150 Years of Chili con Carne

In the latter half of the 1800′s, pieces of beef or bison were pounded together with suet, dried chile peppers and salt and formed into bricks which were dried and stored for later use.  On the trail, the bricks were simply boiled with water in heavy pots.

The confluence of the Rio Bravo del Norte and the Río Conchos

Chili con carne (literally “chili [peppers] with meat”) later found its way to San Antonio’s Military Plaza, where onions,garlic, cumin and oregano (and maybe tomatoes) were likely first added by a group of Hispanic women famously known as the “chili queens”.

Military Plaza, San Antonio, circa 1876.

Chili was broadly introduced at the “San Antonio Chili Stand” at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.  The first chili parlors outside of Texas began to appear in the early 1900′s, with accompaniments such as beans, shredded cheese and crackers showing up in the 20′s and 30′s.

World's Columbian Exposition of 1893

Using bone-in, grass-fed rib-eye steak, dried chiles, tomatoes and fresh pinto beans, this particular recipe recognizes some 150 years of chili evolution without straying too far from its humble roots..

Chili con Carne

For the Chili

1 1/2 lb grass-fed, bone-in ribeye steaks, either beef or bison
1 large Spanish onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 lb fresh pork belly (substitute uncured bacon), cut into 1/2 inch dice
1 lb fresh pinto beans (optional)
2 cups fire-roasted tomatoes, crushed
2 dried ancho chiles
2 dried New Mexico chiles
2-3 dried chilipiquenes (optional, very hot)
3 cups filtered water
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 3-inch piece Mexican cinnamon
1 tablespoon Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon smoked sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper

Split, stem and seed the ancho and New Mexico chiles. Toast briefly on a comal or dry skillet, then transfer to the bowl of a food processor along with the chilipiquenes, if using.  Process into a coarse powder and set aside.

Cut the meat from the bone and cut into 1-inch pieces, trimming off and mincing any heavy fat.  Add the bone (leaving it in for the duration), minced fat and pork belly (or bacon) together in a Dutch oven set over medium-high heat and cook until all the fat has rendered.  Add onions and cumin and cook until fragrant, about 5 minutes.

Add meat and garlic and cook until browned.  Add ground chiles, tomatoes, water, cinnamon, oregano and beans, if using.  Reduce heat and simmer uncovered until beans are tender, about 1 1/2 hours, or about half that time if not using beans.  Ladle into bowls and serve hot with diced onions, cilantro and shredded cheese if desired.

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8 thoughts on “150 Years of Chili con Carne

  1. I’ve printed this for use in the next chili dinner fund raiser for the Literacy Council. Looks wonderful and I think it will be different from any other.

    1. Neat! You might want to leave the chilipiquenes (bird chiles) out, they’re too hot for those that aren’t accustomed to them.

  2. The ‘Butcher’ always had “chili bricks” for winter time chili making…traditionally West Texas chili is about the meat and flavor beans are not included but cooked as an accompaniment with fresh corn bread no sugar added.

    Great article …love the recipe …I use coffee & chili petins…

  3. your blog is my new inspiration — I really love your sensible, balanced approach, and all the food looks so delicious! plus you link to Wheatsville! and more. Austin’s a good place to live and eat these days, isn’t it? thanks for the thoughtful writing and gorgeous pix.

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