Crock-Pot Chili: Can A Bowl of Texas Red Be Full Of Beans?

It is hard to imagine that anyone who has owned a slow cooker for any length of time has not made some sort of chili in it. Most chili recipes call for a long, slow cooking time, so the protein and the vegetables and spices blend to maximum flavor. That makes it just about the perfect dish to make in a slow cooker.

Chili fans out there know there are lively debates about which state makes the best chili and which ingredients make that chili recipe “real.” For example, “real” Texas chili is supposed to be made with cubed beef, rather than ground beef, and it is supposed to be made with no beans.

But there are some of us who like to make the steak version of chili now and then, but also like beans. Fortunately, the author of my current crockpot bible — Slow Cooker: The Best Cookbook Ever — is of the same mind. Though her recipe, titled Lone Star Sirloin Chili, includes black beans, and could therefore get them picketed by Texas purists, I think it’s mighty satisfying.

[Note: I first published this piece on the original, pre-Chicago Now version of Cooler on the Lake Shore. I'm bringing it back it case today in case you're wracking your brain for a really good chili recipe for Super Bowl Sunday, and want something a little different.]

And easy, of course. Here’s all there is to the recipe:

[Note to Spice Girls (and Guys) out there: This is a pretty mild chili recipe. If it ain't chili for you if you're not breathing fire after eating it, take the chili powder up a few notches. But don't get carried away -- if it's not spicy enough, you can always adjust the seasoning upwards toward the end of the cooking cycle.]

* Cut 2-1/2 pounds of beef into one-half inch cubes. The recipe (not surprisingly, given the name of the dish) calls for sirloin, but I used a mix of chuck stew beef and steak tips and it worked well.

* Salt the meat evenly (about 2 teaspoons) and add a light sprinkling of cayenne if you like. Then add olive oil to a pan (or pans), heat to medium-high, then brown the meat in batches on the stovetop, making sure not to overcrowd the pan (or the meat won’t brown well).

* When the meat is sufficiently browned, remove to the slow cooker. Then, using the same pan(s), add 2 large, coarsely chopped sweet onions, 2 cloves minced garlic and a chopped jalapeno with a couple of teaspoons of chili powder and a half-teaspoon each of cumin powder and dried oregano (adding more olive oil if the pan is too dry). Reduce heat to medium-low and saute until the veggies are softened, about 5 minutes, stirring often. [Note about the jalapeno: If you want really spicy, leave the seeds in; if you want milder, leave them out.]

* Add 1/4 cup cornmeal when the vegetables are about done and stir for about 1 minute, then stir in 2 cups of beef broth and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and add to the meat in the slow cooker.

* Almost done. You just have to add 12 ounces of beer (they recommend Lone Star for authenticity — I used a dark beer bottled under the Trader Joe’s label), which adds flavor and helps tenderize the meat; one 15 oz. can of tomato puree; and two 15 oz. cans of black beans (drained and rinsed) to the slow cooker. Stir it all together, and set it on high for 4-5 hours or low for 8-10 hours. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary.

I’ll try a ground meat version soon and share it if I like it. If you’ve got a great crockpot chili recipe or a stovetop version that can be easily converted, let me know.

And happy game watching!

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