Award-Winning Chili

[Beer and Wine Journal mostly features content focusing on how to make beer and some other fermented beverage whose name escapes me. Sometimes, however, we’ll post a food-related article if it has a tie-in to beer. This is one of those times.]


A lot of food blogs make you wade through some long, nearly-irrelevant personal anecdote before they finally get to the recipe. I hate that. You hate that. Everyone hates that, so I’ll keep this short and to the point.

Below is a chili recipe that I made and that won the 2018 Austin ZEALOTS Chili Cookoff. This was the 15th year the ZEALOTS (my homebrew club) held the cookoff in conjunction with the holiday party, so I was very honored to win. The recipe is mostly a variation on a recipe I found in Texas Monthly and had made a few times. That recipe, in turn, was a modification of a previous recipe that had won some awards in CASI competitions. (What’s CASI? It’s like the BJCP for chili.) This recipe has quite a few ingredients but is inherently simple to make — just cook the meat and “gravy,” then add the spices and simmer. The biggest key to success is using fresh spices. I’ve added some specifics about the spices I used, but ordinary supermarket spices should work just fine. The second biggest key is to simmer it as gently as possible — and stir frequently enough that it doesn’t scorch.

This chili is spicy, but not ludicrously so. If you like kung pao chicken or chicken vindaloo, you’ll be in the same ballpark of spicing level. Enjoy!


Absolutely No Squirrel Chili

(Winner of the 2018 Austin ZEALOTS Chili Cookoff)

Makes 7 servings



0.0 lb. squirrel (there is no squirrel in this recipe)

2.0 lb. ground round (85% lean)

1.0 lb. chuck steak (cut into small cubes)

12 oz. tomato sauce

12 oz. beef broth (low-sodium)

12 oz. amber lager (I used Live Oak Big Bark)

11 dried red chili peppers (chili de árbol, torn into 3 or 4 pieces; do not touch your penis after doing this)

11 Tbsp chili powder (I used half Fiesta Fancy Light Chili Powder (i.e. supermarket chili powder) and half a blend of chili powders I got in the bulk spices aisle at HEB, especially a dark “San Antonio” blend)

2.0 Tbsp cumin (I used a high oil variety from the bulk spices at HEB)

2.0 tsp paprika (Spanish, not smoked)

1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (40,000 Scoville rated, from bulk spice aisle at HEB)

1.5 Tbsp granulation onion

2.0 tsp. garlic powder (Note: not garlic salt) 

3/4 tsp. black pepper

3 cubes beef bullion

1.5 packets Sazon Goya Cilantro Tomato seasoning



Cut the chuck steak into small cubes and brown it lightly in the bottom of a dutch oven. Remove the chuck pieces and lightly brown the ground round. Neither of these should be completely browned, just sautéd to the point they are no longer red on the outside. Remove and discard however much of the fat you want to. Put the browned beef back in the dutch oven and add the tomato sauce, beef broth, beer, and chili peppers. Bring to a boil and lightly simmer for 30 minutes uncovered.

Add half the amount of each of the remaining spices, stir thoroughly, and simmer — very lightly — for 30 minutes with the cover on. Keep the lid on except to stir the chili every ten minutes or so. Keep the heat low and check that the chili isn’t scorching when you stir.

Add the remaining spices, stir and then simmer for a final 30 minutes with the lid on.

If desired, you can thicken the chili with masa harina. (I didn’t do this.)


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  1. Thanks for recipe … always on the lookout for squirrel-free dining options. AND thanks for not publishing a multi-scroll, run-on post about your feelings as you prepared the chili! Have both your books and have used several helpful tips from them as recently as a hoppy, dark ale I am now enjoying.

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  4. Interesting post. I Have Been wondering about this issue, so thanks for posting. Pretty cool post.It ‘s really very nice and Useful post.Thanks

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  8. Carolin J Berry-Walsh says

    This really is the best chili ever! I got the recipe out of Mother Earth News. I made it for a chili cook-off my church had and I came in 2 only because the person that came in first made more than one pot of chili so she was able to get more tasters to vote!

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