Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I won a chili cook-off! I know, I’m surprised, too.

(peekaboo… here I am checking out the competition with my team mates) 
Are you a chili person? 

Do you find yourself defending beans versus no beans?  Ground hamburger versus steak?  Hot versus mild?  Thick versus runny? 


Not so much.  I’m just not a chili person. 

Sure, it’s great for football, winter, and probably fantastic for this weekend with the Final Four games.  I’m more of a soup person.  Make that a brothy soup person, I am not even crazy about a thick chili-like soup. 

How un-American.

Okay, so imagine my dilemma when a chili challenge invite popped up on my work email inbox. 


Yes.  I don’t do chili.  I take that back.  I made chili once, a decade ago.  But c’mon, it’s a FOOD CHALLENGE.  I’ve GOT to sign up.  And… I off course, I’ve GOT to win. 

I’ve got my pride and reputation.  Some might say… ego, when it comes to food.  My nickname is foodie, after all!

So what did I do?  I went to the expert source that has NEVER steered me wrong.  

I went to Cook’s Illustrated to get the best well-tested recipe from the folks who know how to test recipes (tip:  take the 14 day free trial, then wait until they offer it to you for 50% off).  These are the folks who bring us America’s Test Kitchen on PBS each week (did you know that I am one of their volunteer recipe testers?). 

I wanted to learn how to do chili right.  No short cuts.  Only the best.  I wanted a winning recipe.  And the name of the recipe had me hooked. 

Published by Cooks Illustrated, January 1, 2011


Table salt
1/2 pound dried pinto beans (about 1 cup), rinsed and picked over
6 dried ancho chiles (about 1 3/4 ounces), stems and seeds removed, and flesh torn into 1-inch pieces
2-4 dried árbol chiles , stems removed, pods split, and seeds removed  
3 tablespoons cornmeal
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 medium onions , cut into 3/4-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
3 small jalapeño chiles , stems and seeds removed and discarded, and flesh cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 medium garlic cloves , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 4 teaspoons)
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons light molasses
3 1/2 pounds blade steak , 3/4 inch thick, trimmed of gristle and fat and cut into 3/4-inch pieces (I used a chuck steak and trimmed it down into teeny tiny bits, almost like ground beef)
1 (12-ounce) bottle mild-flavored lager , such as Budweiser (I used Corona.. which is NOT gluten-free (I'm feeding the masses with this one... you can substitute with a gluten-free beer!)


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

2. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Place ancho chiles in 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 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 processor running, very slowly add ½ cup broth until smooth paste forms, about 45 seconds, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Transfer paste to small bowl. Place onions in now-empty processor bowl and pulse until roughly chopped, about four 1-second pulses. Add jalapeños and pulse until consistency of chunky salsa, about four 1-second pulses, scraping down bowl as necessary.

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

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

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

I put the chili in the refrigerator overnight and let it get extra-awesome.  The next morning I put it in a slow cooker and set it on low before bringing it into the office.

Then it was up to the team to judge mine along with the others.  My pot was anonymous letter “D” and waited for its fate as the team rated all entries in the following four categories:  Color, Aroma, Texture and Flavor.

I have to say it was a blast tasting and judging along with my teammates.  Check out Whitney and Megan as they handle the very important task set before them. 

(judging chili is a tough job at work… somebody’s gotta do it, right Whitney and Meghan?) 

I gotta tell ya… my office mates can cook up some mean chili!  I was so impressed with the variety of offerings:  beans, no beans, white bean and chicken, hamburger, steak and the condiments?  Don’t get me started.  We had every regional pleasure:  rice, guacamole, spaghetti, Fritos, onions, sour cream, cheese… need I go on?  

Believe me, it was a sight to see.

As the results were announced… I found my heart racing inside my chest.  What’s this?  Sweat on my upper lip?  I couldn’t stand it anymore… did I win?  Did I win?

Yes!!  Cook’s Illustrated did not let me down!!  I won!  I won!  I won!  I was honored, proud, relieved, jazzed, cocky, thrilled, amazed, proud, honored, relieved, jazzed, cocky… okay… you get my drift!  I was totally jazzed.  My final vote was 334 versus the number 2 (and my pick for second place) at 297 points.

So now, I just may be a chili lover after all.

I’d love to hear about your favorite chili story, ingredients, or any congratulatory well-wishes on my achievement is okay, too.

Happy eating!


(Let’s talk foodstuffs together on twitter or facebook, okay?)


  1. Sounds scrumptious. I may just have to try it before it warms up around here :)

  2. Congrats Lyndi! Way to bring home the victory!

  3. Thanks Lori, it was! My husband said it was the best chili he had ever had and I even went back for seconds.

    Looks like the temps are going to be low for the next week and rainy. Perfect chili weather! Let me know if you try it... but I won't lie to you... it's an in depth recipe. But worth it!

  4. Thanks Kevin!

    I see myself touring the countryside and signing autographs in the very near future. :)

  5. You didn't just win, you DOMINATED!

    p.s. everyone else…Lyndi’s Crockpot was scrapped clean.

    -Angie Pruitt

  6. I HATE coming to sites like yours! HATE IT! Not because it isn't awesome or anything, but because I am nearly 25 weeks pregnant and NOW I am gonna walk around all day saying, "MMmmmm Chili sounds delicious." With not real motivation to make any.

    Great recipe!!

  7. Jasmine,

    Sorry to contribute to such frustration for you!!!! If I had some I would totally give it to you! :)


  8. Bachelor chili ingredients:

    --64oz bottle Spicy Hot V8
    --1lb lean ground beef
    --2 cans spicy kidney beans
    --one onion


    Dice the onion. Mix beef and onion, brown the beef. Pour in juice and drained kidney beans. Simmer ~ 20 minutes.

    This does not compare to complex recipes that take hours to prep and cook, but it's certainly good enough and is dirt simple to cook.

  9. Thanks for sharing your recipe... I'm just saying... "all good things come to those who wait." And sometimes that means several hours to prep and cook!


  10. I LOVE COOK'S ILLUSTRATED.I completely trust them and I love the discussions and tests they run to arrive at the perfect recipe. I also love their equipment and gadget and appliance comparisons. Congrats on the big win!

  11. Hey Angie!

    I know, right? Cook's Illustrated totally taught me how to cook. Their testing is fascinating and I completely trust them, too!

    Thanks for the comment!


  12. Hello Lyndi,

    Based upon your review, and the success I've had with other Cook's Illustrated recipes, I entered a chili cook-off last weekend. All of the entries were fantastic, but I was the big winner! Thanks for giving me the confidence to enter the competition! Kurt

  13. Kurt, Congratulations!!!!!!!!!!!!! You made my day!!!!!!!!!



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...