For most Americans, chili means a big bowl of ground beef in a rich, tomato-based sauce with beans, chunks of tomato and a variety of optional toppings, including sour cream, shredded cheese, pickled jalapeños and diced onions. But should you find yourself in Texas with a hankering for some chili, be prepared to be served something that’s quite different than what you’re expecting.
Texas is a big place, and there are plenty of different types of chili to be found there. (It’s actually the state dish.) But no matter where you go, there’s one constant when it comes to chili: no beans. In Texas, the chili (just like a lot of the best Texan recipes) is all about the beef, and beans are considered lowly filler.
In fact, the most traditional variation on Texas chili more closely resembles beef stew than your usual chili. The word “chili” is shorthand for “chili con carne,” which basically translates to “chiles with meat,” and that’s exactly what this is. According to the Houston Press, it can trace its origins to Canary Islanders who moved to San Antonio in the 1700s and made a simple stew of beef, local chile peppers, onions and a cumin, cinnamon and paprika-heavy spice blend that resembled Moroccan Berber seasoning.
The traditional Texas “bowl of red” hasn’t changed much since then. Chunks of stew beef are slow-cooked in a rich and spicy sauce made from a variety of whole dried chiles, beef broth and some aromatics like onion and garlic. Add to that spices including cumin, cayenne and allspice and some masa harina, which acts as a thickener. There’s no tomatoes or beans in sight. It’s a Southern dish that the rest of the country really needs to try, and it’s just one of many regional American chili styles that you really should know about.