ATK’s Favorite Chili

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.


9 Responses to ATK’s Favorite Chili

  1. Anna says:

    If this is the recipe I remember, I just realized that I made it a while back. (If it isn’ t the same it seems very similar, CI and ATK can sometimes seem like copycats, LOL!) Definitely some work, but very tasty. Like you, I used the meat I could find that seemed a reasonable option for chili and cut it into bits that cooked down to a spoonable size once cooked. I think the only part of the recipe I didn’t follow was the jalapeno quantity. IIRC, I used one. Dad’s the heat lover in our house and will add hot sauce to his portion without complaint.

    I seem to remember thinking that next time I would double the recipe, and just freeze the excess. For this amount of work, I’d like a larger amount of the finished product, even if chili isn’t something I want to feed us on a regular basis.

    Also, I think I used an amber O’doul’s low alcohol beer, as CI or ATK has recommended them in the past.

    • Hi Anna, yes it looks like it’s the same Chili that Cook’s Illustrated published in January 2011. But it doesn’t sound like you thought it was as mild as I did, and with just one Jalapeno. Maybe it’s my California roots, but I definitely felt the need for more heat. I guess I may be the heat-lover in my household.

      That’s a good idea to double the recipe (or maybe increase by 50%) because I was surprised that it only made 6 bowls. With most recipes I have chili left-overs for a few days; and it’s those few “days off” from cooking that make the 5-1/2 hours cooking time worth while.


  2. Sarah McConnell says:

    Mark – have you ever tried broiling the meat cubes rather than pan searing them? I find that the stove top method makes a huge, splattered mess that I really dread, but the broil method is fast and much cleaner.


    • Hi Sara, no, I’ve never tried that. It’s a good idea, because this recipe does make a mess. Also this recipe uses 2 pans, and I prefer to use just 1.

      One of my favorite “everyday” chili recipe browns the beef in a stock pot, whose tall sides help to reduce the splatter. Also, it keeps the number of pots/pans down to 1. But when I say favorite, I mean as the cook/cleaner of the house, not necessarily the most amazing chili (which of the 4 chili recipe’s I’ve made would have to be this “ATK’s favorite chili”).

  3. cindyinthemountains says:

    Looks like a great recipe. I used dried Ancho chiles in my chile too and they give the dish a great flavor and color. I always soak them in boiling water first, then process them to a smooth paste, and probably will continue with that technique. It’stTricky sometimes to find the Anchos and are much different than California dried chiles which I don’t care for — I am a pretty good chile cook, but this recipe looks really great. It is on my list to make next week! Thanks!

    Also – great suggestion from Sarah about broiling the meat! I will definitely try that. When browning a lot of meat for chili at high heat, the grease is everywhere, the floor and the stove.

  4. Arvin says:

    I’ve made this chili twice now and I’m sorry but it’s boooring. The first time I made it last weekend I must have accidently scorched it because it had a weird smell and tasted bad. Yesterday I was careful not to scorch it plus made a few changes and it turned out just OK.

    My changes:
    1. Used a lb each of chuck, tri tip and pork butt
    2, Sauted the onions in bacon fat
    3. Added ground chipotles to the Ancho chili mix – I love the smokey flavor plus they add a lot of heat.
    4. Added a LOT more cayenne because the last batch was stupidly mild
    5. Toasted whole cumin seeds and ground them myself into the powder
    6. Cooked the whole thing about 3 hours to break down the chuck more.
    7. Added 2 cups beans instead of one. I like beans and it makes it last longer
    8. Used masa harina instead of corn meal cause that’s what I had
    9. Finished it up with about a quarter cup of lime juice after it was done cooking

    It was definitely hot enough but lacked any zing. I think next time I might add some tomato paste, cook it in with the onions to get rid of the raw taste. This time I think I sauted the onions and jalapenos too long. By the time I added the chili paste and mixed it in well it was all just a big mush. I think I’ll also use a homemade beef stock instead of chicken broth, see if that makes any difference. Maybe add a bit of tequila.

  5. Eli says:

    So far I’ve made it twice and it’s delicious. I use a mixture of fresh ground ancho and guajillo powder plus cayenne from The Spice House instead of grinding my own cause my kids start choking and gasping for air when I roast them indoors. Without grinding my own it also means I don’t have to dirty the food processor and instead just dice the onion and jalapeno with a knife. Next time I might buy beef cubes instead of chuck roast and save myself a lot of time and effort. Does anyone else grind their own cumin? It’s funny but I would never consider buying ground cumin whereas others would never consider buying ground chile.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Mark… what did I do wrong, man?? Mine turned out bitter. Was yours too? 😦
    – T. Paul

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