Smoky Texas Chili 6.000

Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post; cup and saucer from Crate and Barrel

Smoke Signals Feb 16, 2011

In Texas, the classic “bowl of red” is made without beans. It is a brothy, spicy stew of meat and chili peppers. In 1953, the late Dallas journalist and chili fanatic Frank X. Tolbert wrote the book on chili, in which he laid down the no-beans law. Frank’s daughter, Kathleen Tolbert Ryan, keeps the chili flame alive as co-owner of Tolbert’s Restaurant in Grapevine, Texas, which sponsors the annual original Terlingua International Chili Championship cook-off.

Chili is one of those dishes that is great any time of the year, but to help stir thoughts of summer barbecue, Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin adds smoky chipotle peppers to the anchos in Frank’s Texas classic.

Make Ahead: The chili should be made a day in advance to let its flavors mingle.

Servings: 6 - 8
  • 10 dried ancho chile peppers
  • 3 or more cups hot water, for soaking the dried ancho chili peppers
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil (may substitute 2 ounces beef suet)
  • 3 pounds lean beef, preferably stewing meat, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 canned chipotle, seeded and minced
  • 1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon crushed cumin seeds
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons masa harina or cornmeal (optional)


Rinse all 10 of the dried chili peppers well, then put them in a large bowl with at least 3 cups of hot water for 20 minutes. When they are soft, remove the peppers from the bowl, then seed and stem them. Use a rounded table knife or a fork to scrape the chili peppers from their skins; discard the skins.

Line a fine-mesh strainer with a few layers of cheesecloth. Strain the ancho soaking water through the lined strainer into a bowl, reserving at least 2 1/2 cups.

Finely chop 6 of the scraped ancho chili peppers. Coarsely chop the remaining 4 and place them in a small bowl.

Heat the oil in the Dutch oven over medium heat until the oil shimmers. (Alternatively, heat the suet in a large Dutch oven over medium heat until its fat is rendered, about 10 minutes. Remove the suet.)

Increase the heat to medium-high; add a half or third of the meat, searing it on all sides. Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining meat. (If using vegetable oil, discard all but 1 or 2 tablespoons of the oil after all the meat has been seared.)

Return all of the meat to the pot. Add 2 cups of the ancho soaking water and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium or medium-low (so the liquid is barely bubbling at the edges); cover and cook for 30 minutes.

Add the 6 finely chopped ancho chili peppers, the chipotle pepper, Tabasco, dried oregano, salt, crushed cumin seeds and garlic; cover and cook for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. (If you used suet, you'll need to occasionally skim off the surface grease.)

Stir in the 4 remaining chopped anchos and the masa or cornmeal, if using. Cover and cook for 30 minutes to 1 hour, until the meat is tender. Add some of the remaining ancho soaking liquid (or water) as needed to achieve a stewlike consistency.

If possible, cool and refrigerate for at least 1 day to allow the flavors to mingle.

Rate it

Recipe Source

Adapted from Tolbert’s "A Bowl of Red" (Texas A&M University Press, 1953).

Tested by Anne Kornblut.

Email questions to the Food Section.

Email questions to the Food Section at