Favorite (Hardcore) Chili

Behold the absolute, without question, best bowl of chili I have ever had. I’ve had this recipe bookmarked since the January issue of Cook’s Illustrated showed up in my mailbox. It was their “favorite” chili, and included a few “secret” ingredients – things like cocoa powder, molasses and beer. It uses dried chiles ground down to make a chili powder and paste instead of the typical chili powder. And it used chunks of beef instead of ground meat. This was all very unfamiliar ground to my chili palate, but it all sounded so irresistible. It also sounded like some hardcore chili, which I loved the idea of! Through the end of last winter, this spring and summer, the chili never got made. I vowed to myself that October would be THE month for this chili, and I finally made time for it. I am in total love. The best chili, ever. Hands-down. No wonder Cook’s Illustrated declared it their favorite. It’s bursting with flavor, and the meat becomes so tender that it melts in your mouth. I’m fairly certain I will never try another chili recipe again. This is it for me. This is my chili soul mate.

This was my first time ever working with dried chiles, and I wasn’t sure if I would even be able to find them outside out somewhere like Penzeys, but was pleasantly surprised when I found them at my regular supermarket. They were located in the international aisle, under the Hispanic foods.

Using the dried chiles to make a homemade chili powder and paste is one of the things that really sets this recipe apart from many of the other chili recipes I have ever tried. After toasting the ancho chiles, you toss them into a food processor with the arbol chiles, salt, cornmeal, oregano, cocoa powder, and cumin… voila! Chili powder! Then you slowly drizzle in a little chicken broth, and… voila! Chili paste!

This isn’t a fast, whip it up when I get home from work, type of chili. This is a hunker down on a rainy or snowy Saturday and make this for a cozy night in. It’s time-consuming, but if you can make the time for it, it’s absolutely worth every minute. Plus, you could make a big pot on a weekend day and then freeze it in portions for another time and it will be all ready for you!

A quick note on the heat in this chili – I enjoy spicy foods, but not nose running, eyes tearing spicy. The recipe calls for 2 to 4 arbol chiles, and I went with two. For me, it was the perfect level of spiciness – it left me reaching for a glass of water, but not blowing my nose. So with that in mind, adjust the amount of arbol chiles you use accordingly.

Finally… ENJOY!

One year ago: Homemade Cracker Jack

Favorite Chili

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Prep Time: 45 minutes

Cook Time: 4 hours

Total Time: 4 hours 45 minutes


Table salt
½ pound dried pinto beans (about 1 cup), rinsed and picked over
6 dried ancho chiles (about 1¾ ounces), stems and seeds removed, and flesh torn into 1-inch pieces
2-4 dried árbol chiles, stems removed, pods split, seeds removed
3 tablespoons cornmeal
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons cocoa powder
2½ cups chicken broth, divided
2 medium onions, cut into ¾-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
3 jalapeño peppers, stems and seeds removed, cut into ½-inch pieces
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons light molasses
3½ pounds blade steak, trimmed of gristle and cut into ½-inch pieces
1 (12-ounce) bottle mild lager, such as Budweiser


1. Combine 3 tablespoons salt, 4 quarts (16 cups) water, and beans in a large Dutch oven and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove the pot from heat, cover, and let stand 1 hour. Drain and rinse beans well. Rinse out Dutch oven.

2. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Place ancho chiles in a 12-inch skillet set over medium-high heat; toast, stirring frequently, until flesh is fragrant, 4 to 6 minutes, reducing heat if chiles begin to smoke. Transfer to bowl of a food processor and cool. Do not wash out skillet.

3. Add árbol chiles, cornmeal, oregano, cumin, cocoa, and ½ teaspoon salt to food processor with toasted ancho chiles; process until finely ground, about 2 minutes. With the processor running, very slowly add ½ cup broth until a smooth paste forms, about 45 seconds, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Transfer the paste to a small bowl. Place the onions in the now-empty processor bowl and pulse until roughly chopped, about four 1-second pulses. Add the jalapeños and pulse until the consistency of chunky salsa, about four 1-second pulses, scraping down the bowl as necessary.

4. Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in the large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion mixture and cook, stirring occasionally, until the moisture has evaporated and the vegetables are softened, 7 to 9 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chili paste, tomatoes, and molasses; stir until chili paste is thoroughly combined. Add the remaining 2 cups chicken broth and the drained beans; bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.

5. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil in the 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Pat the beef dry with paper towels and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt. Add half of the beef to the skillet and cook until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to the Dutch oven. Pour off any liquid in the skillet into the sink and return to the heat. Add ½ of the bottle of lager to the skillet, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen any browned bits, and bring to a simmer. Transfer the lager to the Dutch oven. Repeat with the remaining tablespoon of oil, steak, and lager. Once the last addition of lager has been added to the Dutch oven, stir to combine and return the mixture to a simmer.

6. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Cook until the meat and beans are fully tender, 1½ to 2 hours. Let the chili stand, uncovered, 10 minutes. Stir well and season to taste with salt.

Note #1: You can substitute a 4-pound chuck-eye roast, well trimmed of fat, for the steak.

Note #2: Wear gloves when working with the dried chiles.

Note #3: If you don't want to use dried chiles, the anchos and árbols can be replaced with ½ cup chili powder and ¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, although the texture of the chili will be slightly compromised.

Note #4: Condiment ideas - diced avocado, chopped red onion, chopped cilantro, lime wedges, sour cream, and shredded cheese.

Note #5: You can make this up to 3 days in advance.

(Recipe adapted from Cook's Illustrated)


71 Responses to “Favorite (Hardcore) Chili”

  1. bali cooking class on October 27, 2011 at 2:02 am

    thanks for shared..
    i will try somedays, but some question please, is it okay if i add some fresh chili for more spice?



    • Michelle on October 31st, 2011 at 12:46 pm

      Sure, go for it.


  2. Kathryn on October 27, 2011 at 4:38 am

    This looks absolutely delicious – I love the depth of flavour that the ground chillis and other ingredients must give it. Definitely going on the ‘to make’ list!


  3. Helen on October 27, 2011 at 6:36 am

    Im startin to sweat just lookin at it! 😀


  4. Katrina on October 27, 2011 at 6:51 am

    This is so hearty and delicious looking! Yum!


  5. Jennifer@Peanut Butter and Peppers on October 27, 2011 at 7:30 am

    I am loving all the comfort food! The chili looks so good! With cooler weather here, the chili would be great to have!!!


  6. Jen on October 27, 2011 at 8:26 am

    It’s got beans in it. It ain’t chili. 😉
    Kidding aside, this does look like a pretty fantastic recipe. But my husband, a born-and-bread Texan, is very adamant about no beans in his chili. If I make chili with beans in it, it’s not chili, it’s “meat and bean stew.” Which he likes. But it’s not chili.
    I have a recipe somewhat similar to this one that I made recently, where you make your own chili paste. Actually, it’s more like chili water, since you soak some chilis (I think they were guajillo chilis) in boiling water and then blend them, soaking liquid and all, with canned chipotles and adobo sauce. There’s no tomatoes at all in that recipe, just the chili “paste” and beef broth and lots of beef. It was amazing.


    • Donna@Waymorehomemade on October 27th, 2011 at 4:59 pm

      I made this without beans because I’m Texan and like you said, if it’s got beans, it ain’t chili.


    • Jul on October 28th, 2011 at 9:09 am

      Ah- I am from Texas and have always made my chili with beans! Love the “magical” fruit! LOL


  7. Maria on October 27, 2011 at 8:36 am

    You’ve convinced me to try this! I love the labor-intensive recipes–there’s just something worthwhile about all that work in the final product.


  8. Michelle on October 27, 2011 at 8:42 am

    I’d rather not include the beer. Any substitution suggestions?


    • Whitney on October 27th, 2011 at 4:47 pm

      I haven’t made this yet, but I would assume a beef or chicken broth would work rather than beer, but just give it a slightly different flavor…


    • Michelle on October 31st, 2011 at 12:47 pm

      Agree with Whitney – was going to suggest additional broth.


    • Kate on November 19th, 2011 at 7:29 am

      I third the stock/broth idea, but I’d add half, to one, teaspoon of vegemite to get the yeastiness you’d get from beer too.


  9. amanda @ fake ginger on October 27, 2011 at 9:11 am

    Making this ASAP! I’ve seen a bunch of chili recipes pop up lately with chunks of meat instead of ground and I’ve been dying to try it! This recipe looks like a definite winner!


  10. Bianca on October 27, 2011 at 9:55 am

    I love chili, and it’s just about the perfect time to have it 🙂 It’s forecasting snow today where I am!


  11. Kara on October 27, 2011 at 11:12 am

    I am going to try this! I think my husband will love it! Thanks for sharing!


  12. Jenny on October 27, 2011 at 11:28 am

    Oh! I’m so happy to see this. We’ll give it a try. We love chili and are working our way through different chili recipes this fall/winter: one new (to us) recipe each month. I’ll add this one to our list.


  13. Jen @ Chocotuile on October 27, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    Mmm cocoa powder in chili, now that’s what I’m talking about! I love finding new ways to use chocolate, and this recipe looks positively sinful!


  14. Sue/the view from great island on October 27, 2011 at 2:27 pm

    This is my kind of chili recipe. I especially like making it with chunks of meat instead of minced. The beer, cocoa powder and ground chilies just puts it over the top. I’m posting Ree Drummond’s Frito Chili Pie tomorrow as part of our series on Gourmet’s 50 Women Game Changers…but it’s a very different chili from yours. I like yours better 😉


  15. CouponClippingCook on October 27, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    Seriously, my mouth is watering just reading this. What a delicious sounding recipe! Love the idea of cocoa and molasses too.


  16. Erin @ Dinners, Dishes and Desserts on October 27, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    This sounds like one amazing chili. My brother makes a really good chili with cinnamon and beer and chocolate – it is just so good! This is going to be a must try!


  17. Whitney on October 27, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    This looks fantastic. I can’t wait to try this on a cold winter weekend! Just perfect. Thank you for sharing. I’m always trying new chili recipes, and am constantly amazed at how many variations exist out there.


  18. Donna@Waymorehomemade on October 27, 2011 at 4:57 pm

    I can attest to the fact that this chili is very good. I have made it and even posted my own variation on it here: http://waymorehomemaderecipes.blogspot.com/2011/10/texas-red-chili.html

    I added some New Mexico chiles and even suggested substituting diced tomatoes with Ro*Tel for more heat.


  19. Rachel @ Bakerita on October 27, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    I definitely have a favorite chili recipe, but I’ve always been curious about using chunky meat instead of ground. I’ll definitely try this out – with low heat, because I’m a wimp!


  20. TAMMY on October 27, 2011 at 6:08 pm

    Like Rachel, I also have a favorite chili recipe, but I’m always open to trying new recipes. And I’ve read so much about using beef chunks instead of ground, that it’s only a matter of time before I try this one. But after reading all the comments regarding the bean vs. no bean debate, I will try making it with and without beans to see which we prefer. It sounds good either way! : )


  21. Amber, RD on October 27, 2011 at 6:14 pm

    I love chili and I love everything Cook’s Illustrated. I have made chili with bear before and it was great. I will definitely have to try this! Thanks for sharing!


  22. Kim Bee on October 27, 2011 at 6:57 pm

    Omg this looks freaking amazing. I must try this one.


  23. Christine on October 27, 2011 at 7:11 pm

    Looks so good. I’d like a big bowl of chili.


  24. Jim Rath on October 27, 2011 at 7:31 pm

    Sounds like a great recipe. I have used a square of unsweetened chocolate in my chili for a long time now. (One square for a big batch, half a square for a smaller batch) Another “secret” ingredient is a spoonful of creamy peanut butter. It adds a nice depth to the overall flavor that people just can’t quite put their finger — or tongue — on. When you use chocolate and peanut butter, it gives you a hint of a traditional Mexican mole sauce.


  25. Holly on October 27, 2011 at 10:07 pm

    Could I sub stew meat for what’s called for here?


  26. Ann on October 28, 2011 at 1:14 am

    This sounds divine! I’ve bookmarked and buzzed! It’s a winner!


  27. Stephanie on October 28, 2011 at 10:33 am

    what if i put it all together and stuck it in the crock pot for like 8-10 hours?


    • Michelle on October 31st, 2011 at 12:53 pm

      Hi Stephanie, Well, I suppose you could put it on low for about 4 hours, but I guess I wouldn’t see the difference when you could put it in the oven and it would be done in 2 hours. The biggest time factor is all in the prep work.


  28. Maureen on October 28, 2011 at 9:54 pm

    This would be the perfect recipe for this chilly weekend! And it includes two of my favorites – cocoa and beer!


  29. Sac on October 29, 2011 at 7:06 am

    Ok I am not a purist. If I just use chili powder and cayenne- do I still use cornmeal, cocoa, and do step # 3?. Thanks to anyone that can help.


    • Jim Rath on October 29th, 2011 at 10:24 am

      The cornmeal will act as a thickening agent. The cumin will add a truly Mexican and smoky flavor that you will want. The other spices add depth of flavor. If you use only chili powder and cayenne, it will be sort of bland, I think. Take a shortcut and use a chili seasoning mix, then add the cocoa. 🙂


    • Michelle on October 31st, 2011 at 12:56 pm

      Yes, definitely still use all of the other ingredients and proceed with all of the other steps. They give the chili the flavor and the cornmeal is a key thickener.


  30. bridget {bake at 350} on October 29, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    Oh, I *must* try this…especially with the beans….and yes, I live in Texas! 😉


  31. Grubarazzi (@Grubarazzi) on October 29, 2011 at 5:46 pm

    I am all over this! Like white on rice!


  32. Lorrie on October 29, 2011 at 9:53 pm

    I made this for dinner tonight and it was delicious! My husband just couldn’t get enough 🙂


  33. Tessa on October 30, 2011 at 12:36 am

    I have been keeping this recipe bookmarked too, but haven’t made it because of the time commitment involved. Good to know it’s worth it!


  34. kita on October 30, 2011 at 6:30 pm

    This chili does sound like a great bowl of deliciousness. I love a hearty chili (you really can’t go wrong) and have a small personal chili cook off coming up this week. I normally stick to the same recipe but this one tackles a few upgrades I can certainly see incorporating.


  35. Pam on October 31, 2011 at 9:27 am

    This chili looks like it beats all other chili recipes! Wow. And perfect for upcoming winter. Thanks for sharing.


  36. Lea on October 31, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    I don’t have a dutch oven–could this be modified to simmer on the stove? trying this recipe this week!! 🙂


    • Michelle on October 31st, 2011 at 2:05 pm

      Hi Lea – You could use any oven-safe pot, it doesn’t have to be a Dutch oven. I haven’t done it on the stove, so I can’t really say how well it would turn out, or how differently, but you could certainly try. I would keep it on very low heat. Alternatively, you could put it in a (large) crock-pot for 4 hours on low.


  37. Kim Bee on November 2, 2011 at 7:32 pm

    Hey Michelle, I just wanted to stop by and let you know I had to add this chili to my list of faves I do every week. I think most of my readers read you anyway but I just had to share. This is just so amazing.


  38. Kathleen on November 12, 2011 at 2:36 am

    I’ve been making a version of the smoky chili from Sugarlaws blog for a while now and this looks like it will fit the bill for a great non-smoky chili. As far as I’m concerned, chili NEEDS chocolate, beer and cumin, and of course quality chili.

    The thing is, I have a HUGE bag of ancho chili powder from Pendery’s and while I definitely plan on making this with actual chili peppers someday, I’m wondering if the Pendery’s would work for now in place of the ancho chili peppers or if I’d be losing a lot in the flavor.

    Thanks–and your recipes are fabulous! You’ve made a lot of people around me happy, I can tell you.


    • Michelle on November 12th, 2011 at 10:53 pm

      Hi Kathleen, You can definitely make that substitution. Check out note #3 in the recipe for how to substitute chili powder for the dried chiles. Enjoy!


  39. Kathleen on November 13, 2011 at 8:58 am

    I don’t know how I missed that note! Thanks.


  40. Lea on November 14, 2011 at 12:38 am

    When I look at this recipe I see ALL the chili peppers – ancho, jalpeno, àrbol and it seems like it would be REALLY spicey. You said you only used two àrbol but what about the others? I have a wide range of people eating chili and it needs to be pretty mild.


    • Michelle on November 15th, 2011 at 10:38 am

      Hi Lea, I would say that it’s moderately spicy. It definitely has kick, but doesn’t make your nose run and eyes water 😉 If you mild chili then I would probably eliminate the arbol chiles all together.


  41. Encore on November 17, 2011 at 12:53 pm

    Wow, this was hardcore! I totally tried to follow it, but got lazy (par for the course with me!) with the slow cooker and couldn’t find the right chiles so I improvised. Of course, I shared my improvisation with my 2 faithful readers and linked back to you because I couldn’t forget my muse for this chili!! Thanks for the awesome recipe!


  42. Kris on November 22, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    I made this for a friendly chili cook-off and it tied for first place! I made it exactly as the recipe reads, except I didn’t have any Bud-type lager on hand and used Goose Island’s Mild Winter, which is pretty dark. It was still great! A bit labor-intensive, sure, but worth it! I too used 2 arbol chilis and it had a pleasant amount of heat. I might try 3 next time just to see how it goes. And yes, wear gloves! I didn’t and had some feels-like-burning-under-the-fingernails fun afterwards!


  43. Kristine on January 5, 2013 at 11:14 am

    Looks so yummy! Definately gonna try it some day, never had real American chili 🙂
    One question though – can I use something else than a Dutch oven? Would a cast iron pot do as well? I never heard about a Dutch oven before 🙂
    Thank you in advance!


    • Michelle on January 5th, 2013 at 9:44 pm

      Hi Kristine, Yes you could use another large, heavy-duty pot in place of the Dutch oven.


  44. Natalie Rogina on January 16, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    Can I soak the beans 24 hours prior to making the dish? I want to make this for the SF vs. Atlanta game on Sunday and am looking for some shortcuts. Thank you!


    • Michelle on January 16th, 2013 at 11:30 pm

      Hi Natalie, Yes, I don’t see why not!


  45. Ryan on October 24, 2013 at 11:01 am

    Made this last year and just rediscovered it today, planning to make it next weekend. I am SO excited, this is by far the best chili I’ve had, and probably in my top 3 favorite recipes. SO tasty! 🙂


  46. Stelios on January 15, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    Can I brown meat first, then remove, and add meat back to pot later? Less
    pots to clean!


    • Michelle on January 15th, 2014 at 3:15 pm

      If you want to do it that way, you can. Just be sure to clean the pot before proceeding with the recipe so you don’t get burned bits in your chili. I’m not sure that that saves you washing or not.


  47. Cathy on January 20, 2014 at 8:15 am

    I made this last night and it was very good! I found it to be rather costly as far as chili goes. That and the time I put into all the prep , might deter me from doing this often. My husband said it was worth it, so that speaks volumes! I am glad we have leftovers for tonight!


  48. Julie @ Willow Bird Baking on January 30, 2014 at 2:43 pm

    I don’t think I ever commented on this when I made it the first time, but for those wondering: this is basically the best chili in the universe. The end.


  49. Katertot on February 25, 2014 at 12:01 am

    This is my favorite chili recipe when I have time to make it. The boyfriend LOVES it. At least once a month I hear him say, “We should make the chili.” THE chili. There is no other.

    A note: be really careful not to burn your peppers when toasting them on the stove. The resulting chili is still good, but it had a bitter aftertaste that I didn’t care for.


  50. John on May 1, 2014 at 7:23 am

    For the chile powder/paste, try adding 3 to 4 cascabel peppers. Also the addition of some smoked paprika.


  51. Robin on September 22, 2014 at 4:34 pm

    I am making this for a chili cookoff this weekend and I need to make 15 gallons… any clue how many gallons one batch of this makes so I can approximate how many batches I need to make?


    • Michelle on September 23rd, 2014 at 9:35 am

      Hi Robin, Unfortunately, I have no idea how many gallons this makes.


  52. Savannagal on October 28, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    Okay, I just have to ask. What is milk lager? I do not drink beer and don’t know much about it. I have heard of Budweiser of course, but never milk lager as noted in your recipe. Just wondering. Is it supposed to be mild lager?


    • Michelle on October 29th, 2014 at 10:16 am

      That should be mild lager 😉 I edited!


  53. Kate on November 15, 2015 at 6:04 pm

    So,I made this for a party yesterday – 30+ people.
    I did a test run last week, and made the chili exactly as written and wasn’t thrilled with it. I mean, it was good, but it wasn’t me. I worried. And worried. And said “screw it, husband likes it, I’ll run with it”.

    So I cooked. And cooked. And cooked. And served. And forgot the tomatoes. And freaked out. And said “screw it, what’s the worst that can happen?”

    And it was glorious. :o)

    Thanks, Michelle.


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