Chili con carne (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈt͡ʃile koŋ ˈkarne]; English: chili with meat), commonly known in American English as simply "chili", is a spicy stew containing chili peppers, meat (usually beef), and often tomatoes and beans. Other seasonings may include garlic, onions, and cumin. Geographic and personal tastes involve different types of meat and ingredients. Recipes provoke disputes among aficionados, some of whom insist that the word "chili" applies only to the basic dish, without beans and tomatoes. Chili con carne is a frequent dish for cook-offs and is used as an ingredient in other dishes.
In Spanish, the word chile from the Nahuatl "chīlli" refers to a "chili pepper", and carne is Spanish for "meat".
As far back as 1850, a recipe consisting of dried beef, suet, dried chili peppers and salt, which were pounded together, formed into bricks and left to dry, which could then be boiled in pots on the trail, was found.
The San Antonio Chili Stand, in operation at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, helped popularize chili by allowing Americans to appreciate its taste. San Antonio was a tourist destination and helped Texas-style chili con carne spread throughout the South and West. Chili con carne is the official dish of the U.S. state of Texas as designated by the House Concurrent Resolution Number 18 of the 65th Texas Legislature during its regular session in 1977.
Before World War II, hundreds of small, family-run chili parlors (also known as "chili joints") could be found throughout Texas and other states, particularly those in which émigré Texans had made new homes. Each establishment usually had a claim to some kind of secret recipe.
As early as 1904, chili parlors were opening outside of Texas. After working at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, Charles Taylor opened a chili parlor in Carlinville, Illinois, serving "Mexican Chili". In the 1920s and 1930s chains of diner-style "chili parlors" grew up in the Midwest.
Cincinnati-style chili arguably represents the most vibrant continuation of the chili parlor tradition, with dozens of restaurants offering this style throughout the Cincinnati area. It can be traced back to at least 1922, when the original Empress Chili location opened.
In Green Bay, Wisconsin, the chili parlor Chili John's has existed since 1913. As with Cincinnati chili, it is most commonly served over spaghetti with oyster crackers, but the recipe is less sweet with a higher proportion of fat. The original proprietor's son opened a second location in Burbank in 1946, which is also still in existence.
Until the late 2000s, a chili parlor dating to 1904, O.T. Hodge, continued to operate in St. Louis. It featured a chili-topped dish called a "slinger": two cheeseburger patties, hash browns, and two eggs, and smothered in chili. As of 2014 no O.T. Hodge-branded locations remain, though one still exists under the name Chili Mac's.
Beans, a staple of Tex-Mex cuisine, have been associated with chili as far back as the early 20th century. The question of whether beans "belong" in chili has been a matter of contention among chili cooks for a long time. While it is generally accepted that the earliest chilis did not include beans, proponents of their inclusion contend that chili with beans has a long enough history so as to not be considered "unauthentic". The Chili Appreciation Society International specified in 1999 that, among other things, cooks are forbidden to include beans in the preparation of chili for official competition—nor are they allowed to marinate any meats.
A bowl of Texas-style chili without beans.
"Texas-style chili" may or may not contain beans and may even be made without other vegetables whatsoever besides chili peppers. President Lyndon B. Johnson's favorite chili recipe became known as "Pedernales River chili" after the location of his Texas Hill Country ranch. It calls for eliminating the traditional beef suet (on Johnson's doctor's orders, after Johnson suffered a heart attack while he was Senate Majority Leader) and adds tomatoes and onions. Johnson preferred venison, when available, to beef, as Hill Country deer are leaner than most beef.Lady Bird Johnson, the First Lady, had the recipe printed on cards to be mailed out because of the many thousands of requests the White House received for it.
In some areas, specifically the American South, versions with beans are referred to as "chili beans" while the term "chili" is reserved for the all-meat dish. Small red beans are commonly used for chili, as are black-eyed peas, kidney beans, great northern beans, or navy beans. Chili bean can refer to a small red variety of common bean also known as the pink bean. The name may have arisen from that bean's resemblance to small chili peppers, or it may be a reference to that bean's inclusion in chili recipes.
Most commercially prepared canned chili includes beans. Commercial chili prepared without beans is usually called "chili no beans" in the United States. Some U.S. manufacturers, notably Bush Brothers and Company and Eden Organic, also sell canned precooked beans (without meat) that are labeled "chili beans"; these beans are intended for consumers to add to a chili recipe and are often sold with spices added.
Tomatoes are another ingredient on which opinions differ. Wick Fowler, north Texas newspaperman and inventor of "Two-Alarm Chili" (which he later marketed as a "kit" of spices), insisted on adding tomato sauce to his chili — one 15-oz. can per three pounds of meat. He also believed that chili should never be eaten freshly cooked but refrigerated overnight to seal in the flavor. Matt Weinstock, a Los Angeles newspaper columnist, once remarked that Fowler's chili "was reputed to open eighteen sinus cavities unknown to the medical profession."
Vegetarian chili (also known as chili sin carne, chili without meat, chili non carne, and chili sans carne) acquired wide popularity in the U.S. during the 1960s and 1970s with the rise of vegetarianism. It is also popular with those on a diet restricting the use of red meat. To make the chili vegetarian, the cook leaves out the meat or replaces it with a meat analogue, such as textured vegetable protein or tofu, or a starchy vegetable, such as potatoes. These chilis nearly always include beans. Variants may contain corn, squash, mushrooms, or beets.
Chili verde (green chili) is a moderately to extremely spicy New Mexican cuisine stew or sauce usually made from chunks of pork that have been slow-cooked in chicken broth, garlic, tomatillos, and roasted green chilis. Tomatoes are rarely used. The spiciness of the chili is adjusted with poblano, jalapeño, serrano, and occasionally habanero peppers. Chili verde is a common filling for the Mission burrito.
Willie Gebhardt, originally of New Braunfels, Texas, and later of San Antonio, produced the first canned chili in 1908. Rancher Lyman Davis near Corsicana, Texas, developed Wolf Brand Chili in 1895. He owned a meat market and was a particular fan of Texas-style chili. In the 1880s, in partnership with an experienced range cook, he began producing heavily spiced chili based on chunks of lean beef and rendered beef suet, which he sold by the pot to local cafés. In 1921, Davis began canning his product, naming it for his pet wolf "Kaiser Bill". Wolf Brand canned chili was a favorite of Will Rogers, who always took along a case when traveling and performing in other regions of the world. Ernest Tubb, the country singer, was such a fan that one Texas hotel maintained a supply of Wolf Brand for his visits. Both the Gebhardt and Wolf brands are now owned by ConAgra Foods, Inc. Another major maker of canned chili, Hormel, sells chili available with or without beans, made with turkey or in vegetarian varieties, under their own name and other brands like Stagg.
Another method of marketing commercial chili in the days before widespread home refrigerators was "brick chili". It was produced by pressing out nearly all of the moisture, leaving a solid substance roughly the size and shape of a half-brick. Wolf Brand was originally sold in this form. Commonly available in small towns and rural areas of the American Southwest in the first three-quarters of the 20th century, brick chili has mostly outlived its usefulness but can still be found in some stores.
A chili dog is a hot dog served with a topping of chili (usually without beans).
A chili burger is a burger topped with chili (usually without beans). In California, this is sometimes referred to as a "chili size". Chili is also served on top of a ground beef patty alone.
Chili is also added to french fries and cheese to make chili cheese fries, or Coney Island fries.
In southeast Texas, some people eat chili served over white rice. Chili over rice (frequently with beans) is also common in Hawaii (where it is known as chili rice) and is eaten this way in the UK and, to some extent, Australia.
Chili mac is a dish made with canned chili, or roughly the same ingredients as chili (meat, spices, onion, tomato sauce, beans, and sometimes other vegetables), with the addition of macaroni or some other pasta. Chili mac is a standard dish in the U.S. military and is one of the varieties of Meal, Ready-to-Eat (MRE).
Frank X. Tolbert. A Bowl of Red: A Natural History of Chili con Carne. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1966. [Much of the material in this book originally appeared in the author's newspaper columns in The Dallas Morning News beginning in the early 1950s.]
Charles Ramsdell. San Antonio: An Historical and Pictorial Guide. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1959.
Joe E. Cooper. With or Without Beans. Dallas: W. S. Henson, 1952.
Jack Arnold. The Chili Lover's Handbook. Privately published, 1977.
Robb Walsh. The Tex-Mex Cookbook: A History in Recipes and Photos. New York: Broadway Books, 2004. [A very knowledgeable and very well-written "food history", including a long chapter on "real" chili, chili joints, and the San Antonio chili queens.]