The Culinary Crime You Should Never Commit With Texas Chili

Authentic Texas chili is one of the most famous iterations of chili, and fans of the dish know that real Texas chili isn't filled with beans and tomatoes. Even celebrity chef and author Anthony Bourdain believed that rice and beans did not belong in chili. The star of authentic Texas chili is the meat and the namesake ingredient: the chile pepper. Texas food historian Rob Walsh told Texas Monthly that the origins of Texas Chili most likely came from the San Antonio Canary Island population, which included a group of women known as the Chili Queens. These women would come together to serve an array of dishes including enchiladas, tamales, and, of course, chili con carne.

Chili con carne would be served to the military members stationed around San Antonio but could also be found at chili stands and in the homes of San Antonio residents. This version of Chili was a slow-cooked stew of finely chopped or ground meat, garlic, cumin, onion, and chile peppers — no beans or tomatoes to be found. As non-residents traveled through Texas, word spread of this unique and spicy dish. In different regions of Texas, cooks began making chili with different spicy peppers that were local to them. Most food historians agree that chili really took off in the 1880s with the completion of railroads connecting different parts of Texas.

Key ingredients of Texas chili

Real Texas chili has more of a stew texture than the liquid broth we might think of today. This thicker texture comes from a chili-pepper paste that gives the dish its signature spice. This pepper paste can consist of ancho peppers, pasilla peppers, hatch chiles, jalapeños, guajillo chiles, and really any other pepper or chile that could be grown in Texas. These chiles would often be dried and rehydrated with water and blended or pounded to make the paste.

Today, the most common meat used for chili across the U.S. is ground beef, but traditionally, chuck roast or even short ribs would be used as the meat. The meat would be cut into cubes that would become melt-in-your-mouth tender over time. Chili was an easy way to use those tougher cuts of meat since they would have the opportunity to cook down over time. Masa Harina, a type of corn flour that's made from corn soaked in lime, is used as a thickening agent for the stew and brings a subtle acidic flavor to the dish. Chili was meant to be a hearty meal that would keep for several days and feed a large amount of people. The traditional version of Texas chili highlights these original qualities.