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Rip’s Chili Recipe

by Mark Rippetoe | May 07, 2019

rippetoe makes texas chili

My chili recipe, a modern version of the one used at the Floral Heights Cafe in Wichita Falls, many years ago:

  • 2-5 pounds of not-very-lean meat. May be ground coarsely, chopped, cubed, or a combination of textures. May be beef, pork, lamb, mutton, or venison, because chili is about the spices, not the meat. And a certain amount of grease is necessary for the spices to work properly, so if using lean game you have to add some fat to the meat.
  • 1 large onion, or 2 smaller onions. White or yellow, but not purple.
  • A lot of garlic, minced in a jar is fine, whole cloves are unnecessary trouble, and powder is too trailer-park.

The rest of this is the most important:

  • Mild red chili, ground. "Chili powder" you find in the store does not work, because it is almost always a blend of spices that the manufacturer thinks you need to use to make chili. Use a mild red or "sweet" red chili you find in the Hispanic Foods section of the store. If you can find the Bueno Foods brand, buy it. Buy at least 8 ounces, because you may need that much, and it's good on eggs and corn too. Use the mild. Really. It has a much better flavor. Too hot masks the other flavors.
  • Cumin, or comino, ground. I prefer the kind in the little bags in the Hispanic Foods section, it's usually fresher than bottle or spice jar cumin. Or you can buy whole cumin seeds and grind it yourself if you enjoy such preliminaries.
  • Oregano, dried leaf or powdered. Important, but not critical, and certainly not necessary to acquire as fresh herbs. Marjoram is so similar that it will work in this recipe if you already have some in the cabinet.
  • Cinnamon, optional, just a tiny bit for some sweetness and complexity, not enough to stand out in the bowl.
  • Salt to taste.
  • White flour to thicken at the end of the cook.

Note the absence of beans, bell peppers, or other foreign materials.

Brown the meat in some fat in a hot stew pot large enough to accommodate the recipe with several inches of head room to spare. Bacon grease is my favorite, but use some fat in the bottom of the pot, just enough to cover the surface, smoking hot before the meat goes in. High heat will take 15 minutes to adequately brown all the meat, depending on how much you use. Brown it all to make a nice caramelized brown broth. Then cover the meat to a depth of one inch over the meat with boiling water – hot, so it doesn't shock the meat or slow down your cooking.

Finely chop your onion – "minced" is the proper term – so that it will cook apart in the boil. There should be no recognizable pieces of anything but meat in a bowl of Texas chili. Add it to the boil, along with about 2 tablespoons of minced garlic, and your first stab at the salt. (Do not oversalt the chili, the final adjustment takes place as the last step.) Simmer the pot for 2-3 hours – venison or other game takes longer to cook tender than beef or pork.

After the meat has cooked enough that the broth and the onions and garlic are smooth, add the spices. You will use a 2:1 ratio of red chili to cumin. Do not be afraid to use a lot of chili: for 4 pounds of meat, I would use 8 ounces of chili and 4 ounces of cumin. This ratio is important for the proper flavor, and if you have used the right type chili it will be the perfect level of heat. Use a couple of ounces of oregano, and maybe a quarter teaspoon of cinnamon.

Turn the heat down to as low as will maintain the simmer, cover the pot, and stir occasionally for about 30 minutes – any longer will cause the flavor to degrade, since the flavor depends on the volatile components of the spices. The color should be a very deep red if you have used enough chili. Turn the heat off, and let it sit covered overnight on the stove. If you leave it covered it will not rot and poison you, because it is sterile from the heat. Obviously. This step is where the flavors blend, and is why chili is always better the next day.

Next day, return the pot to a boil. make a solution of white flour and water for thickening the pot (whole wheat doesn't work as well, corn starch has the wrong flavor and color, so don't get all weird and paleo here – just use the white flour, okay?). The solution will be completely opaque white, but not very thick, maybe 3 tablespoons of flour per cup. Make 2 cups of solution (flour and water are cheap, use what you need and throw the rest out) and stir it in to the boiling chili slowly. It will thicken as the flour sets in the hot fluid, so add it slowly until you see the chili turn a lighter red color and become thicker but not pudding-thick. If you over-thicken it, add more water. Immediately turn off the heat, salt to taste, and let it rest in the pot for 20 minutes.

Serve with saltine crackers and maybe some grated yellow cheese for a traditional Texas presentation. Those of you apostate Texans may add whatever colorful garnishes your little shrunken urban hearts desire.


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