Weekend Chef

Dig into some Texas chili tips from the heart of Cowtown

Texas Red made with Pendery’s Fort Worth Light chili powder.
Texas Red made with Pendery’s Fort Worth Light chili powder. swilson@star-telegram.com

This past weekend I helped judge the 3rd Annual Fort Worth Firefighters Chili Cook-off, which had around 30 entries from fire stations in Fort Worth, Arlington and Dallas. After eating all that chili, I figured this would be a good time to dust off my Texas chili tips!

But first, I would like to congratulate FWFD Station 2 who won for both Red Chili and Green Chili, and FWFD Station 6 who won for non-traditional chili. The FWFD Training booth won best booth with a creative recreation of a building on fire being put out with water on top of their booth. Be sure to check out the photo of their booth in the pictures below the story.

Chili, the official dish of Texas, is a very personal thing for most Texans. Family recipes often are passed down from one generation to the next. It’s even more personal in Fort Worth, where chili powder was invented in 1890 by DeWitt Clinton Pendery (Gebhardt also has claimed to have invented chili powder in 1896 in New Braunfels, but Pendery’s has them beat by six years).

So instead of concentrating on a recipe for a big bowl of Texas Red, I decided to offer you some tips I’ve picked up on my chili travels. And you can try them on your own family recipe. (If you don’t have a recipe, don’t worry. I have included a couple here.)

First things first, what is Texas chili? In its purest form it is a meat stew, normally made with beef cooked with chiles. Other ingredients, such as tomatoes are now common in Texas chili, but one thing definitely is not: beans.

So my first tip is ...

1. No beans in the chili when you are serving chili in public. It is much better to fix a pot of beans to serve next to the chili. That way you or your guests can add them (when no one is looking).

And here are more tips:

2. For a more consistent chili flavor from batch to batch, use dried spices and chili powders. Fresh spices and chiles, while terrific, can vary in flavor and potency, making it extra tricky to make that same bowl of chili, or to fine-tune your recipe for next time.

3. Try using Pendery’s chili powder. Pendery’s (the inventor of chili powder) has been a fixture in Fort Worth for more than 140 years. (The shop is on Eighth Avenue in the hospital district.) Pendery’s “Fort Worth Light” chili powder blend is a favorite of chili cook-off chefs.

4. Speaking of competition chili, another ingredient that seems to find its way into most cook-off chili is a package of Sazon Goya (Mexican food aisle). Give the seasoned salt a try and see what you think.

5. The better the beef, the better the chili. Use quality beef cut into 1/2-inch cubes, or have it coarse ground (also known as “chili grind”). Chuck and round are common choices, but if you can find top sirloin or steaks on sale, go for it. Just be sure to trim the excess fat to keep the chili from becoming greasy.

6. Layer the flavor. Chili powders, and spices like cumin, can lose or change flavor when cooked too long. Try adding them 10 to 30 minutes before you serve the chili instead of when you start cooking. In chili cook-off competitions, the spices are typically divided into three spice “dumps” that are added at different times during the cooking cycle. Check out the recipe below for an example.

7. The gravy. Texas Chili should be thick enough to stand a spoon in. So be sure not to add too much liquid. A rule of thumb is to just cover the meat with your stock, beer or water. As it cooks down, you can add more. If you need to thicken your gravy, try masa harina (packaged corn tortilla flour). You can also use crushed corn tortillas chips or corn tortillas because they contain the same masa harina flour.

8. Chili too hot? Try adding some lime juice.

9. Chili not “Texas Red” in color? Add some paprika.

10. Chili just missing something when you taste it? Try adding a little sugar.

Here are two chili recipes, one is a basic everyday recipe, and the other is a competition-style recipe.

Cowtown chili

This recipe is for every pound of chili meat, making it easy to adjust for the size of your gathering. Just figure around a half a pound of meat per person.

  • Coarse ground beef, also known as “chili grind”

For every pound of beef:

  • 1/2 diced onion

  • 3 tablespoons of “Fort Worth Light” chili powder, or 2 tablespoons store brand chili powder and 1 teaspoon of ground cumin

  • 1/2 package Sazon Goya seasoning salt (Mexican food aisle), or 1 teaspoon seasoned salt

  • 1 cup beef or chicken stock, or 1 cup of beer

  • 1 teaspoon sugar

  • 4 crushed tortilla chips Salt to taste

In a pot, brown beef in vegetable oil on medium heat, remove from pot and drain oil.

Add diced onions to the pot. Stir the onions until they get translucent, around 5 to 6 minutes, and then add beef back to the pot.

Add stock (or beer) until meat is covered (around a cup per pound).

Bring to boil and add Sazon Goya or seasoned salt, stir then reduce heat and let simmer covered for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes add Fort Worth Light chili powder (or store brand chili powder with cumin), sugar and crushed tortilla chips. Stir and let simmer for another 10 minutes.

Salt to taste then let cool for 5 minutes before serving or transfer to slow cooker to keep warm.

Texas 3 dump chili

Serves 8

  • 4 lbs. beef cut into 1/2 inch cubes (chuck, round or steak)

  • 3 beers or stock (I used Negra Modelo, a sweet, dark Mexican beer.)

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 1 whole garlic head minced

  • 1 large onion diced

First dump

  • 1 tablespoon paprika

  • 1 tablespoon beef bullion (I like the Better Than Stock brand.)

  • 1 packet Sazon Goya

  • 3 bay leaves

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon jalapeno powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar

Second dump

  • 2 tablespoons dark chili powder (Pendery’s “Puebla”)

  • 1 tablespoon light chili powder (Pendery’s “Fort Worth Light”)

  • 1 tablespoon paprika

  • 1/2 teaspoon ancho powder

  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Third dump

  • 2 tablespoons dark chili powder (Pendery’s “Puebla”)

  • 1 tablespoon light chili powder (Pendery’s “Fort Worth Light”)

  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin

  • 1 teaspoon paprika

  • 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar

  • 1/2 packet Sazon Goya

In a pot, brown cubed beef in vegetable oil, remove from pot and drain oil.

Add diced onions to the pot. Stir onions, when they start to get translucent add minced garlic. Stir for a couple of minutes, then add beef back to the pot.

Bring to boil and add the first spice dump, stir then reduce heat and let simmer covered for 1 hour.

Add the second spice dump, stir, add more beer if needed then cover and cook another 30 minutes.

Add the third spice dump, stir, add more beer if needed then cover and cook another 10 minutes. Taste and adjust for salt and heat. Enjoy!