Chili first gained popularity along Texas cattle trails during the 1800s. Regional accents soon attached to the spicy stew, although certain ingredients remain standard to this day. Chili peppers, usually dried, add heat and spice to everything. Cumin and garlic are indispensable seasonings. Most chili recipes incorporate meat, some add beans, and others are strictly vegetarian. The point is: There's a chili recipe to suit every taste. Chili also makes inexpensive ingredients go a long way, making it a good choice for feeding a crowd. Here are 13 regional chili specialties, some associated with a particular place and others with components that evoke a location.
ORIGINAL SAN ANTONIO CHILI
Recipe: Institute of Texan Cultures, via National Public Radio
According to the International Chili Society, this recipe is adapted from the chili cooks whose stalls dotted San Antonio's downtown until the late 1930s, when the health department shut them down. San Antonio chili shuns beans, which are served separately, and spurns tomatoes. In no way can the preparation be considered heart healthy — it starts with fried chunks of beef and pork in suet and pork fat.
REAL TEXAS CHILI
This regional chili has a lot in common with the San Antonio original, given that it's mostly meat. An updated recipe calls for a paste made of several types of chilies — sweet, hot, fruity, and smoky — along with garlic and cumin, added to cubed chuck roast browned in lard. It's simmered in broth using masa harina for thickening and garlic, onion, and brown sugar mixed with vinegar for a kick. Time marries the flavors together.
Recipe: Cajun Grocer
When chili moved east into Louisiana, it took on the colors of Cajun cooking. As with so many other Cajun recipes, the base of this stew is the Big Easy trinity of bell pepper, onions, and celery sautéed in butter. Add the vegetables to browned ground meat and simmer in a sauce of wine and tomato paste with jalapeños, chili powder, and, of course, Louisiana hot sauce. One variation contains a sweet kick in the form of grape jelly or molasses.
Cincinnati's claim to chili fame — epitomized at the Skyline Chili restaurant chain — usually is eaten under or over spaghetti. Despite starting with familiar browned onions and ground beef simmered in beef broth and tomato sauce, it contains a few singular ingredients. The spices include seemingly bizarre flavors such as cinnamon, allspice, and cloves in addition to the usual cumin and cayenne pepper. Another essential ingredient is unsweetened chocolate or cocoa.
WEST COAST CHILI
Along the Pacific Ocean, chili morphed into a dish that uses cooked turkey instead of ground meat. Cubes of the meat are dumped into a sauce made from tomatoes and wine (of course) along with browned onions, garlic, green pepper, and kidney beans. This recipe contains chili powder, fresh cilantro, and red pepper flakes (but no cumin, an omission that should be corrected by every true chili aficionado).
Recipe: Simply Scratch
Michigan chili might have originated in that state but for some unknown reason claims a historical link with New York: It's eaten over hot dogs known as Coney dogs, for Coney Island in Brooklyn. This regional specialty is little more than onion, garlic, and ground beef simmered in tomato sauce with chili powder, cumin, celery salt, and cayenne. A big part of the appeal is the mustard, always yellow, that's slathered atop the dogs along with the chili.
Recipe: Franklin Smith's Lawson’s Tavern
No, it's not a typo; the name of this local chili really is spelled with two L's. Springfield, Illinois, has proclaimed itself the "chilli capital of the civilized world." The peculiar spelling originated with the Dew Chilli Parlor and continued as a Springfield legacy in several establishments. A newspaper chain published a cook's transcription of an original recipe, with meat and spices cooked in a sea of suet — no tomatoes, no sauce of any kind. This makes what's known as "chili meat," which is served over a large pile of cooked beans.
Recipe: A Southern Soul
The barbecue sauce and country sausage in this regional recipe would make a Texan cringe, but they win the hearts of many Southerners. The instructions include browning ground meat and sausage, then adding onion, pepper, celery, and garlic and simmering in a sauce that contains tomatoes as well as balsamic vinegar, beer, Worcestershire sauce, and barbecue sauce. This rendition contains both red beans and black, and a little bit of honey.
Recipe: Bon Appétit
Boston is not a place normally associated with chili, but there are probably few places in the country without some favorite version of the dish. "Boston Marathon chili" contains both stew meat and boneless pork butt. The meats are browned along with onion, garlic, and bell peppers, then mixed and simmered with tomatoes, black beans, and red wine. The stew is flavored with cumin (of course), jalapeños, and chili powder.
BEEF AND BLACK BEAN CHILI
Recipe: Bobby Flay
Black beans add a hit of color and a touch of the Caribbean in a regional chili recipe that goes down well in Florida. This version is fairly standard, with cubed beef browned in a pan and punched up with a variety of hot and smoky chili powders, onion, and garlic. The simmering sauce contains beer, tomatoes, and chicken stock, with black beans added near the end and a squeeze of lime to finish things off. The crowning jewel of this recipe, according to its many fans, is the dollop of cumin cream and avocado relish atop the stew.
Recipe: Reggie's Kaukau Time
Local family-style restaurant Zippy's makes a sweet chili that's famous throughout the islands, although it's not full of notably Hawaiian ingredients (it contains neither Spam nor pineapple, for instance). It calls for ground beef and Portuguese sausage, browned and stewed in a sauce of tomatoes with two kinds of beans, garlic, cumin, and other spices, including ginger, paprika, and, of course, chili powder. This version adds a tablespoon of sugar; others use up to a quarter-cup of brown sugar. Finally, a secret ingredient: mayonnaise.
NEW MEXICO CHILI VERDE
Recipe: Latino Foodie
Just as no self-respecting Texas chili would be served with beans, no New Mexico chili would pass muster without including green Hatch chilies. Although there's no standard recipe, New Mexico chili isn't red; it's as green as the chilies. It also contains pork instead of beef and tomatillos instead of tomatoes. This recipe calls for frying pork stew pieces first, then slow cooking them with a chili sauce made in a blender with the roasted green chilies, garlic, tomatillos, cilantro, and lime.
VERMONT MAPLE CHILI
Recipe: Genius Kitchen
Although it evokes autumn in New England more than it does a cattle trail, this chili recipe from a maple syrup cookbook author does contain a few Southwestern ingredients. It starts with browned turkey, and some delicious maple syrup goes into a sauce of diced tomatoes and other ingredients for unexpected sweetness.