Spicy Beef and Bean Chili is my go-to soup for those gray, frigid days that make you reluctant to change out of your flannel jammies, much less leave the house. You know what I’m talking about: those days you avoid walking by the windows in your house because they give off an icy chill, and you find yourself craving something warm and substantial. In my house, that means it’s chili time.
Let me just say this up front: I’m not from Texas, or Cinncinati, or anywhere else where chili recipes are sacred and messing with them will have people giving you the hairy eyeball at church picnics. I am from California, where we put avocado in our chili (only as a garnish, but still). I love to tinker with a basic recipe to see if I can coax new and better flavors into it. And with a simple foundation of meat, beans, tomatoes, and spice, chili is endlessly tinker-able. I have experimented with crazy-town mixtures of ingredients including cocoa powder, freshly roasted hatch green chiles, ancho chili powder, chipotles in adobo sauce, sugar, tomato paste, vinegar and red wine – and have been consistently frustrated by the weirdly bitter or “off” flavors I ended up with. In the end, simple turned out to be best for this Spicy Beef and Bean Chili. Grocery store chili powder, canned beans, ground beef.
Quality ingredients really make a difference here. Use good quality canned tomatoes (I use Muir Glen Fire Roasted Tomatoes). I like to use a leaner ground beef (85% fat) and brown it along with the vegetables in olive oil to get that unctuous, velvety quality that fat provides, but from a slightly healthier source.
Of course, I couldn’t resist a few oddball adds. My dear friend Patty, the extraordinarily talented chef at the amazing Timber Creek Retreat House outside of Kansas City (seriously, if you are in the Kansas City area, do yourself and favor and stay there), taught me the trick of adding a tiny bit of smoke to add depth to recipes. Much like using a dab of fish sauce or anchovy paste in a sauce or dressing, adding smoked sea salt here, or even a bit of Liquid Smoke, magically results in subtle depth without any discernable ‘smoky’ flavor.
I also added a can of dark beer because I like the malty, almost-but-not-quite sweet quality it adds. I usually use Guinness, but didn’t have any on hand, so this time I used Avery Brewing Co’s Ellie’s Brown Ale, because I like it and because I got nostalgic when I saw the can, thinking of Boulder 20+ years ago, when Adam Avery and I worked together as hacks at Eastern Mountain Sports – just as he was starting up his brewery (their beers are awesome).
ALSO – wouldn’t you think that when it comes to broth, beef would be best here? Me, too. The problem, though, is that it is really hard to find good-tasting commercial beef broth. All the versions I tried had some sort of sugar in them, or caramel color, or maybe it was the creepily vague ‘natural flavor’ that didn’t taste right to me. So I use chicken broth instead. I promise it doesn’t taste chicken-y here. It just boosts the meaty flavor in a really good way. If that still weirds you out, though, you can use vegetable broth or water instead.
A word on heat: this recipe runs pretty spicy. Not burn-your-face-off hot, but hot enough that you might gasp a little when the burn hits the back of your throat approximately three seconds after your first bite (personally, I love that, but that’s just me). So take that into account and adjust the spices to suit your own taste. If you want to lower the heat, you can always use a smaller amount of cayenne – or omit it completely and just let the chili powder do the heavy lifting.Print
Spicy Beef & Bean Chili
Rich and meaty, this spicy chili – with its smoky, malty twist – will become your new favorite.
- Prep Time: 15
- Cook Time: 60+
- Total Time: 75+
- Category: soup, entrees
2 TB olive oil
1 medium white or yellow onion, diced
3 medium cloves garlic, finely minced
1 ¼ lb ground beef, 85% fat
1 medium red bell pepper, diced
2 TB chili powder
1 TB cumin
1 tsp cayenne (or less, or omit completely if less heat is desired)
1 tsp smoked salt (or 1 tsp plain salt and ½ tsp Liquid Smoke)
1 28-oz can tomatoes
1 cup (8 oz) chicken broth, preferably homemade
2 15-oz cans beans of choice (I use a mix of black, kidney, and pinto)
1 can (12 oz) dark beer
In a stock pot or dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring frequently, until they begin to soften, about five minutes. Stir in minced garlic and red bell pepper and cook two minutes more. Add ground beef and brown, breaking meat up with a wooden spoon, until no more pink can be seen and it’s cooked throughout. Add spices, tomatoes, broth, and beer.
Simmer on medium for 30 minutes, then add beans and simmer, lid off, for another 30 minutes or until chili thickens to desired consistency (the longer it simmers, the thicker it gets). Taste and adjust spices if needed.
Ladle into bowls and serve with grated sharp cheddar, sour cream, green or white onions, avocado, tortilla chips, and/or anything else that sounds yummy.
… This is a soup-y chili that will thicken with time. As the flavors meld, it gets even better, so consider making it a day in advance if you have time.
…If you’re feeding a crowd, this recipe easily doubles or even triples. Just make sure you’re using a big enough pot!