Christian Ruß

Test Kitchen Manager and Chef at Kitchen Stories

When you think—chili—it’s likely a certain aisle of the grocery store comes to mind: one stocked from floor to ceiling with brightly wrapped cans. And, while there’s certainly nothing wrong with that—a quick and easy chili with canned beans and corn can be absolutely comforting and delicious—according to our chef Christian, it’s very worth taking a step back and making chili more like they did in the old days.

The flavor base for chili con carne, Spanish for “chili with meat,” is built from just two ingredients: dried chilis and meat. To pay homage to these two ingredients—with a few added surprises—Christian has shifted the focus away from everything typical in your average dump-and-stir chili recipe. Here’s how to make a chili like a chef...

How Christian makes chili

Chili, for me, is all about the quality of the ingredients you put in. Seeking out “fresh” dried chilis might be a challenge, depending on where you live, but it’s worth the effort to give a special, deeply smoky flavor to your chili. Dried chilis can never truly be fresh of course, but I mean here is that they are not old, crispy chilis, but relatively soft dried chilis with a sort of fruity smell to them—that’s how you know they are “fresh.”

I also much prefer to use a quality hunk of beef chuck over ground beef for my chili, rendering it tender as it simmers away in an ever-thickening stew of deliciousness. You could also leave the beef chuck whole and shred it apart into the stew, but chopping it beforehand allows it to be fully seasoned from the inside out and gives more surface area to be browned before letting the whole thing simmer.

Christian’s Chili con carne

  • 03:19 min.

A few surprise ingredients

Chili con carne is nothing without the dried chilis. I chose to use both dried guajillo and chipotle chilis for a subtle smoke and heat and pumped up the flavors even more with a fresh chili, smoked paprika powder, cayenne pepper, ground coriander, and a whole cinnamon stick.

In addition to the warm, spicy, and savory flavors in this chili, I decided to balance it out with something smooth and bitter: chocolate. It adds a richness to the texture to the chili that I don’t think can be replicated by any other ingredient and helps to tone down the heat. You won’t be able to taste the chocolate directly, but it’s an ingredient that adds something unique.

How to serve it

Beans are typically a key component in a big bowl of chili, and although I chose to cook the beans and chili separately, they definitely have to come together in the bowl before serving. The beans add even more flavor and a hearty, smooth texture to the finished dish, plus their dark color pairs really well with the burnished red chili. If you want to save yourself some dishes, you can cook the beans with the chili instead of on their own, but I prefer to cook them separately for more distinct flavors, colors, and textures.

Unlike the typically creamy, cheesy, or salty toppings that accompany a bowl of chili, I like to serve mine simply as is with just one hunk of cornbread on the side. The cornbread is a bit sweet, but not overly so, and has the perfect texture to be crumbled on top of the chili if you want it to soak up some of the spicy sauce and get a little bit of the bread in every bite.

Easy cornbread

Easy cornbread

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The recipe

Love or leave it, here’s my take on chili con carne.

Christian’s Chili con carne

Christian’s Chili con carne

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