother with butter is a wonderful compliment to your spicy hot chili.

Rice. Many Spanish American cultures love to serve white or yellow rice with chili. It soaks up the flavor of the sauce, balances out superhot chili and compliments the sweeter varieties.

Beans. These are often served as a side dish to no-bean chili for those who don’t care for meat only dishes.

Cheese. For those of us that are not opposed to milk products, some nice, melty cheese is a compliment to almost anything. Your chili is no exception.

Macaroni. Chili mac is a dish all on its own. Beans and pasta are delicious together.

Salad greens. Serve salad on the side or put your chili on a bed of salad greens for a hearty, healthy dish that is very satisfying.

Salsa. Use this for an extra kick and some added freshness.

Sour cream. This is a cooling topping that can add some extra creaminess to the chili. It also helps those whose taste goes to the hot but whose stomach says not.

Chopped fresh onions, olives, chilies or tomatoes can add a note of freshness and flavor, as well as a beautiful garnish for your presentation.


All About Chili

  • Taste of Home: Find Recipes, Appetizers, Desserts, Holiday Recipes & Healthy Cooking Tips
    Search recipes for your favorite desserts, appetizers, main dish recipes, and more. Find an array of easy recipes as well as home cooking tips, kitchen design insights and diet and nutrition information at Taste of Home Magazine.
  • Paula Deen: Recipes for Any Meal or Holiday Table - Southern Food
    Visit Paula Deen online for the easy dinner recipes she's known for. You'll also find healthy recipes along with her famous Southern comfort food. Shop the home store and get holiday meal ideas for party-perfect entertaining from the Queen of Souther
  • ICS Chili, Inc.
    International Chili Society is the the best place for information on Chili, Chili Verde, Salsa, Chili Cookoffs and recipes. Message boards about different chili and cookoffs from the chili and fiery foods industry.
  • Chili Definition & Meaning - Merriam-Webster
    The meaning of CHILI is a hot pepper of any of a group of cultivars (Capsicum annuum annuum group longum) noted for their pungency —called also chili pepper. How to use chili in a sentence.
  • Chili Recipes | Allrecipes
    Whether it's white chicken chili, a spicy beef chili, or just something for the slow cooker, you'll find hundreds of chili recipes that will suit any mood.


Tanya Jones from Texas USA on August 23, 2014:

Chili contests are really popular out here. Great lens and very infomative. I didn't know so much about the chili dish. I love mine over cornbread or rice. Great hub.

Vanessa Kristovich (author) from Vineland,NJ on August 23, 2014:

Mine, too!

bettyshares from Lighthearted Musings on August 23, 2014:

Chili is one of my favorite dishes.

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