Thom's Recipe File
invented chili? There are several theories. E. De Grolyer, a
scholar and chili expert, believed it had its origins as the "pemmican
of the Southwest" in the late 1840s. According to De Grolyer,
Texans pounded dried beef and beef fat, chili peppers, and salt to make
trail food for the ride out to the gold fields and San Francisco.
The dried mixture was then boiled in pots along the trail, an "instant"
variation on the same theory is that cowboys invented chili when driving
cattle. Supposedly, cooks planted oregano, chilies, and onions among
patches of mesquite to protect them from foraging cattle. The next
time they passed the same trail, they would collect the spices, combine
them with beef, and make a dish called "Trail drive chili". The
chili peppers used in the earliest dishes were probably chilipiquํns,
which grow wild on bushes in Texas, particularly the southern part of
Probably the earliest mention of the dish, though not the name,
according to Dave DeWitt and Nancy Gerlach in "The Whole Chile Pepper
Book," was by J. C. Clopper. He visited San Antonio in 1828 and
commented on how poor people would cut the little meat they could afford
"into a kind of hash with nearly as many pieces of pepper as there are
pieces of meat - this is all stewed together." The first mention
of the word "chili" was in a book by S. Compton Smith, "Chile Con Carne,
or The Camp and the Field" (1857), and there was a San Antonio Chili
Stand at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair.
It was in 1902 that William Gebhardt, a German Immigrant in New
Braunfels, Texas, created a "chili powder" which helped popularize chili
throughout the Southwest. His brand is still one of the most
popular, and specified in many recipes.
con carne is described as a dish of well-seasoned and well-cooked beef
with chili peppers. In New Mexico, chili is often more of a stew
with chili peppers and vegetables, with or without meat. In
California, chili is usually a mixture of ground beef and beans,
different from any other Southwestern versions.
Cincinnati chili was created in 1922 by a Macedonian immigrant, Athanas
Kiradjieff. Kiradjieff settled in Cincinnati and opened a hot dog
stand called the Empress, where he created a chili with Middle Eastern
spices which could be served a variety of ways. His "five-way" was
a concoction of a mound of spaghetti topped with chili, then with
chopped onions, then red kidney beans, then shredded yellow cheese, and
served with oyster crackers and a side order of hot dogs topped with
On The Side:
Several beverages are commonly used to accompany a bowl of chili, including
a glass of cold milk to moderate the impact of the chiles on the throat.
Saltine crackers, broken up and scattered on top, are common in chili
parlors. Similarly, commercial corn chips can be added as a topping
producing something akin to Frito pie. Jalape๑o cornbread, rolled-up corn
tortillas, and pork tamales also are popular, for dunking. Peanut butter
sandwiches or peanut butter on saltine crackers served on the side can also
accompany chili. In Missouri, a small portion of pickle juice is often
poured into the bowl of chili. Similarly in Tennessee, it is common to
sprinkle vinegar over the bowl of chili. In Indiana, some heap a big helping
of coleslaw in their bowl of chili before eating.
Beans: Pinto beans (frijoles), a staple of Tex-Mex cooking,
have long been associated with chili and the question of whether beans
"belong" in chili has been a matter of contention amongst chili cooks for an
equally long time. It is likely that in many poorer areas of San Antonio and
other places associated with the origins of chili, beans were used rather
than meat or in addition to meat due to poverty. In that regard, it has been
suggested by some chili aficionados that there were probably two chili types
made in the world, depending on what could be afforded and how frugal the
As chili spread east into areas where beef was more expensive (beef was
plentiful and cheap in San Antonio and other cattle towns), chili with Pinto
or other beans became more prevalent. In some eastern areas, this dish is
referred to as "chili beans" while the term chili is reserved for the
all-meat dish. Other changes included the adding of other vegetables.
Tomatoes are almost always used, bell peppers are common and even celery
appears in recipes. Many easterners are just as adamant about the inclusion
of beans in their chili for an authentic flavor as a small, vocal minority
of Texans are about their exclusion.
Most commercially prepared canned chili includes beans. Commercial chili
prepared without beans is usually called "Chili No Beans". If you substitute
chunks of fresh mushrooms for the beans, you will cut the calorie content of
your favorite chili recipe by at least a third, without sacrificing taste.
The blandness of the white button mushroom soak up the flavors of the chiles,
tomatoes, chili powder, etc. while helping the chili retain its consistency.
However, a vocal minority of self-styled 'chili experts' believe that beans
and chili should always be cooked separately and served on the side. It is
then up to the consumer to stir his preferred quantity of beans into his own
bowl. Some cooks prefer black beans, black-eyed peas, or kidney beans
instead of pinto beans.
A popular saying among self-proclaimed chili purists is "If you know beans
about chili, you know chili ain't got no beans".
Tomatoes: Another ingredient considered anywhere from required
to sacrilegious is tomatoes. Wick Fowler, north Texas newspaperman and
inventor of "Two-Alarm Chili" (which he later marketed as a "kit" of
spices), insisted on adding tomato sauce to his chili, one 15-oz. can per
three pounds of meat. He also believed that chili should never be eaten
newly-cooked but refrigerated overnight to seal in the flavor. Matt
Weinstock, a Los Angeles newspaper columnist, once remarked that Fowler's
chili "was reputed to open eighteen sinus cavities unknown to the medical
profession". [Tolbert, A Bowl of Red]
Rice or no rice: In Southeast Texas people eat chili over white
rice, much like one would eat gumbo, this is due to the proximity to
Louisiana. This is also common in Hawaii, United Kingdom, and Sweden.
White chili: Instead of a tomato-based sauce and red meat
(beef), great northern beans and chicken breast meat can be substituted. The
resulting dish appears white when cooked, and has more of an alkali bean
taste, instead of the acidic taste of "regular" chili.
Secret ingredients: Every serious chili cook has their own
recipe for chili, which may have, in addition to the expected ingredients
listed above, some more esoteric additions. These may include chocolate,
cumin, peanut butter, lobster fondue, pineapple, fish eggs, banana, oranges,
tomatillos, bock beer, coffee, tequila, Coca Cola, honey, cocoa, saffron, a
cast iron cooking pot, and so on.
often served with beans on the side, and usually with rice.
Tortillas are a good choice to serve with chili, and cornbread,
saltines, and oyster crackers are other favorites.
Store Bought Chili
| Willie Gebhardt, originally of New
Braunfels, Texas and later of San Antonio, produced the first
canned chili in 1908. Gebhardt also invented the first
commercial chili powder in 1896, but very little else is known
about him; he apparently sold out to a brother-in-law and
disappeared from the scene. His chili powder nonetheless remains
Another popular chili brand is Wolf Brand Chili, which was
founded by rancher Lyman Davis near Corsicana, Texas, in 1885.
He also owned a meat market and was a particular fan of
Texas-style chili. In the 1880s, in partnership with an
experienced range cook, he began producing heavily-spiced chili
based on chunks of lean beef and including rendered beef suet,
which he sold by the pot to local caf้s. In 1921, Davis began
canning his product in the back of his meat market and named it
for his pet wolf, "Kaiser Bill". Wolf Brand canned chili was a
favorite of Will Rogers, who always took along a case of it when
traveling and entertaining in other regions of the world. Ernest
Tubb, the country singer, was such a fan that one Texas hotel
maintained a supply of Wolf Brand for his visits.
Both the Gebhardt and Wolf brands are now owned by ConAgra
Foods, Inc. In the UK, the most popular brand of canned chili is
sold by Stagg, a division of Hormel foods.
Another method of marketing commercial chili in the days before
widespread home refrigerators was "brick chili", in the
production of which nearly all of the moisture was squeezed out
to leave a solid substance roughly the size and shape of a
half-brick. Wolf Brand was sold in a brick before switching to a
canned product. Commonly available in small towns and
rural areas of the American Southwest in the first
three-quarters of the 20th century, brick chili has largely
outlived its usefulness and is now difficult to find.