Best Beef For Chili

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One of the questions I get asked a lot is “What is the best beef for chili?” There are a few ways to answer that question and I’m going to try and give you my two cents on it.

Beef. Chili. These are two words that I can’t get to leave my brain at the moment. Besides being incredibly delicious and hearty, they are two words that really roll of the tongue in an unforgettable way, don’t you think?

This is the best steak chili ever! It’s one of the best chili recipes I always make when I’m asked to bring something to a party. This company potluck was going to be no different. boy, was I wrong! You will also find the health benefits of chili below.

BEST STEAK CHILI RECIPE

This steak chili is the best beef chili recipe ever. That’s a big statement, but it’s true. It has a rich flavor and the tender chunks of slow-cooked chuck steak are dreamy. We go easy on the beans, but you can either omit them or add extra as you like. You’ll want to keep this steak chili recipe in your back pocket so you can pull it out every weekend.

Steak chili in a white bowl topped with corn chips, onion, and cilantro.

We’ve been eating A LOT of chili around here the past few weeks. We’re taking new pictures for many of the chili recipes on the website so have been taste testing chili almost daily. Of all the chili recipes we’ve tried, this one is our favorite.

WHY STEAK CHILI = THE BEST BEEF CHILI

  • The flavor is unbelievably rich.
  • Think of a slow-cooked roast in chili form.
  • The big chunks of tender beef make us wonder why they’re not in every beef chili recipe.
  • It’s a simple chili that is all about the flavorful tomato sauce, the melt-in-your-mouth chuck steak, and a few beans.

HOW TO MAKE THE BEST STEAK CHILI

  1. Start by searing the beef. This extra step will take you about 10 minutes, but I promise that it is well worth the effort.
  2. Now mince the onion and celery so that they are the same size. We don’t want any big chunks of celery here messing with the beef. If you mince the celery, it will blend into the sauce and add flavor without turning this into a veggie-focused chili. Keep the focus on the steak!
  3. Caramelize the tomato paste. It’s as easy as adding it to the pot and letting it cook until it becomes slightly darker and sweet-smelling. Big-time flavortown here.
  4. After you add the spices to the pot, pour in the beef bone broth and scrape the bottom of the pot so that every delicious morsel of that dark brown stuff on the bottom of your pot (vond) works its way into your chili.
  5. Now add some crushed tomatoes, a little honey (yes!), and that beautifully seared steak and let it gently simmer away for 2 hours. When you come back to your stove, stir some beans into the pot and be prepared to fall in love.
A pot of steak chili on a marble surface.

WHAT KIND OF STEAK SHOULD I USE FOR CHILI?

We like to use chuck steak which has lots of beefy flavor. But any cut of beef that is marked as ‘stewing beef’ or ‘beef roast’ will work well in this recipe. You want a tough cut of beef that will soften and become tender and tasty after a long cook.

Avoid any of the lean cuts intended to be served on a plate. Rib-eye, sirloin, and porterhouse are a few examples of steak NOT to use. You’ll know which ones they are as they’ll be the most expensive. They will dry out when simmered for hours and you’ll end up with tough bits of meat in your chili. We don’t want this!

Instead, look for the cheapest cuts of steak. The inexpensive cuts get better the longer that they are cooked.

A spoon taking a scoop of the best steak chili out of a pot.

TOPPINGS FOR STEAK CHILI

Normally, we’re all about adding some cheddar cheese and sour cream on top of our chili. But this steak chili is so unbelievably rich that we found that our go-to chili toppings distracted from the chili rather than added to it. We’re not saying that you shouldn’t test that yourself, but that’s what we found.

The toppings we liked the best on this steak chili are:

  • Nacho chips. Specifically, these crunchy Beanfields Nacho Chips, but I’m sure that others are great, too.
  • Minced red onion.
  • Or pickled red onion. I use this recipe from David Lebovitz and had some on hand from a batch of carnitas I recently made and they go AMAZING with steak chili.
  • Cilantro. We love the flavor.

The Best Chili Ever Recipe

A methodical approach to perfecting classic beef chili.

Spoon pulling bite of beef chili out of a small bowl, showing tender beans and short rib meat.

WHY IT WORKS

  • Dried chiles and whole spices provide a more flavorful foundation than pre-made blends.
  • Keeping the short ribs whole allows for better browning.
  • A long soak in salted water yields smooth, tender, and flavorful beans.

Igotta admit up front: The title of this article is somewhat misleading. Yes, we will discuss chili, and yes, it’s the best chili I personally have ever made.

But! To call something “the best chili ever” implies that the recipe is perfect, and perfection implies that there is no room for improvement. I can only hope that others will continue perfecting the chili work that began on the Tex-Mex border, and that I continue testing, well after the last rich and spicy remnant is licked clean off the bottom of the bowl. With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s move on to the testing.

My first step was to set up some parameters that would define the ultimate chili. Certainly, there are disputes in the chili world as to what makes the best. Ground beef or chunks? Are tomatoes allowed? Should we even mention beans? But I think we can all agree on a few things.

The ultimate chili should:

  • Have a rich, complex chile flavor that combines sweet, bitter, hot, fresh, and fruity elements in balance.
  • Have a robust, meaty, beefy flavor.
  • Assuming that it contains beans, have beans that are tender, creamy, and intact.
  • Be bound together by a thick, deep-red sauce.

To achieve these goals, I decided to break down the chili into its distinct elements—the chiles, the beef, the beans, and the flavorings—perfecting each one before putting them all together in one big happy pot.

Choosing Your Chiles

Photo collage showing dried chiles and ground chile powder.

I have bad memories of my chili-eating college days—when chili was made by adding a can of beans and a can of tomatoes to ground beef, then adding one of every spice on the rack (and two of cumin), then simmering. The finished product inevitably had a totally unbalanced flavor, with a powdery, gritty mouthfeel from the dried spices.

My first goal was to ditch the powdered spices and premixed chili powders (which are at worst inedible, and at best inconsistent) and go straight for the source: real dried chiles.

They come in a baffling array. To make my selection easier, I decided to taste every variety of whole chile I could find—both powdered in a spice grinder, and puréed in a blender with water—taking note of both their spice level and their flavor profile. I noticed that most of them fell into one of four distinct categories:

  • Sweet and fresh: These peppers have distinct aromas reminiscent of red bell peppers and fresh tomatoes. They include costeño, New Mexico (a.k.a. dried Anaheim, California, or Colorado), and choricero.
  • Hot: An overwhelming heat. The best, like cascabels, also have some complexity, while others like, the pequin or árbol, are all heat and not much else.
  • Smoky: Some peppers, like chipotles (dried, smoked jalapeños), are smoky because of the way they are dried. Others, like ñoras or guajillos, have a natural musty, charred-wood smokiness.
  • Rich and fruity: Distinct aromas of sun-dried tomatoes, raisins, chocolate, and coffee. Some of the best-known Mexican chiles, like ancho, mulato, and pasilla, are in this category.

Just as I occasionally like to mix up my Beatles Rock Band with a bit of Super Mario or old-school Street Fighter II, variety is what keeps you coming back to the chili pot.

The best spice strategy: Cover the low notes with a chile from the rich-and-fruity category, the high notes with a chile from the sweet-and-fresh category, and add a hit of heat with one from the hot, giving the smokier chiles a miss for reasons purely of personal taste. Unless you’re camping or cooking it in a Dutch oven, there’s no room in chili for smokiness.

Eliminating the gritty texture of powdered chiles: Ditch the powder, toast the chiles whole to enhance their aroma, cook them down in stock, and purée them until they’re completely smooth, creating a rich, concentrated flavor base for my chili.

Pureed chile blend for chili.

Deciding on the Meat

Beyond beans, the meat is the biggest source of contention amongst chili lovers. Some (like my lovely wife) insist on ground beef, while others (like myself) prefer larger, stew-like chunks.

Ground chuck, chuck roast, and beef short ribs on a wooden cutting board to test for chili.

After trying store-ground beef, home-ground beef, beef cut into one-inch chunks, and beef roughly chopped by hand into a textured mix of one-eighth-inch to half-inch pieces, the last method won out. It provided little bits of nearly ground beef that added body and helped keep the stew well bound, while still providing enough large, chunkier pieces to provide textural interest and something to bite on.

I decided to go with bone-in short ribs—my favorite cut of beef for braising—hoping that I’d be able to use the bones to add extra flavor and body to my chili later on.

Browning Issues

Photo collage showing simmering ground beef and browned pieces of beef.

As anyone who’s ever made a Bolognese knows, it’s nearly impossible to properly brown a pot of ground beef. It’s a simple matter of the ratio of surface area to volume. Ground beef has tons of surface area for liquid and fat to escape.

As soon as you start cooking it, liquid starts pooling in the bottom of the pot, completely submerging the meat and leaving it to gurgle and stew in its own gray-brown juices. Only after these juices have evaporated can any browning take place. The sad truth? With ground (or, in our case, finely chopped) beef, you have to settle for either dry, gritty meat, or no browned flavor.

Then I had a thought: Why was I bothering trying to brown the beef after I’d chopped it? If browned flavor in the stew was what I was after, does it even matter when I brown the beef, as long as it ends up getting browned?

I grabbed another batch of short ribs, this time searing them in a hot pan before removing the meat from the bone and chopping it down to its final size.

The result? Chili with chopped-beef texture, but deeply browned flavor.

The Best Way to Cook Your Beans

Pot of chili simmering showing the beans and short rib bones.

If you are from Texas, you may as well skip to the next section. But if you’re like me and believe beans are as integral to a great bowl of chili as beef, if not more so, read on.

To be honest, there’s nothing wrong with canned kidney beans in a chili. They are uniformly cooked and hold their shape well, and—at least in chili—the relative lack of flavor in canned versus dried beans is not an issue. There are enough other flavors going on to compensate.

But sometimes the urge to crack some culinary skulls and the desire for some food-science myth-busting are so strong that I can’t resist. So we’re going to have a quick diversion into the land of dried beans.

If you have a chef (as in “the boss,” that is, not a personal one); a grandmother from Tuscany; or an aunt from Toulouse, you may have at one point been told never to add salt to your beans until they are completely cooked, lest you prevent their tough skins from softening fully. In fact, in some restaurants I worked in, it was thought that overcooked beans could actually be saved by salting the water. (I assure you, whatever firmness was reattained was purely psychosomatic in nature.)

But how often have you actually cooked two batches of beans side by side, one soaked and cooked in salted water, and the other soaked and cooked in plain water? Chances are, never. And now, you never will. I present to you the results of just such a test:

Photo composite comparing unsalted beans that have blown out to salted beans that are smooth-skinned

Both batches of beans were cooked just until they were fully softened, with none of the papery toughness of an undercooked skin (about two hours for both batches, after an overnight soak). As you can clearly see, the unsalted beans end up absorbing too much water and blowing out long before their skins properly soften, while the salted beans remain fully intact.

The problem? Magnesium and calcium, two ions found in bean skins that act kind of like buttresses, supporting the skins’ cell structure and keeping them firm. When you soak beans in salted water overnight, some of the sodium ions end up playing musical chairs with the calcium and magnesium, leaving you with skins that soften at the same rate as the beans’ interiors.

Selecting Spices

Star anise, whole cumin, whole cloves, and whole coriander seeds in a white bowl.

The chili-standard duo of cumin and coriander were a given, as were a couple of cloves, their medicinal, mouth-numbing quality a perfect balance for the spicy heat of the chiles, much like numbing Sichuan peppers can play off chiles in the Chinese flavor combination known as ma-la (numb-hot).

I also decided to give star anise a try, in a nod to Heston Blumenthal and his treatment of Bolognese sauce. He’s found that, in moderation, it can boost the flavor of browned meats without making its anise-like presence known. He’s right, as I quickly discovered.

As for toasting, I made sure to toast the spices before grinding them. Why? Toasting heats the volatile flavor compounds in the spices’ cells, causing them to change shape, recombine, and form new, more complex aromas.

If you toast post-grinding, these volatile aromas are too exposed to the air. They can easily leap right out of the spices and dissipate, leaving you with more aroma around your kitchen while you cook, but less aroma around your food when you serve it.

With the spices accounted for, the last thing was working on a cooking method. Aside from puréeing the chiles and browning the short ribs, I saw no reason to stray far from tradition.

I sautéed onions, garlic, and oregano in rendered beef fat (along with some fresh Thai chiles for added heat and freshness); cooked down the chile purée; deglazed with some chicken stock (I tried a bit of beer, but found the flavor too distracting); added the beef, its bones, and the soaked beans, along with some tomatoes; and simmered it all until it was done.

So how’d it taste? Great. But not that great.

Boosting Complexity, Meatiness, and Aroma

Bowl of coffee beans next to chopped chocolate on a wooden cutting board.

So how could I add complexity? If my chiles already had distinct aromas of coffee and chocolate, could there be any harm in adding real coffee and chocolate to play up those flavors? After all, chocolate is a common ingredient in many true south-of-the-border chile blends (like mole negro), and coffee is commonly used as a bitter flavor enhancer in sweet and savory dishes alike.

I made a new batch incorporating one ounce of unsweetened chocolate and a tablespoon of finely ground dark-roast espresso beans into my chile purée, which instantly bumped up its complexity and bitterness. Although chocolate aromas were readily detectable during the first few minutes of cooking, the scent quickly dissipated, providing subtlety as the chili cooked.

Almost there. The only thing remaining was to address meatiness.

The Usual Suspects: Umami Bombs

Containers of Marmite, soy sauce, and anchovies on a wooden cutting board.

Ever since I started my experimentation with turkey burgers, the only things I’ve kept closer by my side than my meat grinder and my wife are my jars of Marmite, soy sauce, and anchovies—three umami bombs that can increase the meatiness of nearly any dish involving ground meat and/or stews.

Adding a dab of each to my chile purée boosted my already-beefy short ribs to the farthest reaches of meatiness, a realm where seared skinless cows traipse across hills of ground beef, darting in and out of fields of skirt steak, stopping only to take sips of rivers overflowing with thick glace de viande…

A spoonful of beef chili over a small bowl of chili on a wooden board.

Convinced that I had finally reached the pinnacle of my chili-centric existence, I ladled up a bowl for myself, noting the perfectly intact, creamy beans; the good mix of finely chopped beef and robust beef chunks; and the deep-red sauce.

The Unusual Suspect: Alcohol

Inhaling deeply, I stopped and suddenly thought of penne alla vodka, the once-ubiquitous dish that enjoyed a brief moment of stardom in the 1980s—when all the red-sauce joints decided they wanted to be pink-sauce joints—before realizing that the 1990s don’t like pink.

Why did this mysteriously enter my head at such a critical moment of introspection? It all has to do with something called an azeotrope.

It’s a curious fact that although water boils at 100°C (212°F), and alcohol boils at 78.5°C (173°F), a mixture of alcohol and water will boil at a lower temperature than either pure alcohol or water on its own.

You see, alcohol and water stick with their own kind just a bit tighter than with each other. So, when the water and alcohol are mixed, an individual water molecule is further away from other water molecules, making it much easier for it to escape and vaporize. Likewise for the alcohol.

So what’s this got to do with chili?

All of this aroma-building serves no purpose whatsoever unless those aromas reach your nose, right? So after cooking the chili, my goal should be to get as much of the aroma out of the bowl and into the air as possible.

I reasoned that by adding a couple shots of hard liquor—say, some vodka, bourbon, or tequila—I’d not only help the alcohol-soluble flavor compounds in the chili reach my nose and mouth more efficiently, but, because of the mixture’s azeotropic nature, I’d actually help the water-soluble compounds vaporize more efficiently as well.

It worked like a charm, and, after a thorough tasting of vodka, Scotch, bourbon, and tequila, in the name of good science, I came to the conclusion that they’re all good.

Long Island iced chili, anyone?

This may all seem long and tedious to do in one shot, and, I admit, even I sometimes prefer doing things the short, easy, and less flavorful way. But the beauty of multi-step recipes is that even if you change only one thing in your routine—adding chocolate and coffee to your mix, grinding spices after toasting instead of before—the results should be better, and isn’t better food what it’s all about?

Best Beef For Chili

With tender chunks of beef enveloped in a deep, spicy and smoky sauce, Chili con Carne is like a chili-flavored beef stew.

chili con carne

With tender chunks of beef enveloped in a deep, spicy and smoky sauce, Texas beef chili (or Chili con Carne) is essentially a chili-flavored beef stew. I can’t claim this version is authentic — I’ve never even been to Texas — but it is immensely satisfying, and everything I imagine the ultimate Texas beef chili to be.

Volume 0%

The recipe requires over an hour of prep and active cook time, plus several hours to simmer on the stove so it’s best to make it on a lazy weekend. You might also consider doubling the recipe; you can freeze some for another night (you’ll be so glad you did) or use leftovers for tacos, burritos or topping rice or baked potatoes.

WHAT YOU’LL NEED TO MAKE CHILI CON CARNE

ingredients

Before we get to the recipe, it’s very important to select the right cut of meat, which is a chuck roast that is well-marbled. It should have a good amount of white veins of fat running through it.

Stay away from meat generically packaged as “stew meat,” especially if it looks lean — it will never get tender. You’ll need to trim the excess fat; don’t go overboard, just remove any large flaps like the one the knife is pointing to below.

trimming-meat

Next, let’s talk about chile peppers. Purists insist that Texas chili be made with whole dried chiles (the kind you see in plastic bags in the produce department), toasted and ground into a homemade chili powder. This is labor intensive, plus every grocery store carries different kinds of peppers — there are enough varieties to make your head spin.

So, rather than traipsing all over town searching for dried chiles, I use fresh jalapeños and a combination of two readily available pure chile powders: ancho and chipotle, which you can find at most large grocery stores.

chile-powders

Note that these are dried, ground chile peppers — not to be confused with standard chili powder, which is a blend of ground chilies and other spices. Ancho chile powder is made from dried poblano peppers and has a moderately spicy flavor. Chipotle chile powder is made from dried and smoked jalapeños, which have a smoky and spicy flavor. 

STEP-BY-STEP INSTRUCTIONS

spice-blend

Okay, on to the recipe! Begin by combining the spices and cornmeal in a small bowl. The cornmeal is used to thicken the stew. Add a bit of water to form a paste, then set aside.

spice-paste

Next, fry the bacon until the fat has rendered and the bacon is crisp.

cooking-bacon

Use a slotted spoon to transfer bacon to a paper towel-lined plate.

cooked-bacon

Pour all but a few teaspoons of the bacon fat into a small bowl, then sear the meat in batches (the meat should be in a single layer) until well browned on at least one side, adding more of the reserved bacon fat as necessary. This process creates a depth of flavor and adds wonderful dimension to the stew.

searing-beef

Transfer the seared beef to a plate.

seared-beef

Add some water to the pan — it will smoke — and scrape the bottom with a wooden spoon to release all the brown bits. This is called deglazing. Pour the flavorful liquid over the beef.

deglazing-the-pan

Add a few tablespoons of the reserved bacon fat to the pan and cook the onions until soft and translucent.

sauteing-onions

Add the garlic and jalapeños and cook a minute more.

sauteing-garlic-and-jalapenos

Next, add the reserved spice paste and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, a few minutes.

sauteing-spice-mixture

Add the beef broth the pot.

adding-broth

And use a whisk to stir until all of the spices are dissolved into the broth.

whisking-broth-and-spices

Add the water, beer, crushed tomatoes, molasses, cocoa powder, seared beef and cooked bacon to the pot.

adding-beef-and-bacon-back-in

Bring to a simmer.

simmering

Then cover and cook with the lid just slightly ajar for 2-1/2 – 3 hours, or until the meat is tender and the sauce is nicely thickened.

finished-chili

Ladle the stew into bowls and top with chopped cilantro and grated cheese if desired.

Texas-Beef-Chili-1

If you’re wondering about the spice level of this chili, it definitely has some heat but it’s not off the charts. I have even served it to kids, albeit ones with more adventurous palates.

Health Benefits of Chili Pepper

1. Improves Digestive Health and Metabolism

One of the biggest advantages of capsaicin is its contribution to gut health and weight loss. Contrary to popular belief, chili peppers can actually be an anti-irritant to your stomach and a great way to treat stomach ulcers.

Secondly, chili peppers, especially in its powder form, is rich in antioxidants and other compounds that can soothe other digestive issues, like upset stomachs, intestinal gas, diarrhea, and cramps. Peppers are able to accomplish this because they stimulate gastric juices and work against the acidity in your digestive tract.

Thirdly, chili peppers can accelerate your metabolism. By speeding up your metabolism, you curb your cravings and improve the rate at which you burn fat. In general, it is thought that the consumption of chili peppers along with other healthy lifestyle practices can improve weight loss.

2. Alleviates Migraines

Capsaicin from chili peppers has also shown potential in treating headaches and migraines. According to a study by the American Academy of Neurology Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, 18 patients with headache diagnoses were treated with an intranasal capsaicin.

As a result, 13 patients had full relief. Majority of the other patients experienced some relief, and only one patient had no relief. The researchers found that the capsaicin desensitizes the trigeminal nerve and decreases the CGRP–both of which are responsible for creating migraine pain.

3. May Reduce Risks of Cancer

Chili peppers also present a potential natural remedy for fighting cancer. According to the American Association for Cancer Research, the capsaicin and antioxidants in chili peppers can kill cancer cells in leukemia and prostate cancer. This is largely due to the high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of chili peppers.

For example, in the case of prostate cancer, capsaicin reduces the growth of prostate cancer cells by triggering a depletion of the primary types of cancer cell lines. Similar effects can be found in breast, pancreatic and bladder cancer.

4. Fights Fungal Infections, Colds, and the Flu

The characteristic red color of chili peppers is an indication that it is rich in beta-carotene or pro-vitamin A. Vitamin A is key in maintaining a healthy respiratory, intestinal, and urinary system. Also, vitamin A and vitamin C in the chili peppers are vital in building up your immunity against infections and illnesses.

If you suffer from congestion or allergies, a capsaicin nasal spray can help relieve your symptoms. Moreover, capsaicin has a number of antibacterial properties that can fight chronic sinus infections.

If you are suffering from a high fever, hot chili peppers can not only relieve the pain, but they can also stimulate the immune system to fight off the virus.

Chili peppers can also be used for their anti-fungal properties. Specifically, it can kill food pathogens, bacteria like H. pylori and cure a number of inflammatory bowel diseases.

5. Provides Joint Pain Relief

In addition to being a natural source of pain relief for headaches and migraines, chili peppers can be used to reduce joint pain. Essentially, you can apply the chili pepper to the skin to reduce the presence of chemical P. Chemical P is the compound responsible for transmitting pain messages to the brain.

Capsaicin binds with pain receptors and induces a burning sensation that may desensitize your pain receptors over time. In this way, capsaicin acts as a pain reliever. Typically, it can be used to treat shingles, joint pain, and HIV neuropathy.

6. Fights Inflammation

Another one of capsaicin’s valuable characteristics is that it inhibits substance P, which is a neuropeptide that is responsible for inflammatory processes. As such, capsaicin is thought to be a potential treatment for a number of sensory nerve disorders, such as arthritis pain, diabetic neuropathy, and psoriasis.

An animal study found that animals who were treated with a substance that caused inflammatory arthritis responded well to a diet high in capsaicin. Thanks to the diet, the animals experienced a delayed development of arthritis and a significant decrease in inflammation throughout their bodies.

7. Supports Cardiovascular Health

Chili peppers can also be a great, natural way to support your cardiovascular system and prevent heart disease. Chili peppers are high in potassium, which is a mineral with a number of functions in the human body.

Potassium combined with folate can reduce your chances of developing heart disease. Moreover, potassium can help relax your blood vessels, which makes blood flow much easier on your body.

Chili peppers also contain riboflavin and niacin. The latter is responsible for maintaining healthy cholesterol levels and in turn, lower the risk for heart disease. Chili peppers can also protect fats in your blood against free radicals.

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