Why You Need To Brown The Meat For Chili

Chili is a comfort-food staple across the world and is popular for its deep, smoky flavors and hearty ingredients like beef, beans, tomatoes, and peppers. Ground beef is typically used for such a tasty dish, but according to Food & Wine, beef chuck, brisket, and short ribs may also be incorporated to add a fancier flair to chili. Cookin Docs also suggests a top sirloin cut due to its lean but juicy texture, as well as the use of grass-fed beef products since they are likely to be more tender and healthier than regular beef. Chicken or seafood may be substituted for beef as well, like this slow cooker white chicken chili.

As tempting as it is to throw raw beef in a pot with spices, beans, and veggies to make everything easier, it's crucial to brown the meat first. Let's just say the flavors, textures, and the chili dish as a whole will taste off if you don't. Here's why.

Ever heard of the maillard reaction?

According to Kitchn, browning the beef first enhances that meaty flavor we all love, as well as its texture. They go on to state that this rule typically applies to chunks of beef or ground meat rather than chicken thighs or breasts, as they are usually poached or added to a slow cooker. Previously cooked, shredded chicken is also the go-to protein for many chicken chili recipes.

But what happens when you brown beef for chili? Well, it goes through a process known as the Maillard reaction, which is when heated sugars and amino acids create enticing flavors, smells, and of course, that brown sear on the outside, via Australian Beef. They further explain that the Maillard reaction can only happen via a dry method, aka searing meat directly on a pan, rather than a wet method, like boiling meat, due to the difference in temperatures. A dry method means the meat will start to take on those Maillard characteristics at 309.2 Fahrenheit, which is way above the boiling point of water at 212 Fahrenheit. In other words, if you bring a pot of raw beef to a simmer for chili, it won't ever start the Maillard reaction process.

So whether you'll be making chili for a potluck or for yourself, just remember to brown the beef or any ground meat, like turkey or chicken, first so you can taste what the Maillard reaction is all about.