I've always had a passion for spicy food, but when I tried Texas chili for the first time, I knew I had found true love. I grew up eating what I consider traditional chili, which usually had one too many kidney beans for my taste. Still, I didn't mind picking them out just so I could savor the perfect blend of ground beef and seasonings. My love affair with Southwestern flavor soon led me to the discovery of a rich, well-seasoned stew with chunks of tender beef in every bite--a style of chili that Texans have been making for generations.
The granddaddy of this Tex-Mex dish, chili con carne, is thought to have originated in the 1800s along the Texas cattle trails. Range cooks would commonly prepare a pot of fresh beef and wild-grown seasonings for the cowhands. Before long, the popularity of this spicy stew spread like cheese on a hot burrito throughout the trail towns. It's even said that Frank and Jesse James would stop to eat a bowl before pulling their next bank job.
Texans obviously take their chili seriously, and opinions vary widely on what makes a perfect bowl of "red"--a common nickname for the meaty dish. Some add a variety of meats including pork, while others insist on beef. Many use commercial seasonings and powders for convenience, but purists grind their own chile peppers. And, yes, some cooks serve theirs with a side of pintos or other beans.
The trick to any chili, however, is to slowly build flavor by letting your seasonings simmer awhile so they can fully cook. Otherwise, you might experience the bitterness of raw spices.
Even if you like other regional styles, try this recipe developed by Test Kitchens Professional Angela Sellers. One bite of it, and you'll fall in love too. I recommend making a big batch and freezing individual servings for later. Just thaw and reheat, and use the leftovers for chunky tacos, meaty baked potatoes, or smothered hamburgers and hot dogs. In the meantime, I'll thank my lucky Lone Stars that this Southwestern specialty made its way into my kitchen.
"Make a Batch of Texas Chili" is from the October 2005 issue of Southern Living.