Making Chili

Another of our favorite recipes with notes and tips on how I make it.  In cooler weather, this is one of my go-to recipes when we’re having friends over, as I can do everything in advance, leaving me free to to socialize when they arrive.

Chili is great with Beer Bread — read Making Beer Bread.  This recipe is on page 169 of The Boat Galley Cookbook, location 5288 of the Kindle edition (note that all electronic editions have a clickable index in the back, so you can look up any recipe by name and click on the page number to go to the recipe, although because of the way the links work sometimes the recipe is actually on the next page from where the link takes you).

NOTE:  The recipe below is doubled to serve four from the one in the cookbook, which serves 2.


Total Time: 45 minutes

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes or longer, as desired

Serves: 4

1/2 to 1 pound ground beef OR 2 chicken breasts, shredded

1 medium onion, diced

1 to 2 cups beef or chicken broth (may be made from bouillon), stock or V-8 juice

2 tablespoons chili powder, or to taste depending on “heat” of your chili powder

2 teaspoons cumin powder

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)

1/2 chile pepper or green bell pepper, seeded and diced, or to taste

2 (16-ounce) cans diced tomatoes, not drained OR 3 to 4 fresh tomatoes, diced

2 (16-ounce) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed OR red beans OR black beans OR Recipe-Ready Beans (page 176)

grated cheese and chopped green onion (optional garnish)

Sprinkle salt over the bottom of pan and sauté ground beef in it (the salt draws the fat out of the meat, so you don’t have to add oil unless the meat is very lean). If you use chicken, you will have to use a little oil or cooking spray. When meat is almost browned, add onion and continue to brown meat.

Add remaining ingredients and mix. The amount of broth needed will depend on the amount of liquid in the tomatoes and your preference.

Simmer for at least 30 minutes to allow flavors to mix. 

Notes, Tips and Substitutions

  • Instead of ground beef, I often use ground turkey for a more heart-healthy version.  When I do, I use beef bouillon powder instead of salt to give a bit more beef flavor — see No-Added-Fat Sauteing and Adding Flavor to Meats.  The meat browns just fine with no added fat.

Recipe and detailed tips on making chili, including substitutions, making sure it's not too spicy for guests and more.

  • Personal preferences and the strength of spices varies greatly.  When making a new recipe, I initially add only half the called-for amount of spices, particularly hot ones.  I let the recipe cook for 10 minutes or so, then do a taste test and decide whether to add the remaining amount.  I do the same thing whenever I’ve opened a new spice container, particularly in foreign countries or when buying from a farmer’s market.  If you’re having guests, be sure to ask their tolerance for spicy foods — we have some friends who cannot eat spicy foods at all.  I always make dishes to suit the “mildest” preference and then place hot sauce on the table for those who want it spicier.
  • Chili powder can clump and it can lose its flavor from heat and moisture.  Put a few dried beans in the container to keep it from clumping (read more), store it in a cool and dry spot (NOT right above the stove — read more) and never hold the open container above a hot, steamy pan (read more).
  • If using a chile pepper, again be careful with how hot it is, particularly if it’s a variety that you haven’t used before.  Again, I use half or less of the specified quantity and do a taste test after it’s had a chance to cook for a bit.
  • Many people don’t like chili and other foods with beans because of the gas they can produce.  Reduce the gas by draining and rinsing the beans.  I use my salad spinner to make this really easy.  Read more in No-Gas Beans and Salad Spinner.

Recipe and detailed tips on making chili, including substitutions, making sure it's not too spicy for guests and more.

  • You can use dried beans and pre-cook them to make Recipe-Ready Beans.  Thermos cooking is great for this — read more about it here.
  • While dark red kidney beans are traditional for chili, it tastes good with most types of beans.  I’ve used black, pinto, navy, cannelini (white kidney beans) and red beans depending on what I could find and all turned out great.
  • Canned tomatoes are easy to use, but fresh tomatoes work just as well and often have even better flavor.  If you don’t peel them, the peel will come off and you’ll have little pieces of peel throughout the chili.  There’s a quick way to peel them with boiling water, though — read how to peel tomatoes the easy way here.  I also gently squeeze each tomato after peeling it but before dicing it to get rid of some of the excess water.

Recipe and detailed tips on making chili, including substitutions, making sure it's not too spicy for guests and more.

  • Once you’re at the “simmer” stage, you can use a thermal cooker to complete the cooking with no fuel or heat in the boat.  Read more.
  • I use a measuring cup to scoop the chili into bowls instead of keeping a separate ladle.

Recipe and detailed tips on making chili, including substitutions, making sure it's not too spicy for guests and more.

Chili is a great make-ahead meal for company, on passage (especially if it will be on the cool side on deck) or to make at home and take to the boat.  It freezes really well, too.

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  • Behan Fravel Gifford
    Posted at 10 March 2014 Reply

    geez. reading my mind. another chunk of The Cow (plus last cups of dried kidney beans) went into this yesterday!

  • Barbara Lowell
    Posted at 14 March 2014 Reply

    I love mixing beans, especially if you are cooking for a bunch of people, I have used as many as 9 different beans in one pot. I like to add fresh ch cilantro/parsley/green onion before serving. My vegan version with no meat has pleased many meat eaters, you saute onion/garlic/grated carrots and add black olives and it gets thick and rich with long cooking.
    Just a voice to limit dangerous heavy animal products if you read The China Study you will know what I mean. I love your blog and great feedback even tho my “boat” is a tiny home on 1/2 acre in FL and my neighbors are mostly cows! The small space calls for order and resourcefulness and you offer so much of that. I grow lots of my own food so that part is not relevant but farmers markets when you are in port are such a good thing to visit. Eat as much raw as possible for your immune and intestines sysems.

  • Mark Lubin
    Posted at 08 April 2014 Reply

    Hi – I have the hardcopy version of “The Boat Galley Cookbook”. I didn’t even know that there’s a Kindle version, as indicated in the above postings. Since I face the same space premium challenges all cruisers face, please tell me how I can get the Kindle version. Electronic storage is SO much easier and more space-efficient than the printed versions.

    Thanks for your time in responding.

    Mark Lubin
    s/v Sparkle Plenty, a Cal 39 MKII (just like the one Robert Redford drove in “All Is Lost”)
    currently calling Miami home at Dinner Key Marina in Coconut Grove, FL

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