Last year some of my colleagues and I started the first chili cookoff at our school. I took top honors at the first Cast Iron Chef by a mere two votes! My award-winning recipe is featured here. I think what won it for me was smoking the chili on the Big Green Egg.
This year a whole new batch of competitors entered the contest and wowed us with their meat chilis and their secret ingredients, which ranged from heart healthy turkey, smoky chipotles, fresh and grassy cilantro, textured sirloin and bison, rich sausage, and the bass tones of chocolate.
3 of the 7 Chili cookoff contestants Jenny, Becky, and Sally.
There was a clear winner this time around, and it was Chris Thompson, pictured below with me.
Chris Thompson, 2010 Cast Iron Chef, and me, 2009 Cast Iron Chef, before the cookoff (Chris doesn't know yet that he will win!)
What's interesting to me about Chris' recipe is that he marinates the meat overnight with fresh peppers, onions and garlic, and lots of worcestershire sauce and salt -- a similar technique that my friend Coleen uses to make her Jamaican curry chicken to deepen the flavor. He also doesn't use that much chili powder or cumin, relying on fresh peppers. I use a good tablespoon of chili powder per pound of meat and at least a tsp. of cumin per pound, along with fresh peppers like poblano and jalapeno. As such, Chris' chili should appeal to those who like flavor but not lots of heat.
Give Chris' recipe a try at your next tailgate or football viewing party as his recipe is party size.
This Award-Winning Chili Recipe Will Make You a Hero
by Guest Blogger Chris Thompson
It is officially cold outside (at least if you just moved up North from Palm Beach, Florida), and one of the best cold weather dishes I can think of is a big pot of homemade chili. There are at least two things that make chili such a great thing, aside from tasting great: it’s cheap to make, and you can easily feed a lot of people, or create multiple meals for your family with just one pot.
What if I told you that you could feed a dozen people, or supply your family of four with multiple meals for three days all for under $25? Well you can, and you can do so even using steak! Vegetarians, you may want to look away now, because we’re going to be putting together a really hearty and meaty chili. If you don’t eat meat, I’m sure you could find something to substitute, and probably even save a good deal of money.
Anyway, I want to share with you a relatively inexpensive chili recipe, but not just any recipe. This recipe has even won awards at chili cook-offs. No, we’re not talking any national competitions you’d see on the Food Network, but this recipe and slight variations has won some top honors at a number of local events over the past 15 or so years including, amazingly enough, the 2nd annual chili cook-off I just entered! The original inspiration for this recipe came from the internet.
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
4 poblano peppers, chopped
12 cloves garlic, minced
2 large yellow onions, chopped
1 lb. hot sausage, removed from casing and broken up into pieces
3 lb. top sirloin steak, cut in 1/2 inch cubes
4 tbs. worcestershire sauce
2 tbs. kosher salt and 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 tbs. Liquid Smoke
2 x 28 oz. cans of crushed tomatoes
1 28 oz. can of premium small red beans
2 tbs. chili powder
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. cumin
5 dashes Tabasco sauce
Ground cayenne pepper to taste
Preparing the Chili
Go ahead and chop the peppers into relatively small pieces, The same goes for the onions. Sweet onions are good if you prefer milder flavor. Of course, go ahead and use whatever kind you have on hand or prefer. In this case, I used two large onions (about 4 cups when chopped). Once you have your onions and pepper chopped, go ahead and mince up about 12 (or more) cloves of garlic. Then, throw everything into a big bowl. I have to stress the fact that it needs to be a big bowl, because not only are you putting all the veggies in here, but you’ll also be adding all of the meat and mixing it together for marinating a bit later.
Chop the steak into about half inch cubes. As seen above, that is only about 1 pound of the 3 pounds total that go into the mix. Once you add the chopped steak to the big mixing bowl full of onions and pepper, you’ll want to take the sausage and break it up into pieces. At this point you’re not looking to do anything special with the sausage other than make it easy enough to work with.
Now comes the fun part! To your meat, onion, and pepper mixture, it’s time to add the seasoning for the marinade. To the bowl, add a few tablespoons of salt. I prefer kosher salt myself, but whatever you have is fine. Then, add a teaspoon or so of black pepper. For me, that’s about 20 turns on my pepper grinder. Now it’s time for the liquid components. We’ll be using both the liquid smoke and the Worcestershire sauce. No exact measurements here, but I’d guess about 4 or 5 tablespoons of Worcestershire and maybe 2 tablespoons of liquid smoke to start (err on the side of too little than too much). Then, dig in with your hands! You need to thoroughly mix everything together. After you get things pretty mixed, you can determine if you need to add any more liquid. You don’t want a soup, but you want it to be moist and have everything covered. You can see from the image how mine turned out after mixing everything together.
Now, we wait. Cover the bowl, and throw it in the refrigerator overnight if possible. You really want the flavors to get into the meat since that is the heart and soul of this recipe, but if overnight won’t work, you can probably get by with 4 hours. The longer you’re able to let it sit, the better it will be. I know, the smell that this mixture has created will fill your house with some of the most amazing aromas ever, but you’re just going to have to wait.
Cooking the Chili
After the mixture has had time to marinate, it’s time to begin the actual cooking. You’ll want the largest skillet you have to make this process go as quickly as possible. Remember, we’re working with 4 pounds of meat and about 6-7 cups of vegetables. Even with a large skillet, it is impossible to brown everything in one batch. I know what you’re thinking, but don’t even try it. If you cram everything into the pan, you’re not going to speed anything up. It will take even longer to cook, and you’ll end up basically steaming the meat. So, work in batches. I have a 12-inch skillet that I used here and it took 3 batches. Each batch took about 7-10 minutes on medium-high heat. We’re not too concerned if the meat is 100% fully cooked since it is going to go into a pot and simmer for a few hours.
Once all of the browned meat is dumped into a big pot (or slow cooker), you can add the entire can of chili beans. Then, add almost one entire can of crushed tomatoes. I ended up using close to the entire two cans of tomatoes, but you want to be careful and go slow with adding them, because it can turn from chili to soup very quickly. Remember, you can always add, but it’s impossible to subtract. So start with that, and give it all a good stir to check the consistency.
This is the consistency you’re looking for, although if you like your chili more chunky or more soupy, go for it. Once you get the right consistency, it’s time for the seasoning. There is no exact science here, and you can really experiment with what works best for you. But you’ll want to start with about 2 tablespoons of chili powder, about 5 dashes of Tabasco sauce, and a teaspoon of both cumin and coriander. Top it off with a light sprinkle of cayenne pepper. Give it a good stir and see how it tastes. It will probably be pretty bland, and that’s fine. Again, it’s easier to add flavor, but impossible to take it out once it’s in. So, slow and steady is the key here. After adding the first round of spices, add a little more of each, with the chili powder being the primary ingredient, and add just small amounts of the others. Keep doing this until the taste and amount of heat is right for you.
All you have to do now is let it cook. I put all of this in a slow-cooker and let it cook on “low” for 10 hours. This long and slow cooking process really gives the meat a chance to become very tender, and all of the flavors and spices to come together.
Eating the Chili
And now it’s time to serve and eat!