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Comfort Food: Homemade Chili Recipe

chili recipe sffood
A comforting bowl of chili

Chili is not something I always loved. I liked it just fine, but I’m not someone who craved chili growing up or even into adulthood. That is, until I discovered that in Hawaii, folks put chili over RICE. Now anyone who knows me knows that I heart rice. So then, my interest was piqued. Combined with the fact that Mr. K loves chili, I got back to cooking it and what do you know, it’s one of my most requested recipes. The main ingredients are simple: you need a ground meat of some sort and you need beans. Everything else is negotiable, though I’m of the mindset that a chili without onions and peppers is basically bean soup.

Beef Chili Recipe

homemade beef chili recipe
Starting browning the vegetables

You can do it separately, but I usually prep all of the veggies beforehand, and brown the meat in one pan and the veggies in a separate pan for this chili recipe. Here, you have one whole onions, one smell green bell pepper, one small red bell pepper and freshly chopped garlic. Uniformity in size is nice as far as presentation but it’s going to cook for a couple of hours, so no big deal if your slicing skills leave a bit to be desired.

homemade beef chili recipeToss in the spicy peppers. Now, for this chili recipe, if you really can’t handle spice, then you can toss in more bell peppers, but as mentioned — a chili has to have a kick. A minimum of jalapeno peppers would be ideal. At the same time, there’s no real need to go into suicidal territory with Thai peppers or something really fiery either. I prefer serranos for basically everything, so chop those up and throw them in. In this case, my two guests for the evening don’t handle spice well, so I removed all of the seeds, which keeps the heat manageable. (I set aside two whole serranos just to garnish my bowl with!) Stir constantly and cook this through until nice and soft. ADD SALT!

The Meat

homemade beef chili recipe
Now, the beef. YUM!

I usually do this side-by-side with the veggies, but it’s not necessary. For the meat in this chili recipe, I used approximately 1.5 lbs of lean ground beef, and about 1/2 pound of an Italian sausage grind available at the meat section at the store. The pan has 2 tablespoons of olive oil. With whatever utensil you use, make sure to break apart the meat into nice small sizes. As they cook through, you will mix the sausage meat and ground beef together thoroughly.

Once it completely cooks through and you’re comfortable taking a bite out of the pan — you’ll note there’s a lot of liquid at the bottom of the pan. Well, you can either strain and continue with your chili, OR — you can strain out the juices and put back into the pan to completely brown the meat. You might have to repeat this a couple of times, depending on how fatty your meat is. For what it’s worth, I didn’t do the browning this time but I have done it before. It adds a nice toasty element to each bite, but not drastic enough to make me drain and re-fry a couple of times.



homemade beef chili recipe
Fresh or canned beans – your choice.

For about 95% of what I cook, I am firm believer in using fresh ingredients I prepare myself. I don’t like using things that last an eerily long time, or products where I can’t really be certain it’s just the ingredient itself. Furthermore, there is virtually nothing in this world that tastes better canned than it does fresh. One of the few exceptions would be BEANS. Specifically, pinto and kidney beans, which were the stars on this evening. For this chili recipe, go to the store, pick a good brand, buy 2-3 cans, depending on how much you’re making, come home and toss all the beans into a colander and let cold water run through it for a minute. Voila – cooked beans…which is basically what I would have spent a couple of hour making at home. (No thanks.) You could say that there’s salt in there, but…you do get by now that I would add salt to these, too, right? But should you feel like it, there’s no reason not to buy whole beans and soak/cook to your heart’s content if you don’t mind the extra work. (Be careful — beans are easy to burn on the stovetop…and with the soaking process in addition to the cooking process, I often consider it to be a colossal waste of time!)  

homemade beef chili recipe
Mix it all up over heat.

The veggies are soft. The meat is cooked. Then toss the beans in. Now here is where you begin to do the real cooking.

homemade beef chili recipe
La Valle San Marzano Tomatoes

I use a specific canned tomato for the sauce available here. I can’t say there’s no better canned tomato, but this one does really enhance whatever I use it in. So, for the time being, I’ve stuck with it.

I used two cans of this for the amount I’m preparing above. Immediately thereafter, I put a 12 ounce bottle of whatever good beer you have lying around. Last night, I used Lagunitas (which is really hoppy), and it gives a nice depth (and color) to the flavor. But for a clean-tasting lighter flavor, I’d stick to lighter beers like an ale. Never in my life will you see me recommending Budweiser, so let’s not go there. The point is to add some beer. If after pouring in your beer, you feel like you need more liquid, use white wine. This particular dish is not going to need additional meat stock as you have plenty of meat flavor in it already. Then, throw in all of your spices. For a typical chili, I use as follows:

  • Cumin powder -1.5 T
  • Coriander powder – 1 T
  • Paprika (smoked, if you have it) – 1.5 T
  • Chili powder 1.5 T
  • Cinnamon – 1.4 tsp
  • Cayenne Pepper: 1 T
  • Dried Oregano 1 T
  • Dried Basil: 1 T
homemade beef chili recipe
Stir, stir….watch it to keep it from burning.

Not having any dried basil in the house, I used fresh instead.  Stir the entire concoction and bring to a full boil. Once you have it boiling, turn it down to a simmer. On most stoves, this is a 1-2….you want very little bubbling. Taste — and make sure it tastes salty enough. If not, add more salt, or beef bouillon cubes if you have that. I used salt.

homemade beef chili recipe
Check on your chili often because all the ingredients will fall to the bottom due to weight, resulting in an easily burned dinner.

The cooking part is now technically done. Now it’s a waiting game. For the next 90 minutes to two hours (with longer being better), you keep it covered and check on it every 15 minutes without fail. With chili, the chunks will always fall to the bottom of the pot and the liquid will be all you see, so give it a good stir each time to make sure it’s not burning on the bottom. In the meantime, prepare the garnishes for chili which might include shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, green onions, white onions, cilantro, parsley, avocados, or whatever else suits your fancy. I always sprinkle additional fresh serrano peppers to give it a real kick. Squeezing some lemon juice into chili also makes the dense flavors pop more.


homemade beef chili recipe
Voila! Garnish with cilantro, a dollop of sour cream, green onions and a few slices of fresh avocado.

Serve over hot white rice, or scoop onto delicious tostada chips. You can even take some fresh bread and just dip and scoop to your heart’s content. And there you go. That’s how I make chili. It’s still cold most everywhere on the continent, so it’s a perfect time to try this at home! Enjoy!

Grace Keh

Managing Editor

Grace Keh is the author of "Food Lovers' Guide to San Francisco" and the critic, editor and photographer behind San Francisco Food. In her regular day job, she consults for corporate clients in marketing and event strategy. Once the sun sets, she's on the hunt for great food in what she considers to be one of the world's greatest cities, San Francisco.

  1. HI Grace
    Oh! Yum! Love your recipe for chili. It is one of my favorite dishes this time of year. I like to have parties especially on Halloween and serve chili with all the fixins' ie: rice, tomatoes, cheese, avocado, green onions, sour cream, Frito's Chips, etc… I leave the chili in the crock pot and it can stay on warm. My guests can help themselves and make it "their way."

    I love your blog. Keep on cooking!


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