This year, I had the pleasure of representing Chattanooga Chow and Brewer Media in the DeMoss Capital World Heavyweight Chili Championship at MAINX24. Our team also had the pleasure of winning. Since then, I’ve been besieged with requests for my recipe. I regret to inform everyone that I will not be printing my exact recipe—but I will provide a guide you can use to make chili that will kick as much ass as you feel like kicking.
This year’s Championship was a testimony to the creative turns chili can take. There was chili with turkey and pumpkin, duck meat, venison, white chili, and vegetarian chili among others. Our team made a traditional competition chili we called “Chili Chili Bang Bang.” I wanted to call the team “Truly Scrumptious” but was reminded about the ordinance allowing only one Chitty Chitty Bang Bang reference per day within city limits.
Most judges are going to evaluate chili on aroma, color, consistency, taste and aftertaste. Chili shouldn’t have a grease slick posing a threat to passing wildlife spread across the top. It should have a nice red-to-brown color; if it looks like glue paste, just step away from the pot and order a pizza. It should have a rich aroma and a thick, but not stiff, consistency. Of course it should taste good, but the aftertaste is important too. You want an afterburn that spreads a little heat all over your mouth and throat. If you burn out the judges’ palates with flamethrower chili, you’ll lose points and the judges will look at you through teary, red eyes as if to say, “Why? Why?”
As with all great things in life, great chili starts with the meat. Use meat with just a little marbling and very little gristle. Some cooks use chuck but I prefer to use tri-tip. I don’t recommend using sirloin because it tends to get mushy, and no one, I mean no one, likes mushy meat. Once you’ve chopped the meat into small, bite-sized cubes, be sure and give it a rinse before you put it in the pot; excess blood will coagulate and make lumps. Leave the bloody lumps for the Tiêt canh (go ahead, Google it. I’ll wait).
I like to cook my meat in bacon grease. This year, I rendered the fat from pork belly I bought at Asian Food and Gifts, diced the leaner parts and added them to the chili meat. This brings a layer of porky, bacony goodness to the building flavors.
After the meat is cooked, remove it from the pot—but leave all of that sexy, sexy fond and any rendered fat in the pot. “Fond” is all of those caramelized bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. Fond is packed with flavor, so use it to your advantage by adding spices to the fond and rendered fat to cook for a couple of minutes. I double grind my spices by taking them for a spin in a coffee grinder. This makes them finer so they distribute throughout the chili more efficiently.
Now add your onion, bell pepper and cook on medium heat until the moisture in the vegetables releases all of the stuck-on bits and you’ll end up with a paste you’d punch a dolphin for. It’s just that flavorful. Add your tomato products, meat, chipotles in adobo sauce and, if necessary, beef or pork stock.
Keep it stirred and whatever you do, for god’s sake don’t let it scorch or burn. Saturday morning that distinct scorched smell assaulted my nose and I knew, somewhere in Chili Tent City, someone was staring at a pot of regret.