ATK’s Favorite Chili

April 30, 2012

Continuing his recent trend, this recipe from season 12 of America’s Test Kitchen avoids commercial chili powder in favor of grinding whole dried chiles. I first used the technique for Tacos al Pastor. Toasting and grinding the dried chiles adds about 10 minutes, but adds great depth of flavor and is worth the effort. The onions and jalapenos were ground almost into a paste; too fine for my taste; but that didn’t affect the flavor (see comment below). There were also a few surprise ingredients; cocoa powder, molasses and Budweiser. Overall, I’ve made at least 3 or 4 other chili versions, but this recipe is Chris Kimball’s best Chili version yet. My guests gave this recipe up-to-5-stars, saying it was the best chili they’ve ever eaten, better than a chili competition. I give it only 4-stars, because the chili was not spicy enough and the flavors were a little over-the-top earthy. Fortunately, the garnishes; sour cream, avocado and cheese; brightened up the chili. My 4-star rating was sans garnish.

Delicious Chili starts by grinding your own chili powder


  1. I substituted 4-pound of chuck, which was on sale for half the price of the blade steak. I used two packages that were each about 3/4″ thick. It required a little extra work trimming out the excess fat and gristle, but it saved $12. Otherwise the recipe would have been $30 for 6 bowls of chili.
  2. The recipe calls for 8-ounces of dried pinto beans. After cooking today with just 8-ounces, I will increase next time to use 12-ounces. The pinto beans were few and far between.
  3. The published range of cayenne pepper in this recipe was between 1/4 and 1/2 teaspoon.  I had planned for my kids to eat this chili (which they didn’t), and used 3/8 teaspoon of cayenne. The recipe turned out to be very mild. Next time I will use 3/4 teaspoon.
  4. The flavors here were nicely concentrated. One time Chris Kimball had me add 7 cups of water to his 1998 recipe.
  5. I watched the episode of America’s Test Kitchen again, and I saw that my onions and jalapenos had the wrong texture. Mine were almost a paste and they were supposed to be the texture of a chunky salsa. My food processor has a smaller bowl, perhaps that is why I should have only used two pulses.

Rating: 4 stars.
Cost: $18.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium/High.
Started: 1:00 PM.  Dinner:  6:30 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here (free access, but you have to provide your e-mail). My descriptions of how I prepare it today are given below:

Chili Ingredients:
Table salt
1-1/2 cup dried pinto beans (12 ounces)
6 dried ancho chiles (1-3/4 ounces)
4 dried árbol chiles (or 1/2 teaspoon cayenne)
3 tablespoons cornmeal (or can use Masa Harina without processing)
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons cocoa powder
2-1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 medium onions
3 small jalapeño chiles
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 medium garlic cloves
14.5-oz can diced tomatoes (incl juice)
2 teaspoons light molasses
3 1/2 pounds blade steak, 3/4″ thick
1 (12-ounce) bottle Budweiser, or other mild American lager

Suggested Garnishes:
6 ounces grated Monterrey Jack cheese
1 to 2 diced Hass avocado
1/2 Diced red onion
1 Lime, cut into 8 wedges
Sour Cream
Chopped cilantro leaves

  1. Rinse half bag of pinto beans and pick out and discard any that are sub-par. Place a Dutch oven with 4 quarts of water over high burner. Add 3 tablespoons salt and rinsed beans. Bring up to boil, then remove from burner, cover the pot, and allow to soften for 1 hour. Drain in a strainer and rinse well to remove any surface salt.
  2. Remove the stems and seeds from your dried ancho, and rip into 1″ pieces. Place a 12″ skillet on a medium-high burner and toast dried ancho chiles, stirring often, for about 5 minutes until they become fragrant. You may need to adjust the heat, especially if they begin to smoke. When done, add to the bowl of your food processor.
  3. While chiles are toasting, dice the onions into large 3/4″ pieces. Discard the stem, ribs and seeds from your jalapenos, and dice into 1/2″ pieces. Peel garlic cloves so that they are ready to press directly into Dutch oven (in step 6).
  4. Also add arbol chiles, corn meal, oregano, cumin, cocoa powder and 1 teaspoon table salt to the bowl of your food processor. Process for 2 minutes until it becomes finely ground. Slowly add 1/2 cup of chicken broth to food processor while running. Continue processing for 20 to 30 seconds until forms a paste. It may be necessary to scrape down the sides of the food processor. Empty into a small bowl and set aside.
  5. Add onion to food processor and pulse four 1-second pulses. Add jalapenos and pulse four more 1-second pulses. Be careful not to over-process;  I only needed two pulses to obtain the correct “chunky salsa” texture.
  6. Place a Dutch oven over medium-high burner, and heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil until shimmering. Add the onion/jalapenos mixture and cook for about 8 minutes until they have softened.  Add pressed garlic and continue cooking for 1 additional minutes.
  7. While the onions and jalapenos cook, trim the center line of gristle from your blade steaks and cut into 3/4″ cubes.
  8. Stir in chile paste mixture, diced tomatoes and molasses. Add 2 cups of chicken broth and pre-soaked pinto beans. Once it comes up to a boil, reduce the burner to maintain a simmer
  9. Set a rack to the lower-middle of your oven and begin to pre-heat to 300-degrees.
  10. Without washing out skillet from toasting chiles, add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and heat over a medium-high burner until it begins to shimmer. Use paper towels to dry the beef cubes and sprinkle with 2 teaspoon salt.
  11. Add 1 tablespoon oil in 12″-inch skillet and pre-heat over medium-high burner until the oil begins to shimmer. Brown the beef in 2 to 3 batches, cooking for 10 minutes on all sides. Add cooked meat to Dutch oven. Deglaze the skillet using 1/2 bottle of beer then adding to Dutch oven.
  12. Repeat step 11 with remaining tablespoon oil, steak, and beer.
  13. Stir your Dutch oven to combine and return to a simmer. Cover your pot and put in 300-degree oven, and cook for about 2 hours.
  14. With about 20 minutes until finished, prepare your garnishes. After the meat has become very tender, remove from oven and allow to cool slightly, un-covered, for 10 minutes. Adjust salt according to your taste. Stir and serve.

Cooking in 2 batches crowded my pan, next time will divide into 3.

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