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 and almost every occasion, from a crowded party to a quiet night at home by the fireplace. The dish also makes inexpensive ingredients go a long way. Here are 13 regional chili specialties, some associated with a particular place and others with components that evoke a location.
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.
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.
When chili moved east into Louisiana, it took on the colors of Cajun cooking. As with any other Cajun recipe, 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.
Recipe: Cajun Grocer
Cincinnati's claim to chili fame -- epitomized by what's served at the Skyline Chili restaurant chain -- usually is eaten under or over spaghetti. It contains a few singular ingredients, despite starting with familiar browned onions and ground beef simmered in beef broth and tomato sauce. The spices contain seemingly bizarre flavors such as cinnamon, allspice, and cloves in addition to the usual cumin and cayenne pepper, and another essential ingredient is unsweetened chocolate or cocoa.
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 contains chili powder, fresh cilantro, and red pepper flakes (but no cumin, an omission that should be corrected by every true chili aficionado).
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: Simply Scratch
No, it's not a typo; this local chili really is spelled with two L's. Springfield, IL, 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.
The barbecue sauce and country sausage in this regional recipe would make a Texan cringe, but they win the hearts of many other Southerners. The blog lays out instructions for 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: A Southern Soul
Boston is not a place normally associated with chili, but then, there are probably few places in the United States without some favorite type. This "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.
Recipe: Bon Appétit
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: Bobby Flay
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 contains 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.
Recipe: Reggie's Kaukau Time
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. A 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.
Recipe: Latino Foodie
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, simmered in the pot with the usual suspects: cumin, garlic, onion, and a few types of chilies. Into a sauce of fire-roasted tomatoes, beans, and vinegar goes some pure, dark maple syrup. Before serving, the chili is topped with cilantro, avocado, and pepitas (pumpkin seeds).
Recipe: Katie Webster