Chilly outside, chili inside: a roundup of chili classics

It’s a potluck, ski resort, NFL Game Day, summer competition, and winter gathering staple.

It’s warm, filling, better when made a day or so ahead, and easily accommodates a crowd.

Many cooks have a recipe they’ve been coddling for decades, tweaking and savoring, while raking in the compliments. But for those still searching for their personal chili nirvana, we present three belly-pleasing options for you to try.

ChuckWagonChili_900x600First up, Chuck Wagon Chili. This is the one I’ve been making for more years than I care to admit.

I buy chuck blade steaks or London broil, and cube the meat by hand, while imagining I’m working on the drop-down table of a wagon in the open air. I like this recipe for its meatiness, spicy enough but not too hot flavor, and the touch of molasses and richness from a can of refried beans mixed in.

I usually serve this chili with some grated cheddar on top (sometimes smoked cheddar, if I have it), and a touch of sour cream to smooth out some of the heat.

From my travels in the Southwest around Santa Fe and Albuquerque, I developed a great fondness for green chiles. There they show up at every meal: in omelets, sandwiches and, of course, chili.

Chicken&GreenChili_900x600Red, beef-based chiles can overwhelm the green chile flavor, which is why when I feel the call of the Goodnight-Loving trail I make a batch of this White Bean and Chicken Chili.

It’s pretty quick to put together, using boneless, skinless chicken thighs and canned cannellini beans. I have a number of friends who prefer not to eat red meat, and this one makes them very happy.


VegetarianChili_900x600Let’s not forget our vegetarian friends, either. This Vegetarian Chili is another from my longstanding portfolio of go-to dishes. Colorful, very tasty, and packed with protein, it’s a chili even meat-eaters warm up to. For a true barbecue note, hunt down some smoked tofu if you can. It’s firmer, dices very well, holds up to stirring, and brings a wonderful outdoorsy, by-the-campfire note to the bowl.

All of this chili needs a little something on the side. The salad I’ll leave to you, but we are King Arthur Flour, and that means baking something.

GreenChileCornMuffins2_900x600 Try a batch of these Corn and Green Chile Muffins for sopping up that last bit of goodness, or just because they’re darned tasty. With some cheese both inside and on top, they’re moist and tasty. You can make them as zippy as you like, or keep them on the mild side for a counterpoint to the fire you put in on your chili spoon.

I hope you’ll try one (or all) of these tried-and-true chili recipes, and let us know what you think. What better way to make good use of your indoor hours this time of year, than to cook up a batch of chow from the sunny Southwest?

Susan Reid

Chef Susan Reid grew up in New Jersey, graduated from Bates College and the Culinary Institute of America, and is presently the Food Editor of Sift magazine. She does demos, appearances, and answers food (and baking) questions from all quarters.


  1. sandy

    This is a very timely post. I was just considering chili for one night this week. I often use ground meat, but I like the idea of using the cubed beef. I also have never added re-fried beans but it seems like a really good idea and one I will try. One question … why brown the meat, etc, in a frying pan and then add to the dutch oven. Why not do it right in the dutch oven instead of the frying pan?

    1. MaryJane Robbins

      I think the reason for the separate pan is to brown the beef in smaller batches. Putting all the meat in the same pot at the same time may lead to steaming rather than true browning. That being said, if you want to do it all in the same pot, no food police here! 🙂 ~ MJ

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You could just add another variety of beans, Randy. I like a nice northern bean in my vegetarian chili! Barb@KAF

  2. Chris

    Sounds perfect for a cold day. I have not cooked with refried beans before and have. The blog says they add richness. Do they thicken the chili and/or add more bean flavor?

    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Hi, Chris. The refried beans mostly give a nice, thick texture to the chili; they don’t have a very strong flavor of their own (as in, they don’t get in the way or change the overall taste profile). Susan

  3. go4garden

    Does the vegetarian chili really call for THREE POUNDS of smoked tofu? It appears in the ingredient list three times…

    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Only if you’re really hungry! Seriously, sorry, it’s only 1 pound. We’re wrestling with the setup and are hoping to have it corrected shortly. Susan

    2. PJ Hamel

      No, it’s a glitch in our Web system; we’re trying to get it fixed, but in the meantime, please just write 1 pound on your shopping list… PJH

  4. waikikirie

    I love me some chili! Will be giving your white bean and vegetarian chili a try over the winter…..and of course the muffins. Hope everyone is staying warm.

    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Sounds good to me too, only -13°F at our house this morning, so I’ll have to wait for a cold day. *urgh*! ~ MJ

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